Opinion

On Saturday, Martha’s Vineyard will welcome President Barack Obama and his family back to the Island for what has become, save for one election year during his presidency, an annual summer vacation ritual. The Obamas could chose any number of vacation spots to visit, each with its own political calculus. Islanders may take pride that the first family has returned year after year, and see in their return visits an endorsement of the many qualities of Island living those who live here year-round, and seasonally, work so hard in a variety of different ways to preserve.

In that sense, the Obamas are no different from the thousands of other families Islanders welcome back in August. They return for the natural beauty of the shoreline and landscape and the sense of community that still prevails, whether it is a small gathering on an Oak Bluffs porch or taking in the Ag Fair and Illumination Night.

With Martha’s Vineyard once again the scenic backdrop for a presidential vacation we can expect that some members of the media will once again trot out all the well worn references to wealth, celebrity and power. It is so much more fun to sell the Vineyard to the rest of the world as an enclave of the elite.

Yes, there is no Motel 6, no Happy Meals. And it costs plenty to rent a house with a waterview in Chilmark for two weeks. Or buy a key to a private up-Island beach.

But if past visits provide any indication of how they will spend their time, Mr. Obama and his family will pretty much enjoy vacation on the Vineyard the same way other families do, although with much less fanfare and attention. There will be visits to the beach and golf courses, bike rides, and shopping, and dinners with friends at Island restaurants and in the intimate surroundings of Island homes.

And that Chilmark waterview of Vineyard Sound? It is accessible to anyone who wants to take a hike through the Menemsha Hills Reservation, owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. And the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank welcomes the public to swim, shellfish, hike, bike and horseback ride on many of its more than 70 properties comprising more than 3,000 acres. No key needed.

And if August visitors, including President Obama, members of his coterie, and the visiting media want to take a vacation detour, they could catch a glimpse of the other Martha’s Vineyard, the one more recognizable to the majority of Americans than the celebrity media tripe.

At the offices of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority in Vineyard Haven, executive director David Vigneault could describe the plight of some of the more than 270 people currently on his waitlist for an affordable rental.

In the adjacent office of the Island Housing Trust, executive director Phillip Jordi can describe the challenge to provide homeownership opportunities on an Island where the average median income for homeowners is $64,000 and the median cost of a house is more than $500,000.

More than one waitress or waiter would likely be able to describe what it is like to work several jobs and shuffle between affordable winter and excessive summer rentals just to survive.

Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Programs, could describe the effort to provide quality health care on an island where many people are self-employed.

On Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs or Main Street in Vineyard Haven, Island business owners are just as concerned about many of the things business owners on Main Streets across America worry about, and that includes the costs to provide health insurance to employees in Massachusetts, and subsidize those who do not provide it.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in Oak Bluffs, the Island’s umbrella social services agency, provides a glimpse of the other side of the summer postcard — the not-so-pretty picture of Islanders set against a backdrop of substance and domestic abuse. As a recent series of six reports by reporter Barry Stringfellow described, Martha’s Vineyard is not immune to the ravages of opiate abuse and addiction.

Six Islanders have died of opiate overdose since August 2013, according to Dr. Charles Silberstein, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Island-wide, there was one heroin arrest in 2012 and 10 heroin arrests in 2013; in 2012 there were 13 arrests for oxycodone and percocet pills, in 2013 there were 15 arrests.

The national political debate about drug policy and punishment has real meaning to Island families affected by this scourge. A day spent in Edgartown District Court speaking to those on the front lines of the battle would provide some perspective.

No need to travel to the border to confront the immigration debate. Brazilian workers, some legal — their actual number is a cause of speculation — fill a considerable number of jobs on Martha’s Vineyard. Their contribution is unmistakable, but it comes with a cost.

We welcome our August visitors to Martha’s Vineyard. It is a great place to live, not as elite as some make it out to be, and for those who call it home, not every day is a day at the beach.

A series of events and circumstances presents Tisbury business and political leaders with a rare opportunity to shape the future appearance of their town and the Island’s transportation gateway. The challenge will be to incorporate road improvements planned by the state and the desires and plans of major property owners along Beach Road into a bold blueprint for the future.

