Former Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Martha’s Vineyard last week to take the lead in the essential task of creating carbon-neutral communities. Speaking in stark, impassioned, and unequivocal terms about addressing Earth’s climate catastrophe, he told a packed audience of Islanders in the West Tisbury Elementary School gym, “There is no reason Martha’s Vineyard can’t set an example for the whole nation!”
Meanwhile, bumper to bumper, inch by inch, our precious time wastes away on Island roads, as the pleasures and demands of summertime await their delayed address sometime up ahead, beyond the gridlock, beyond the horizon of sane acceptance. Our job, our doctor, our reservation, our rendezvous, the beach, the store, the gallery, the meal, the ferry — all simmer in various shades of expectancy at the far end of frustration.
So here’s a suggestion: Build a solar- or wind-powered light rail between Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Katama (mimicking, in fact, the route of the narrow-gauge steam train that Edgartown constructed in only four months in 1874, designed to prevent Oak Bluffs from keeping all the tourist dollars). The Dutch, for but one of many examples, have run their national railway entirely on wind energy since 2017.
A “Carbon-Neutral Express” running from the Oak Bluffs wharf to Depot Corner in Edgartown (move the jail and make that location the main light rail station) would make it way more attractive not to use a car on M.V., taking a large percentage of vehicles off the roads. Shopping? Beach? Dinner? Simply “Ride the Express!” Don’t even think about parking or traffic. Have a drink or two without having to drive home or take a cab.
Imagine a silent and comfortable train designed with a Vineyard motif that blends into its shore surround. Add local art and a changing exhibit from the M.V. Museum. Include a food and beverage car, even a package delivery and baggage car. Run it every 20 minutes, costing maybe $5 for a day pass. Make it seasonal for 90 days, from June 15 to Sept. 15. Design it to move smoothly and quietly along the shore. It’s about need, not speed.
The rails, in fact, could be custom-designed for environment, season, and weather, almost hidden along the bike paths and through town, planted out of sight. Sections of rails might be removable each fall in whatever seasonally vulnerable places suggest it. One track would suffice, with two trains running each way, passing in the middle on a side track at the Jaws Bridge. It would cross Beach Road in two or three places, but an occasional 60-second stop for drivers is nothing. Add a separate track to Katama from a station near the Edgartown firehouse. What about a State Forest run west to Alley’s?
Next time you are stuck in traffic, imagine this: reliable, efficient, sensible, easy, fun, quiet, comfortable, safe and, not least, carbon-neutral transportation on the summer Vineyard.
Tony Balis is president of the Humanity Initiative.