Traffic lights could make a difference


To the Editor: 

In August 2000, I wrote to the other Vineyard paper that it was high time to consider installing seasonal traffic lights at the two notoriously congested Vineyard Haven intersections. I said, “The summer of 2000 marks the moment when down-Island traffic has finally and continuously … overwhelmed the capacity of the roads, and dramatized the enormous need for better traffic management.”

 It is now 22 years later, and, nothing (and I do mean nothing) having been done to address the problem of orderly traffic flow, the situation is worse, sometimes approaching gridlock.

Your July 21 editorial, while grudgingly agreeing that seasonal traffic lights at key intersections would “bring some order,” goes on to throw cold water on them by continuing, “but they’re unlikely to do much to improve the flow.”

I respectfully, if frustratedly,disagree. As I wrote in 2000, “At least traffic lights are objective, not subjective. They are set for so much time, and drivers understand they have to accommodate themselves to a certain amount of waiting time. But that waiting time is just that: certain, and in the bargain, calculable and finite, compared with what we now have.”

The uncertainty of traffic flow at the key uncontrolled intersections encourages impetuous, dangerous behavior. The driver who stops to let others in risks being rear-ended; letting more vehicles enter the already congested traffic in an unregulated manner only makes getting to one’s destination more subject to the kindness of strangers.

Of course traffic lights are more than traffic lights. They symbolize change, which many people decry, claiming to want to “keep the Vineyard the way it was.” But that’s an empty shibboleth. Is it not clear that amelioration of concededly frightful traffic conditions requires intervention, not insupportable expressions of yearning about the Vineyard of yore, which, to every seeing eye, is no more?

I cite the battle of the roundabout. Long and vociferously opposed by some very vocal people, it is now considered a success. But building roundabouts at the critically congested intersections is virtually impossible as a near-term solution, as a considerable amount of land and numerous buildings would have to be taken by eminent domain to do so, a proposition which has no wings whatever.

Finally, I cite the recent experience of the Longview Road Association. Faced with insistent requests to take action to slow traffic on our narrow roads, the association, after consulting the West Tisbury Police about their effectiveness, installed a couple of seasonal radar speed signs here as the most practical response. There was an immediate hue and cry from a few residents (“That’s not a Vineyard thing …”). One of the signs was attacked, recovered. They will be discussed at our annual meeting. But for now, the opposition has calmed down as the signs prove their worth.

There may be better ideas than seasonal traffic lights. Let’s hear them. But continuing to do nothing is not one of them.

Nicholas W. Puner
West Tisbury