Several key elements have begun to align. As Steve Myrick reported last week (Beach Road reconstruction plans spur zoning discussion), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) plans a $1 million overhaul of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners. Improvements include sidewalks and bike lanes. The road project is in a preliminary design phase and is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

For more than 17 years, a prime piece of Tisbury commercial real estate, what has come to be called the “Boch lot,” about three-quarters of an acre on the water side of Beach Road opposite the Citgo gas station and next to The Times office, has sat virtually vacant but for a crumbling, long unused wood building and a boat building project.

The property is assessed at $1.9 million and generates close to $20,000 in annual property taxes. Commercial development could generate far more in taxes, along with jobs. Last week, Ernie Boch, Jr., a seasonal resident of Edgartown, said he would like to develop the property “into something nice and cool and useful.”

Perhaps mindful of the long regulatory battle his father faced soon after he bought the property and attempted to create a parking lot, Mr. Boch recommended that town leaders be proactive.

The property is subject to an overlay of zoning regulations. Any use would also require the approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

And then there is the Stop & Shop. Remember that? Following 10 months of MVC review, in May the company shelved plans to replace its decrepit Vineyard Haven supermarket with a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market with parking for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level under the market.

Company executives were left with little clear idea of what the MVC was ready to accept and may not be in any rush to reenter the regulatory blender. But we can assume that they would welcome the opportunity to replace the existing squat concrete market and adjacent building, a former Chinese restaurant, with a new market. And Island patrons would welcome it as well.

Also lying fallow is the property at 6 Water Street right on the corner of Five Corners that is now home to an auto rental business. In August 2008 the MVC approved plans for the construction of a three-story multi-use building to include office space, parking and apartments. The project, as near as we can tell, remains on the drawing boards.

Speaking about the planning process with reporter Steve Myrick, planning board co-chairman Daniel Seidman expressed frustration with the zoning regulations that govern development on Beach Road. “In the past, things have been done piecemeal,” Mr. Seidman said. “It’s been more reactive than proactive. It’s nice to say there is a road and there are bike paths, but if it doesn’t help the town in general, we’re just doing piecemeal work.”

Islanders are familiar with the hue and cry that even the prospect of change often stirs up. We are quick to the battlements at the prospect of it. Recall the fights over fast ferries from New Bedford; the roundabout; beer and wine service in Tisbury.

The ferries now come and go without striking dolphins, the cars go round and round without striking each other, and diners drink and eat with no apparent ill effects on the character of Vineyard Haven. Change need not be calamitous.

Mr. Seidman said the planning board is about to embark on a “visioning” process. The process will take the form of facilitated public workshops, hearings, and efforts to raise awareness about planning issues. Generating broad participation to include business leaders, MVC staff, and those outside the familiar planning network will take strong political leadership but will be well worth the effort and must be done. Paint a big picture.

Perhaps it is time to move the police station out of the center of town. Why not allow restaurants where patrons may enjoy a view of the harbor, like those found in seaside communities throughout New England. Work with Stop & Shop to come up with a plan that works for the town and company. And tackle Five Corners. The town would benefit from a bold and comprehensive process that ends with determined action.

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Let’s say you are a first-time visitor to the Island. Like most people, you take the ferry to Vineyard Haven. As you approach the Steamship Authority landing you are dazzled by the sight of well-kept waterfront houses, lawns tumbling down to the sea, and antique wooden sailboats lying at their moorings. This is more than you could have expected. This is quintessential New England.

But when you get off the ferry what awaits is culture shock of epic proportions: Whether by car, bike or on foot, you have hardly a choice but to travel the Island’s biggest eyesore — the infamous Beach Road. This main route to and from the Island’s port of entry should be a happy complement to the pristine harbor you just witnessed. But it’s the polar opposite — ugly, dilapidated, neglected, monumentally unfriendly to pedestrians and an imposing barrier to pedestrian access to the harbor. The stretch of road, with its tangle of overhead power lines, is quite simply the ugliest thing on the Island.

I can think of no better or more important thing to do for Martha’s Vineyard than to remedy this shameful and embarrassing situation.

