Tom Pallas, a frequent user of Island bike paths who refers to himself as Spokémon, sees a lot of room for improvement on the Island’s bike paths. In particular, Pallas said Head of the Pond Road in Oak Bluffs is the worst intersection connecting to Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, which is a road he rides along frequently.
“There’s not one sign telling those cars they have to stop before they hit the bike path, or even the road itself,” Pallas said. “There’s no sign telling them, ‘Caution, bicycle crossing,’ not one whatsoever.”
Many are also unfamiliar with some of these roads, which can increase the risk of collisions.
Pallas has gathered his own data on signs in the towns’ roads and intersections. He said Edgartown has the most, although the number of stop signs does not cover even half of the intersections. Pallas said Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven have the least, and are “just begging for lawsuits.”
Pallas plans to present his findings to the MVC’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “I think we can do a lot better with the existing bike paths,” Pallas said.
Down-Island and up-Island have different cycling situations. Most up-Island towns lack alternative routes for cyclists.
“I’m not sure how we would do it,” Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison said, citing narrow roads and private property as the main barriers.
West Tisbury has some roads along the town’s highway primarily used by pedestrians that cyclists can also ride on, according to West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand. However, there aren’t any designated bike paths in West Tisbury managed by the town.
Chilmark has no bike paths, but there were discussions about constructing one on North Road, according to Martha’s Vineyard Commission special projects planner Dan Doyle. However, opposition to the project grew in Chilmark, and the town’s select board rejected it. Doyle said this reaction caught the MVC off-guard.
“An opposition group mobilized so incredibly fast in Chilmark … they were pretty vigilant,” Doyle said. “We feel there is an interest in the town … we didn’t get to the stage to engage with many stakeholders.”
Doyle said the MVC is currently conducting a study on road safety on the Island, and they got some of the GPS data from the previous attempt to negotiate the Chilmark bike path. However, Doyle said the MVC is not planning a bike path in Chilmark right now. This is done in conjunction with the efforts of the Martha’s Vineyard Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which works to improve cyclists’ and pedestrians’ safety. “We want to make it a collaborative effort,” Doyle said.
Meanwhile, down-Island towns have some bike paths and shared-use paths that allow cyclists to traverse Martha’s Vineyard without being on the same road as cars.
“I would say our bike paths are in average condition for their age,” Kirk Metell, director of the Tisbury department of public works, said about the bike path on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. “The town does routine sweeping, patching, and plowing each year, and will continue to do so.”
“They’re in fairly good condition,” Oak Bluffs highway department superintendent Richard Combra said about his town’s bike paths.
Wendy Brough, Oak Bluffs assistant town administrator, said the best bike path is the one connecting downtown Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. “That’s a great bike path,” Brough said.
There are also plans to expand upon the existing bike path system. Brough said there are plans to build a bike path from Eastville Road to the drawbridge, around the perimeter of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. This plan took five years to get off the ground because of various permit requirements, regulations, and discussions with property owners. Brough said Tisbury was unable to come up with a final design plan with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for its side of the drawbridge after vocal opposition to the shared use path.
Edgartown highway department superintendent Allan DeBettencourt did not respond to requests for information about the town’s bike paths, despite multiple attempts to contact him.
Some bike paths and roads are not directly managed by the towns. Beach Road connecting Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs is maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
“The bike path is cleaned monthly from May until September, and as needed for the off-peak times. This includes both the bike path at Lagoon Pond Bridge connecting Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, as well as the bike path on Seaview Ave./Beach Road in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and the section along Edgartown–West Tisbury Road,” MassDOT spokesperson Judith Reardon Riley wrote in an e-mail. “This work is completed by maintenance field personnel or on-call contractors that are on the Island year-round to inspect and address immediate issues.”
On the other hand, Manuel F. Correllus State Forest — which has land in both Edgartown and West Tisbury — is managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) press secretary Olivia K. Dorrance said they are working with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation to fix it up.
“We have an agreement with DCR to restore trails that were put in without permits, and monitor the regrowth of these areas,” Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation executive director Adam Moore said. The foundation is doing monthly inspections of the area. They are also making sure no invasive species creep into the forest and its paths.
Improvement and expansion of the existing bike paths are not the only ways to better the Island cycling experience, according to MVC Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee chair Rich DeWitt. An option DeWitt mentioned was designing roads to have areas that make cars slow down, such as the curves in the Chilmark portion of State Road. Another important method DeWitt thinks will benefit both cyclists and drivers is better signage, alongside education. “Working together, we can make it happen,” DeWitt said.
Pallas agrees with DeWitt on the need for better signage, for the safety of both cyclists and drivers. The bike path Pallas frequents the most is on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, which he said would benefit from this type of change. He said there are only two bicycle stop signs on that road, and no signs cautioning drivers of cyclists riding through on the parts of the roads that are connected with bike paths. Iron Hill Road and Head of the Pond Road were routes near Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road Pallas pointed out as having a dangerous lack of signage.