Our beach time, our restaurant, our retail therapy, our soon-departing ferry, or our job site is a mere mile ahead. But here we sit on the Island’s summer roadways, so often immobile, staring at brake lights, hot, frustrated, and thinking once again, “Why can’t we fix this?”
The Vineyard is stuck at a crossroads, faced with a serious seasonal dilemma that affects everyone and is getting worse by the year. Must public policy be as static as our traffic? We urgently need all manner of public and civic participation to find common-sense solutions.
Here are five suggestions, some recycled, for emergency surgery on the Island’s transportation infrastructure. May these work-with-the-commonwealth proposals help spur the conversation as we seek to rescue our roadways from the souring reality of gridlock.
- Establish affordable long-term parking in Falmouth or Catumet. This will help reverse many decisions to bring a car to the Island “because it’s less expensive than leaving it on the Cape.” This also eliminates the need to deal with the dreaded ferry reservation.
- Provide hourly, fast ferry service for passengers only. Twenty minutes each way. This not only speeds passage, but provides further incentive for leaving the car on the mainland.
- These first two suggestions argue for ditching the Steamship Authority, whose mission seems to be “Let’s ship as many cars as we can.” Ask the commonwealth to replace it with a Citizens Transportation Initiative dedicated to “making travel to and from the Islands safe, sensible, efficient, and cost-effective.” In addition to a passengers-only ferry and regular car service, the CTI might lease a new slip at Packer’s Wharf dedicated to freight boats.
- Investigate the cost and opportunities of a seasonal, solar-powered, storm-resistant — invites creative use of technology and materials — light rail system from the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal to Edgartown to Katama, with three or four stops along State Beach. (A narrow-gauge steam train ran for 21 years on this route, ending in 1895, and a trolley line ran until 1918.) Invite the M.V. Museum to decorate the interior. A day at the beach? Dinner in O.B. or Edgartown? Simply walk from your hotel to the boarding platform. It also would help to remove alcohol-impaired drivers from the roads.
- Limit the number of passenger cars allowed on M.V. (as Catalina Island, for one same-size comparison, has done with great success). Maybe one per resident? Two for each homeowner? Have a seasonal or monthly lottery, and daily waiting list for designated space on the ferries. And improve the bus, taxi, ride-sharing, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure, while we’re at it. Why not, for instance, add a much-needed drop-off lane for taxis and ride-sharing vehicles in front of the airport terminal?
Here’s to finding a healthy new frame of reference for Vineyard travel. Imagine overhearing one day, “Not only is Martha’s Vineyard a terrific place, but it’s really easy to get around. They finally limited the number of cars back in 2020, and there’s this cool new railroad that drops you right at the beach!”
Tony Balis is a writer, author of the book “RoadWise: Don’t Die by Accident,” and founder of the Humanity Initiative (humanity.org).