There are two culprits in this debacle. The main one is a classic case of well-meaning but utterly misguided government regulation. In the mid 1990s voters approved new zoning regulations for the waterfront with the stated purpose of preserving Vineyard Haven’s working harbor. They say, in short, that everything within 100 feet of high water (which, as a practical matter, includes nearly everything on the harbor) must be “marine related,” thus ruling out such seemingly appropriate things as apartments, stores, eateries and hotel rooms. To add insult to injury, almost no parking is allowed, presumably to encourage walking and biking along the most hellish stretch of road on the Island. What were they thinking?

The folly of this is patently obvious. In the nearly 20 years since the new zoning was put in effect not one marine facility of any kind has been built or even proposed. Things just sit and deteriorate. Simply put, you cannot induce property owners to conform to government’s idea of appropriateness unless it is also in their private interest. The stagnation no doubt pleases the forces that oppose “development,” but it begs the question, why would a restaurant or some apartments along the water among the marinas and boatyards be such a bad thing?

The second culprit is inaction on the part of the legal steward of Beach Road — the Massachusetts Highway Department. It so happens that, after literally decades of neglect, the Highway Department has begun the process of planning certain improvements, including wider sidewalks and a bike path. This work involves taking property by eminent domain and moving the power lines to make way for the sidewalks. In short the State is about to spend a boatload of money on Beach Road. We need to step up and insist that we get more than half a loaf. Unless we wisely and closely monitor the State’s plans they will do a rote and minimal job. Unless the power lines are not just moved, but put underground we will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Now is the time to piggy-back on the momentum provided by this serendipitous undertaking and repeal our counter-productive zoning law and replace it with less draconian, and more practical zoning aimed at preserving the existing marine uses but at the same time encouraging in-fill with apartments, offices, shops, restaurants and inns and yes, parking to serve these uses. Unless we change the zoning we can build sidewalks and bike paths and all the rest but we will still be stuck with a derelict Beach Road.

If we can accomplish all the above, then our only job is to get out of the way and let private enterprise build the picturesque and accessible waterfront we deserve.

Sam Dunn is the architect and builder, among many other projects, of Tisbury Marketplace on Beach Road, Saltwater Restaurant and MV Film Center in the Marketplace, and the renovations of Woodland Center on State Road. His latest project is a bowling alley/entertainment center in Oak Bluffs.

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On Sunday, West Tisbury library officials, friends and neighbors honored David and Rosalee McCullough. The occasion was the dedication in their honor of the community program room in the newly renovated and enlarged West Tisbury public library, a $6 million project that pretty much went off without a papercut.

It was a fitting tribute to a couple — David McCullough never fails to credit his wife Rosalee for his success — that have contributed much to our Island and the nation through the written and spoken word.

A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize in literature, Mr. McCullough has described the trials and tribulations of the men and women who shaped our country, and the events that shaped them, with a perspective that is accessible to the reader, and the familiarity of an author writing about respected friends.

His literary accomplishments have earned him many honors and generated considerable pride among the residents of West Tisbury, his home for 35 years. In ceremonies at the White House on December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush bestowed the 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award, on David McCullough.

“This chronicler of other times is one of the eminent Americans of our time. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to a fine author and a fine man,” said the President.

Island organizations and fundraisers have long known that any event that featured David McCullough guarantees a full house. Over the years, he has lent his power to draw a crowd to benefit many Island institutions. He has also been generous of his time in more intimate settings.

In a front page story in today’s Community section, Tony Omer reports that the McCulloughs were early donors to the library project, and in his role as honorary chairman of the foundation, Mr. McCullough drummed up support and funds.

As courtly in manner and personable when met on a street in Vineyard Haven as he is on stage, David McCullough reminds us of what it is to be a man of true accomplishment in an era of cheap Youtube celebrity.

He is also someone who commands our attention when he speaks. “I am a library devotee,” Mr. McCullough told the assembled well-wishers on Sunday. “I believe in them.”

It would be difficult to be a visitor or resident of Martha’s Vineyard and not be a believer. Our town libraries, each with a distinct personality, offer much and continue to offer more. Access to high-speed Internet service has created an electronic library shelf filled with authors from all corners of the world, where books, magazines, and videos are available at the click of a mouse.

