The roundabout might not work here

To the Editor:

I can think of one problem that will likely occur with the currently planned roundabout at the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road/Barnes Road intersection.

Having used a Marston Mills roundabout on Route 149 for a period of time, I was generally using the less trafficked north-south axis as opposed to the more trafficked east/west route. My ongoing problem was that it was very difficult to enter the roundabout because the stream of east-west traffic was too great. And, heavy as it was, that east-west traffic didn’t hold a candle to the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road traffic in the summer.

This means that cars using Barnes Road during heavier traffic hours will have to enter the roundabout by the “permission” of someone traveling on the Edgartown/VH Road who graciously allows them to enter. Note that critical phrase: “graciously allows.” While that’s something most of us do during the off-season when we let traffic through at Five Corners or other complicated traffic turns, the willingness to give the other guy a break is minimal in the summer — people are hot, harried, and want to get where they’re going. So you risk it and barge into traffic flow.

Anybody who drives Five Corners in mid-summer is familiar with that uncomfortable feeling of “Will I get broadsided?”

I think the roundabout “even flow” concept will fail in the summer — and cars on Barnes Road will be anxious as they think about when they can “plow through” — in the same way that they were during the days of the blinker. Ironically, that anxiety and danger were two of the very reasons the blinkers were replaced with stop signs.

Secondly, when one biker wants to make their way across in that same direction, someone may let them in, but the 20 or so various visiting bikers that routinely travel together in the summer season will find themselves either (1) waiting a long time (2) bullying their way in by their numbers or (3) avoiding the roundabout altogether.

(Note, are pedestrians a real concern here? After 15 years of using that intersection, I have seen a total of four or five pedestrians. It’s pretty rare, other than at close of school when it might be wise to have a crossing guard anyway.)

It’s my opinion that while slow, the stop sign system works well now. It’s safe, and the anxiety factor at that crossroads no longer exists — the stop signs took care of that. But if indeed there has been a higher rate of crashes at that intersection, the one solution that might make sense is a four-way traffic light. (I’m not fond of that either…being somewhat proud of the Island’s traffic-light-less status — at least when it comes to permanent ones.) I don’t know if a light that would function without access lanes but simply allow each direction (north-south-east-west) time to go through will work. I’m not an engineer. I don’t know if that would work, but there are thousands of traffic lights off-Island where traffic lights operate for all four directions.

I also don’t know if that exception would be allowed in Mass DOT designs — but the fact is that we have several conditions on the Island that don’t fit the norm. First, we have a tradition of trying not to be too urban or modern in our designs. That is part of what contributes to our economy. People come here because they expect a more traditional environment. A non-modern environment. In most of the recent building, this has been taken into account. Our airport looks new, but still proudly rural. The roundabout design is definitely urban, definitely non-rural, and I think it may affect visitors’ perceptions and experiences negatively. (And mine too, when I come to think of it.) That’s important for us. Is there a way to take that unique position into consideration?

Maybe I’m wrong on all this. But if you don’t find what doesn’t work until after a million dollars has been spent, it really would be a shame to have to live for twenty years with something literally etched in stone — or in this case concrete — that doesn’t work. And that’s why I’m writing. I think that’s a real possibility.

Niki Patton

West Tisbury