Where are the bold ideas?
In the mid-1970s, as the Steamship Authority devoured the Tilton Lumber Company, the Crowell Coal Company, and later the Seamen's Bethel, all of which stood along the waterfront where the boatline's Vineyard Haven Terminal and parking/staging area are today, it was easy to see that a mistake was being made.
After all, Metcalf and Eddy, consultants to the old Dukes County Planning and Economic Development Agency, predecessor to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, had already proposed that a new town be created at the head of the Lagoon, roughly where the now-defunct golf driving range is. The planners proposed that New Town, as they called it, be the landing place for Steamship Authority ferries. It was central to the Island, well served by wide, straight roads. The plan would have eliminated the drawbridge, moved the hospital near the high school, and freed up Vineyard Haven's waterfront to be the yachting, tourism, and recreational hub it ought to be.
The plan got nowhere, naturally. It was too big and too expensive — too much change, really.
When the Steamship Authority's intentions became known, including especially the addition of a second slip with the increase in ferry and automobile traffic that such an expansion promised, some Islanders proposed another alternative. Don't expand downtown, they told the boatline; instead, move your terminal to the Beach Road, east of R.M. Packer Company, create a ferry terminal there as big as you need, and when cars get off the boats, they can turn left for Oak Bluffs or Edgartown, or right for Vineyard Haven and up-Island. A lot of Five Corners congestion would be solved. Harry Jones, an engineer who lived in Vineyard Haven then, even made a model of the harbor, with the boatline moved east and a marina and park where the Steamship terminal is today.
But the boatline said no thanks, too expensive. And the Vineyard Haven merchants said no also, afraid they would lose walk-in customers.
So, as we have so many times, we are once again wrestling with our dissatisfaction at the Five Corners mess and the Steamship's contribution to it. Apart from the behavior of the Tisbury selectmen, who have made solutions more difficult than ever to achieve, the problems that have plagued the center of Vineyard Haven and the immediate environs of the Steamship wharf for 35 years or more remain unsolved. Of course, there are more and larger cars — most of them contributed by Islanders, by the way, because our numbers have grown mightily — more tourists, more scheduled sailings, more and larger ferries. And, of course, Water Street, Five Corners, Beach Road - all this is the same. So are the stale old strategies for nibbling at the problem.
There are certainly solutions to the traffic congestion problems in Vineyard Haven. Solutions may be found also for the inadequate parking, for the drainage problems, for the wilted appearance of many commercial buildings along Beach Road. What are missing today, indeed missing for 35 years, are fresh, new ideas like those proposed by Metcalf and Eddy and Harry Jones, along with bold leaders to champion them.