During the day and evening, Island libraries are a hub of year-round community activity with programs for all ages. There are author talks, lectures, and discussions.

For those who are not believers, a visit to an Island library is recommended.

In November, Island voters will be asked to elect nine members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). With less than two weeks until the July 29 deadline to file nomination papers, as of Friday no new candidates had stepped forward to place their names on the ballot, Janet Hefler reports in today’s issue.

This is unfortunate. The MVC could benefit from new perspectives and new faces.

The MVC operates with a $1.5 million budget and staff of 10 full-time employees. The commissioners have the power, through the MVC’s permitting authority, to supersede town boards and stop a development in its tracks, or send it on its way with significant conditions or none at all. It is an intoxicating responsibility.

MVC decisions are far reaching and reverberate throughout the Vineyard economy, often in ways that are not immediately visible. Behind every major construction project or development before the MVC there is a host of Island trades people and business people waiting for a decision, people who depend on a weekly paycheck and are part of the Vineyard’s tourism and construction economy.

It is possible that Island voters are pleased with the MVC. That seems unlikely judging from the many comments that have swirled around recent projects.

Unfortunately, Islanders tend to be in favor of the MVC when a project they oppose is being skewered and critical of the MVC when it is a project they favor, all the time unmindful of the fact that skewering is not the object of the review process, even if it sometimes feels that way to the applicants.

A more likely reason is that few people have the stamina or appetite for the minutiae that now characterizes MVC discussions. That could change. Commissioners could stick to the broad strokes and leave the details to local boards. With some discipline, meetings need not consume hours and hours.

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the 1,000-member Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, told The Times she can understand why a small business owner, for example, especially one with young children, would be reluctant to run.

Ms. Gardella did not say what if any efforts the Chamber has taken to encourage members to run for the MVC, or to see that business interests are represented.

Lawyers and retirees are well represented on the MVC. Young working people with families, members of the building trades, retail business owners, all groups under represented on the MVC, should consider stepping off the sidelines and onto the field. Ten signatures is all it takes.

The incumbent members of the MVC deserve gratitude for their many hours of service. In many ways, it is a thankless task. The willingness of others to step up to the plate is not a rebuke.

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A breakdown in the systems we use to moderate and manage comments appearing on our website occurred this past weekend, with the result that some unacceptable comments were posted. The offensive comments included some that far exceeded the boundaries of civil discussion that we require, and in allowing them to be posted at all or to remain up as long as they did embarrassed The Times and more broadly many in the Vineyard community. This was a management failure on my part as publisher, and I apologize to you all.

As a bit of background, The Times employs a system that moderates online comments after they’ve been posted, consciously favoring immediacy and a light editorial hand instead of reviewing a queue for posts before publication. In conjunction with a recent change eliminating anonymous postings we have been extremely pleased with the balance that’s been struck.  Our story regarding President Obama’s upcoming stay in Chilmark, however, exposed the comment feature of our site to substantial pressures and the protocols we had in place were inadequate to the task.

As a result of our experience this weekend we’ve taken several steps to strengthen our internal moderation protocols. Coupled with more vigilance (and a bit less dependence on the positive trends we’ve seen in recent postings to our site) I believe we’ll do a much better job managing the comments without suffocating the feature with excessive rules and reviews.

  • We’ve applied a new set of filters which should help screen out blatantly         offensive language;
  • We’ve adopted a formal internal management system for reviewing comments;
  • We’ve been unable to find a check-system allowing direct feedback within the comment section but we’ve created a single email address — comments@mvtimes.com— to which all concerns, questions, complaints and    suggestions regarding online comments should be directed (multiple messages and destinations actually hinder us);
  • We are leaving the article and attached comments up, and will be especially watchful regarding future comments;
  • I’ve been vividly reminded to anticipate and prepare for the potential challenges that a particular subject matter may engender.

We remain committed to an effective, useful comment function. Despite our confidence in the measures we’re taking, though, we expect our systems will continue to be tested from time to time; we don’t imagine that we’ve created a perfect set of protocols.

