What it means to be us


I was in the eastbound lineup Tuesday heading for the four-way stop at the Blinker intersection. I had the time, so I debated the question of just what is the character of Martha’s Vineyard.

Part of me argued the side of the question that holds that the plan to replace the four-way stop with a Roundabout will ruin the Island character. The other part countered that speeding up the auto throughput at the Blinker intersection, as the Roundabout is expected to do, might reduce inconvenience and frustration. After all, I was parked in the lineup at about Sea Glen, and there were cars behind me. If the Island character includes a respite from the harrying furies of everyday life on mainland roads, the roundabout might help, which would be entirely consistent with Island character, would it not?

Or, how about cell phones? Can it possibly be consistent with the Vineyard’s particular character — I refuse to call it special, though I am tempted at times to call it precious, but I know that would be snarky — that your cell phone drops calls the way gulls drop clams on the roof — that is, relentlessly. Couldn’t it be perfectly consistent with the Island’s friendly, laid-back, human-scale character to have cell signals strong enough that folks could speak with one another whenever they wanted to, or text, or send a photo of the seal you just saw on the beach, or the sunset from Menemsha Beach to some unfortunate soul who’s stuck in his New York office for the weekend?

But, to facilitate the good natured, people-to-people communication that is a part of the Vineyard’s unique character, we’d have to have some cell towers, tall ones, or smaller ones hidden in tall places such as church steeples. And that, my dark side debater argues, would tear at the Vineyard soul. But, really, how on earth does it become impossible to reconcile a useful adjunct to life in this wonderland, where we live year-round or vacation in the summer, with some rigid conviction that sacrificing air space for cell towers will compromise the simple life and geographic beauty we celebrate?

Then there is the matter of bike paths. We need them. We need as many as we can build to connect out-of-town with in-town, up-Island with down-Island. But, there are two crippling issues, plus a practical financing problem, standing in the way. Although bike paths would, without question, make Vineyard travel safer for cyclists and motorists alike, and although easy and common access to bike paths would inspire year-round, everyday cycling and lead to reduced congestion, more exercise, and a better-humored population, the dark side, no change party objects.

One hitch is that bike paths accommodate bicyclists, but also strollers, joggers, in-line skaters, and other non-hard core wheelmen. The hard-core hates multi-use paths and won’t use them or support their construction.

And, having in mind the changes needed to make the bike path dream real, the fact is that such paths require space, and there’s not much space available. Plans developed years ago would have created paths from the ferry in Vineyard Haven along State Road, connecting to the State Forest bike paths. It would have been a huge expansion of the existing network of paths. But building it would have required buying or taking bits of land along the road and relocating some stonewalls. That complication implicated the character of the Vineyard, and surprisingly, the character of the roadsides between the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal and the Old County Road fork. Hard to believe, but change in this corridor, which, I guess, epitomizes for some, an element of Martha’s Vineyard’s unique character, could not be tolerated, no matter how desirable the expansion of safe cycling opportunities. Even a proposal to run the expanded path over the former Tisbury dump won no support.

If the Vineyard’s character is a harmony of all the attributes, human and environmental, that make the place uniquely itself and the place that prompts its residents to say yes, this is for me, certainly the ability of its members to reconcile one good with another, to improve thoughtfully what is deficient, and to work out conflicting views successfully ought to be a key part of the melody. After all, aren’t we are better than our national leaders?