Feeling cross

Crosswalks on Gifford Street in Falmouth include a sign alerting drivers to the crosswalk and an arrow pointing down at it. — George Brennan

We were walking on Church Street in Vineyard Haven, climbing that hill, when we came to the crosswalk on Franklin Street. We looked both ways. There was an SUV coming toward the intersection but it was still beyond Clough Street. Plenty of distance, we thought, so we entered the crosswalk.
Turns out the vehicle was going faster than we thought, and the driver, apparently distracted, didn’t see us as we looked toward that direction. Sensing that the vehicle wasn’t slowing down, we bolted across the street to the safety of the sidewalk, yelling, “We were in the crosswalk.”

That got the driver’s attention. She looked at us in horror and waved — barely slowing down in the process.

We’d love to say this is an isolated incident, but it’s not.

In January, a pedestrian was struck and seriously injured while making her way across Beach Street at Five Corners. Video of the incident shows she was in the crosswalk, though the crosswalk itself is not so clear to see. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see any crosswalk on Beach Road or Beach Street at the moment. They all could use a fresh coat of paint. While we understand Beach Road is under construction, it would be a small expense to repaint the crosswalks before the project is done. (We have to give some credit to Island highway crews and DPWs, who do a much better job than the state of keeping crosswalks painted.)
In the January incident, the driver was distracted by a bag of popcorn he had just purchased for a snack, according to police. The video shows the vehicle stopping at the stop sign on Lagoon Pond Road, but then inexplicably pulling out while the woman was in the middle of the crosswalk and striking her. He was cited for impeded operation of a motor vehicle, and failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

That incident prompted a discussion among members of our staff. 

“Vineyard Haven has three of the most dangerous crosswalks on Martha’s Vineyard,” one staffer opined: the crosswalk at Five Corners, the one near the former EduComp building, and the one that crosses near Cumberland Farms and Sweet Bites. While other places like Falmouth have colorful, pedestrian-friendly crosswalks, the ones on Beach Road are “faded, worn out, and barely visible,” the staff member said. “You are seriously taking your life in your hands.”

On busy Gifford Street in Falmouth, crosswalks are marked with signs that show a pedestrian crossing. Smaller arrow signs on the same pole point down at the well-marked crosswalks.

On Woods Hole Road, the crosswalk that joins the Shining Sea Bike Path from one side to the other features flashing lights to alert drivers that someone is attempting to cross the street. 

You can barely make out that there’s a crosswalk on Beach Road near the Tisbury Marketplace. It’s bad enough the state decided that was an appropriate place for a crosswalk, but it’s been allowed to fade into the pavement, and is barely noticeable. It’s located so close to the curve near the Shell gas station that vehicles coming from Oak Bluffs into Vineyard Haven can’t see pedestrians at the crosswalk until they’re on top of them. Anyone entering the crosswalk with traffic coming from that direction is taking a huge risk.

And on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, the diagonal parking obscures the crosswalks, making it difficult for people driving on the street to see anyone attempting to cross in a crosswalk. By the time a pedestrian sees a vehicle coming, it’s almost too late — another accident waiting to happen. Maybe the folks planning the parallel parking in Oak Bluffs are on to something. It’s certainly easier to see pedestrians when vehicles are parked parallel to the sidewalk, rather than at a diagonal. We’re not suggesting that Vineyard Haven switch its parking to parallel, but some signs warning motorists about pedestrians crossing the street would be welcome.

The thing about pedestrian safety is we can all play a role. 

For pedestrians, you should be extra-cautious even when using a crosswalk. Assume every driver is either speeding or distracted. 

For drivers, slow down, put down the snacks, and don’t be tempted to read your text messages. When you see pedestrians at the side of a road looking to cross the street, stop and allow them to pass. It won’t cost you much time, and you might even get a nod or a wave from the pedestrian.

For town and state highway officials, reassess your crosswalks. Are they in the appropriate locations? Are they well-marked? Is there something else you can do to prevent the next tragedy?

Perhaps we could get the Island’s talented artist community, including some of the high school students, to come up with a way to make crosswalks pop. At the very least, there is technology available to make crosswalks more reflective, so drivers can see them day and night.


  1. In many cities and towns I have been in recently, the crosswalks are also accompanied by instant-on walking lights which pedestrians can set off by pushing a button on the poles. These bright lights blink for long enough for a pedestrian to cross the street, even a slow one like me! I think these are a brilliant idea and should be installed in all crosswalks, since they work well to slow traffic, particularly at dusk and in the dark.

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