And, there are compromises necessary. For one thing, if we decide we need to remove a comment the entire thread — all the responses and conversation generated by that comment — needs to be removed as well. This means a well-stated rebuke will disappear from the discussion, not because we edited it out but because it was attached to a comment we excised. And also, because moderation is labor-intensive and costly, we can’t promise immediate attention as a matter of routine; we’ll do our best, but we’ve set an outside boundary of 12 hours to moderate, and if necessary, delete, offensive comments from the site. We hope to do better than that, as often as possible.

To be clear, this embarrassing episode resulted from a management lapse on my part, and not from any disregard for the standards we set for ourselves or the sensibilities of our readers. I believe we’ve learned important lessons and made significant improvements.

Peter Oberfest, Publisher

Thursday night, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will review a proposal by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) to build a six-unit rental apartment building between the Stop & Shop Supermarket and AA Car Rental Company, a stone’s throw from Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. The 3,600-square-foot building containing six one-bedroom apartments would replace a derelict house.

The MVC will review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). Why? Because they can.

The MVC could have voted to take a pass and send the project back to the town. IHT has a responsible track record developing affordable housing. The plan was developed in close consultation with the Tisbury Planning Board, Historic Commission, and Affordable Housing Committee. It is still subject to review by the zoning board of appeals.

There will be six 600-square-foot apartments, three of them handicapped accessible ground-floor units and three on the second floor, each with one bedroom and one bathroom. Photovoltaic panels on the southern roof will help reduce energy costs. There will be one parking space for deliveries and handicapped accessibility.

The commission voted on June 19 that the project required a public hearing because of its location near Five Corners. It is hard to understand the regional impact that may be attributed to six new tenants living near Five Corners unless the MVC has so broadened the definition of regional impact to include a Chilmarker having to pause to allow one of the new tenants to get out of the crosswalk.

In a report dated March 11, 2003, titled, “Looking at the Commission, Review of the Operations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Recommendations for Improvements,” newly hired MVC executive director Mark London observed that many of the people he spoke to thought that the commissioners were too involved in the minutiae of projects — work that could more appropriately be done by the towns and by MVC staff.

“The net for referring projects to the MVC is too fine and requires referral of too many projects that don’t have a significant regional impact,” Mr. London wrote.

In his DRI recommendations, Mr. London wrote, “The commission should review fewer projects, but carry out the review in a more comprehensive way with a better process leading to better projects. The MVC should ensure that only projects of a truly regional impact are subject to the full public hearing process.”

This page agrees. The MVC should expedite the Water Street project and let IHT get back to the business of providing affordable housing.

In the broader context, Five Corners figured large in the MVC’s consideration of Stop & Shop’s proposal for a new market. One year of regulatory review and process and nothing to show for it. The regional planning agency would do well to examine what might be done to unravel this traffic Gordian knot, and come up with a plan for Five Corners.

Honoring the Fourth

In a Letter to the Editor published July 3, Nick Van Nes of West Tisbury claimed that the government was hiding the truth in its official account of 9/11. Mr. Van Nes said evidence of controlled demolitions “was overlooked by the government.”

The letter attracted sharp criticism. Several readers were highly critical of The Times decision to publish the letter.

Don Keller asked, “Why does this deserve publication? Nick is accusing our government officials and many other American citizens of murder … I understand that The Times wishes to allow for free expression of opinions, but there is a line. And this letter clearly crosses it. ”

Helene Brown commented, “Disappointed with MV Times that they would publish such an inflammatory and unsubstantiated letter, especially on the eve of July 4th.”

R. Scott Patterson wrote, “The MV Times owes everyone an explanation and an apology for publishing this letter! It is a joke and beyond reprehensible!”

The Letters to the Editor section is intended to be a forum for ideas and points of view

underpinned by respect for one of our country’s most cherished rights enshrined in the First Amendment, freedom of speech.

Presenting the views of letter writers to public scrutiny and comment, even those we might disagree with and consider not worthy of comment, is in line with the values we honor on July Fourth. Censoring those views is not.

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“These are the times that try men’s souls,” pamphleteer and wordsmith Thomas Paine declared five months after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago. The war against Britain looked bleak even though the Declaration was a radical not a revolutionary document. Written principally by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration set forth the reasons for Americans to separate from the British Empire, but it did not advocate the overthrow of King George III or Parliament. Still, the odds were against the Americans: Britain possessed the most formidable, professional military force in the world.

