TomTom map shortcut is a Tisbury road to almost nowhere

Chelsea Hill Road resident Marina Lent stands in front of the sign she put up to warn drivers away from a shortcut to nowhere. — Photo by Nathaniel Horwitz

Martha’s Vineyard drivers who rely on the TomTom navigation system and think they have found a shortcut around gridlock at the intersection of State Road and Edgartown Road quickly end up in the weeds — or bushes, to be more precise — at the end of Chelsea Hill Road.

Contrary to the TomTom map, the road, which services four houses, quickly ends with a steep and narrow incline into the driveway of Marina Lent. After helping countless drivers back up in order to turn around, last summer Ms. Lent nailed up a sign on a pole at the entrance of Chelsea Hill Road that reads: DEAD END Google Maps is Wrong.

“I’m doing Google Maps a disservice,” Ms. Lent told The Times. “It’s actually TomTom, the program on most people’s GPS, that’s responsible.”

The navigation system displays Chelsea Hill Road as a shortcut to State Road on iOS and GPS mapping services.

“After people get stuck at the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and State Road a couple times, they start to get creative, and the GPS tells them to cut through our road to State,” she said.

Another Chelsea Hill Road resident, Marina’s sister, Petra McCarron, said summertime brings an influx of wayward drivers.

“We get six or seven cars a day in summer,” Ms. McCarron said. “They’re having misgivings, driving slowly, looking around. We get bikers, walkers, UPS trucks coming up and getting stuck. We’ve sent numerous error requests to TomTom. It’s funny, because people trust their GPS more than their common sense. One woman came up here trying to get to her summer house on Lambert’s Cove Road.”

Ms. McCarron said UPS drivers are not immune from the shortcut to nowhere. “The GPS and Apple Maps tell them that our road leads to Rural Route 2, which is the mailing address for half of West Tisbury,” she said. “They’ll come up here looking for someone off Indian Hill Road, miles away.”

Rural Route 2, an arbitrary designator for secondary roads not recognized by TomTom’s maps, appears in several Island towns. “People are really apologetic,” said Ms. McCarron. “I go out to help if they look really lost. The sign made an immediate positive impact.”

Google’s street-view feature shows the road entrance and its map accurately displays Chelsea Hill Road as a dead end.

There is, however, a nearby entrance to Sailor’s Burying Lane, named for the sailor’s cemetery behind Chelsea Hill Road. The lane, which is barely traversable by vehicle and hidden off Canterbury Lane, is not shown on electronic maps, and runs through the backyard of Barbara Leonard.

“It’s an ancient way that goes up to the dog field and then connects to Holmes Hole Road,” said Ms. Leonard. “Basically, the only traffic is from the two houses down there. Everyone else is usually kids who’ve been out, trying to avoid the cops by cutting across.”

There are several dirt roads, often pot-holed and unworthy of the name shortcut, that connect Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and State Road. None of them involve Chelsea Hill Road.

Despite the interruptions, Ms. Lent is sympathetic. “These poor people,” she said. “My brother had a boat parked in our driveway, and some of the SUVs couldn’t turn around. They were upset, and would try and reverse down the hill onto the main road. It isn’t safe. The sign has really helped.”

Not everyone assumes the best intentions. “Some people think we’re trying to be clever, keep them out, and a couple try despite the sign,” said Ms. Lent. “We’re tactful. We pretend not to see them when they try to back down and not scrape their cars on the bushes.”

She takes a philosophical, long-term view. “It’s like the truck drivers in Hungary whose GPS gets them stuck on roads built for wooden carts in the 14th century,” she said. “It’ll be a couple years before the technology catches up with reality.”

For now, the sign is a word to the wise. But it is not the first time the residents of Chelsea Hill Road have had to put up a sign. “The Chelsea Hill Road sign was stolen the year of Chelsea Clinton’s marriage,” Ms. Lent said.