On a path to sustainability

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To the Editor:

At town meetings this spring, three more Island towns — Edgartown, Chilmark, and Tisbury — will vote on a 100 percent renewable energy resolution that aims to fully disentangle us from fossil fuels by 2040. Such a measure, though nonbinding, is an apt reminder of our many actions — our collective lifestyles — that fuel the planet’s greenhouse gas crisis (including too often, this writer). For any true reckoning, we Islanders might as well pull up stakes for the big city because — let’s face it — our carbon footprint is outsize, thanks to the full seven-mile diesel-powered ferry ride that separates us from a more compact existence, where two heels are favored over four wheels. 

Nonetheless, the Island confines do afford us some chances to green our daily routines in ways that can’t be found in many of the sprawling rural counterparts back on the mainland. For one, many of us could swap out cars for a greener, cleaner form of transport: Where else can a bicycle or a bus get you to several towns in under an hour? With those options, there’s no more circling crowded downtowns searching for a parking spot — or paying nearly $4 a gallon for petrol every week or two. 

New bike paths are finally being built, and some long-standing stretches are being repaved. There are miles to go before an Island-wide bike path network is complete, but we already boast 37 miles of paved, dedicated path. And for those days of howling winds and driving rains, count on a bus coming to the rescue. Even with challenges prompted by the pandemic, the Vineyard Transit Authority continues to cover nearly all corners of the Island. 

The Massachusetts Act for a next-generation roadmap for state climate policy, recently signed by the governor, sets a goal for 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the transportation sector by 2030. Yet our Vineyard Transit Authority is well ahead of pace, and their plan is to have a full fleet of e-buses by 2027. With solar canopies at their headquarters and proposed inductive charging at village bus stops, they are strategically siting this infrastructure — primarily in downtown, central locations — just where concentrated investment should be. And by 2030, more than 40 percent of the electricity propelling our e-buses from the grid’s power supply in the commonwealth will be renewable, making the town village charging proposition cleaner by the year. 

For those contemplating a trip to Martha’s Vineyard without a private vehicle, the VTA bus is a welcome alternative and best bet. But even those more accustomed to reading arrival and departure boards at Logan than bus schedules will benefit from seamless, speedier charging. Reliable public transportation boosts ridership, and a fully utilized bus can represent fewer cars swarming downtown areas, and less need for parking spaces. In turn, reclaimed and coveted downtown space can be repurposed for foot traffic, friendly outdoor dining, or even a pocket park for all to enjoy. 

Here’s our chance to rant and rail against traffic — unifying force that it is — and take measures other than running to higher ground in the face of climate change. We can spurn the misery index and make some modest sacrifices for the sake of electric charging infrastructure and enough dedicated bike paths to span all six Island towns. A thriving bus system and families pedaling ahead on bikes promises to clear a good portion of our roads. A narrowed roadway with several extra feet for new sidewalk also calms traffic speeds and reduces ambient noise. 

There’s a tired cliché on the Vineyard that declares Islanders resist change. But that rings only half-true. It’s change at the mercy of outside forces that rallies many of us to cling to what we’ve always known. Yet if Islanders take the mantle — as many are already doing — and benefits to year-rounders become the leading theme, we can seize our share of this global challenge, and dish out the Island pie more equitably along the way. 

 

Dan Doyle, special projects planner
Martha’s Vineyard Commission