Skirmishes between the Americans and British had already taken place, notably in Boston on Breed’s Hill (often confused with Bunker Hill). Paine went on, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Many Americans had been debating the issues, especially whether Parliament had the authority to tax Americans when they were unrepresented there. Others had simply tossed out local British officials and set up their own town governments. Yet, no one set out the argument as sparklingly as Paine did. “’Tis time to part,” he proclaimed in Common Sense. The Americans have the power “to begin the world over again.” They have the opportunity “to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth” because “the birth-day of a new world is at hand.”

Historians remind us that only about one-third of the Americans favored independence. Another third wanted to reconcile all differences with Britain. A final third waited to see which side would win. One theme that Paine set out was the importance of American unity.

“Independence,” he wrote, “is the only Bond that can tye [sic] and keep us together.” But unity was a scarce commodity in 1776.

The Declaration declared that states have the right “to be free and independent,” not only from the empire, but from each other. They “have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.” It was no wonder that the Americans called their individual political entities “states,” a term then and now that means a nation-state.

When the Continental Congress named George Washington commander in chief, he worked hard to build a true national army, but he had to rely on the states to send men and money. When he asked New Jersey militiamen to pledge their allegiance to the new United States, they agreed on condition that they first pledge their allegiance to their “nation of New Jersey.” States contributed money to the war effort only as gifts. Congress had no authority to tax any entity. He complained that he had insufficient funds to pay his men or for supplies.

Washington worked out a military strategy known as “a war of posts,” meaning he avoided direct encounters with the enemy unless he knew he had the upper hand. On Christmas night, 1776, he crossed the Delaware to defeat sleeping Hessian troops, whom Washington called “base hirelings and mercenaries.” They might have been recovering from too much Christmas revelry.

At the end of the following year, the American General, Horatio Gates, defeated the British at Saratoga, demonstrating to the French that the Americans had a chance to win. France, Britain’s traditional enemy, soon sent money, men, ships, and weapons to support American independence. Victory would not have occurred without them. We ought not to forget that more French soldiers and sailors than Americans were present at the final battle at Yorktown in 1781.

After the war against Britain, states continued to behave like mini nation-states, carrying out their own foreign policies, entering into border disputes with each other, and even having separate currencies. The original U.S. constitution, the Articles of Confederation, established an alliance of states, held together only by the glue of war. Once the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war in 1783, a few Americans, led principally by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, set out to form “a more perfect Union,” as the preamble of the Constitution declared. It was not easy to persuade the state conventions to ratify the new document.

Today, Americans face their own “times that try men’s souls.” We constantly hear echoes of too many federal taxes, too much federal snooping into our affairs, too much federal regulation of business, too much federal involvement in foreign wars. American politics has now become so politically polarized that the current Congress may have the worst record for passing laws. Its poll numbers are below 25 percent approval rating, and the president’s are hardly much better at 41 percent.

President Obama, in his 2012 inaugural address, drew inspiration from Thomas Paine by quoting his words: “Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.” The president, though in vain, attempted to spur Americans to unite so they might confront the many problems they now face.

A seasonal resident of Aquinnah, Jack Fruchtman teaches constitutional law and politics at Towson University in Maryland. He is the author of several studies of 18th-century figures, including books on Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin.

This Fourth of July, in spite of deep and unsettling differences, most of us should put aside political differences and complaints to celebrate the existence of a nation that at its birth had little chance of survival. That it was born, and endured a cataclysmic civil war to remain 238 years later, an example — not perfect or without flaws — of hope for people around the world is a feat that deserves a national birthday party.

On Friday, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, edifices that honor George Washington, our first president, and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, will provide the backdrop for a spectacular fireworks display in our nation’s capitol. The mood will be festive, as it should be.

Throughout the year, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial provides a particularly sobering experience for any American. The immediate observation for one visitor was the number of people speaking in a variety of different languages, all in hushed tones which lent to the sense of reverence the memorial commands.

Today, Islanders will prepare with the rest of our country to celebrate the birth of a nation blessed by providence. It is easy to forget that our country once stood on the precipice of failure. When the issue was in doubt, there was a George Washington, there was an Abraham Lincoln, men of high-minded character who helped guide us forward.

Elsewhere today, we watch as Iraq disintegrates, Ukraine fractures, and cobbled together nations led by mendacious leaders across the globe spiral out of control. We can only pray that one day other people will be as fortunate as we are, and that our fortune will continue.

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For most hours of the day this summer, the Vineyard Transit Authority buses that ply Route 1 between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown will no longer run on a fixed schedule. The VTA has added a fourth bus to the route, and keeps in radio contact with the drivers to time their trips so that ideally, as two buses pass near the roundabout, the other two are departing from the endpoints.

In the transit business, this way of scheduling buses is called headway mode. What it means for riders on the Island’s most important commuter corridor is that the new service might not be as precisely predictable as before, but you should never have to wait more than seven or eight minutes for a bus.

Adding that fourth bus involved an expense, says Angie Grant, administrator of the VTA since 1996, but the good news is that public funding for transit systems has recently become more reliable. The model is shifting from funding in arrears to funding in advance, which means that administrators like Ms. Grant can spend more of their time figuring out how to serve their riders better and less worrying about what to do if their expenses aren’t covered.

No public service on Martha’s Vineyard has rocketed from nonexistent to indispensable with anything like the speed of the VTA. Year-round bus service here didn’t exist before 2006. In the fiscal year that ended just a few days ago, the VTA was on track for a record ridership of more than 1.2 million on its fixed bus routes.

Last August, the VTA carried 303,175 passengers, an increase of nearly 30 percent for that month since 2006. But even more dramatic is the doubling in ridership the VTA has seen in the dead of winter: to find a month when the service carried fewer than 20,000 people, you have to go back to February 2011.

Here’s another indicator that puts the growth of this Island service in perspective: At present, Massachusetts has only three public transit authorities operating seven days a week, year-round. They are the MBTA in Boston, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (serving two dozen towns and cities in the Springfield-Amherst region), and the VTA.

Visiting the website of the transit authority this week, I found this on the FAQ page: “Q: Do I need to bring my car to Martha’s Vineyard? A: No.” This little exchange should be a favorite for anyone who suffers the summer crawl through Five Corners in Tisbury or Upper Main in Edgartown. In fact, the VTA has an excellent page of advice for visitors interested in seeing the Vineyard in a single day without the hassle of bringing a car or the risk of renting mopeds and adding the hospital to their itinerary.

The VTA is a rural transit system for nine months of the year, and an urban system for three. Because it’s impractical to own two fleets of buses, and because the VTA has to be equipped to handle the peak load, there are times in winter when the rolling stock isn’t an ideal match for the demand — and Ms. Grant does hear occasional complaints in January about big buses with few passengers inside. But she rightly points out that even a bus with only half a dozen passengers is burning less fuel per passenger-mile, and putting fewer pollutants into our air, than if those riders were driving cars.

(The environmental benefits of public transit, by the way, are steadily improving: Today’s bus engines emit 85 percent fewer particulates than those the VTA was using just six or seven years ago.)

Looking to the future, says Ms. Grant, the VTA will continue to look for ways to improve its service to its more than one million riders each year. One of the biggest changes likely in the years ahead, she says, will be the jump to buses twice an hour on the system’s up-Island corridors during the busy season. “It’s a big jump,” admits Ms. Grant, “but it’s the next logical step.”

Meanwhile the seasonality is intense, the mix of users is diverse, and the challenge for the VTA is always to strike the best balance.

“This is an essential service, as much as we might not want to admit it,” Ms. Grant says. “We have a lot of ‘choice’ riders here, and we’re fortunate for that, but there is a transit-dependent population on Martha’s Vineyard. They might be elderly, they might be disabled, they might just not be in a position to own a vehicle because of the economics of it.”

In the end, the biggest group benefiting from the services of the Vineyard Transit Authority might be those of us who use the buses rarely or not at all. The next time you’re behind the wheel, inching into Edgartown one car-length at a time, consider how much more unpleasant your trip might be if that VTA bus ahead of you were three dozen individual cars.