Island officials caught off-guard by no passing zones

New, double lines have been painted over what used to be passing lanes on state roads, and there’s been little warning of the change.

Per Mass DOT's new rule, roads with speed limits under 45 MPH are now "no passing" zones. — Courtesy Oak Bluffs Police Department

Work has been underway to repaint pavement markings along portions of state roads around the Island, reflecting a change to the state’s traffic laws that limits the ability to pass other vehicles.

In order to reduce vehicle speeds and promote safety, Massachusetts Department of Transportation has implemented new restrictions to all state-owned roads and highways with a speed limit under 45 mph. 

The new rule was issued and in effect statewide as of August 2021; however, actual line repainting on Vineyard roads had not been updated to reflect those changes — that is, until last week, when town officials around the Island were caught off-guard by what seemed to be a sudden change to the state highway’s standard operating procedures. 

New solid-line pavement markings have replaced broken yellow lines, which had indicated safe and legal passing zones. Most noticeably, this occurred on a busy stretch of road that connects Edgartown’s Beach Road to Oak Bluffs’ Seaview Avenue.

Island officials say they weren’t notified of the changes until work was already underway. Further, they raise concerns over the impact the new restrictions could have on Vineyard transportation and traffic.

“There was no notification,” Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jon Searle told The Times this week. 

Mass DOT “showed up for the line painting like they do every year … until all of a sudden, you’re seeing a bunch of double solid lines everywhere.”

Similarly, Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said his department was not informed of the change until after the repainting. Both chiefs noted the potential for increased driver frustration if they’re unable to pass a significantly slower car or moped ahead of them.

“It came as a surprise to us,” McNamee said, adding that it would have been preferable if the town was consulted, and the community had had the opportunity to offer input beforehand.

The chief shared his concerns with the Edgartown Select Board Monday afternoon.

He noted that Beach Road/Seaview has long been a safe passing zone, and now, with the new change, the entire stretch from the Dukes County Jail to the Oak Bluffs Steamship Terminal is restricted to no passing.

“I do have a concern about increased driver frustration,” McNamee said. “The Island is no stranger to road-rage incidents.”

This is especially true for a road like Beach Road, which is significantly less densely settled than other Vineyard roadways, and has a 35 mph speed limit, and mostly clear, open sightlines, McNamee said. 

“I don’t want to see people passing unsafely,” he said. “But it seems as though you have plenty of running space to see oncoming traffic … you could do that safely [on Beach Road].”

With the new change, drivers will be forced to maintain the pace of the vehicle ahead, regardless of how slow they’re going. “You could be stuck behind a moped for some distance,” McNamee said, suggesting that violations of the no passing zone are likely inevitable. 

“We’d hate to see drivers abusing or violating a law or regulation,” he said. 

Police say although they will be enforcing the new regulations as they do other traffic rules, they’re not going to be specifically targeting no passing zone violators. But if law enforcement witnesses the violation, they’re obligated to act on it accordingly.

Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said Mass DOT typically operates separately from the town departments when it comes to line striping. “They usually give us a heads-up,” he said.

This month, the state did inform the towns that they’d be painting lines, Hagerty said, but gave no indication that it would include a mandatory enforcement of a new regulation. The double lines “were unexpected,” he said.

A number of Island officials reached out to Mass DOT for an explanation; in response, the state sent over a memo concerning the 2021 SOP — a brief, two-page document outlining the changes to the state’s passing zone regulations on two-lane bidirectional roads. 

“The use of passing zones on two-lane roads, when designed appropriately, may improve traffic operations by providing a safe area for free-flowing traffic to pass slow-moving vehicles that are typically found on rural highways, such as agricultural machinery or large trucks,” MassDOT’s memo to Island towns states. “However, improper use may reduce safety by encouraging speeds in excess of the speed limit and/or by introducing unanticipated driver maneuvers.”

MassDOT continues to identify ways in which safety improvements can be identified and implemented to help prevent crashes and fatalities on roadways throughout the commonwealth,” a recent statement from the state says. “As part of ongoing safety discussions and in concert with the recent development of the new MassDOT Strategic Highway Safety Plan, a review of passing zone accommodations was undertaken to address whether any changes or updates were warranted on particular statewide roadways, not including interstates or freeways.

 “A determination was made to implement a new statewide initiative to close passing zones specifically located on two-lane roadways that have posted speed limits of less than 45 miles per hour. The passing zone closures, which are identified based on a thorough review of regional locations within each highway division district, are implemented the next time the roadways are scheduled to be repaved, or when pavement markings are reapplied.”


      • I will opine that this could actually make things less safe.
        Let’s be real — if some tourist is taking in the view along beach road, has no where to go and is doing 25 mph, traffic will back up behind them.
        Sorry, but some people will tailgate. I’m not saying that’s good– just pointing out reality. Since the first car can’t pass, when it is safe to do so, some people will become impatient and get frustrated–again just pointing out reality–when you are impatient and frustrated you do not think as clearly as you normally would. Then a seagull is a little late getting off the road while eating its clam.The front driver (the one who is looking at the scenery) suddenly notices the seagull, doesn’t know seagulls will get out of the way and slams on their brakes. A whole line of cars has to come to a sudden stop.
        More likely that someone will get rear ended than if cars can safely pass.
        Just a different opinion based on the law of unintended consequences.

    • Absolutely, Islanders should be able to pass when ever they want.
      We don’t need the state to tell us how to drive.
      Or maintain Island roads.

    • There is nothing to vet, it is state law.
      The State owns and maintains the road.
      Towns do not get to decide traffic law.
      They may suggest law but not make it.
      All traffic signs must be approved by the State.

  1. If you make laws — and that’s what this is– that are completely ridiculous, people will break them. It undermines the respect and authority of the agencies making these laws.

  2. This island, as much of Massachusetts, is full of awful drivers, tailgaters who come up right behind you when you are driving the speed limit, people who don’t use their turn signals until the last minute if it all, and yes, those who pass without caution. Being stuck behind a moped? That blows.

    I was just in Connecticut visiting family near Danbury and it was amazing how much better the drivers were — people don’t tailgate and they are courteous! Not everyone here is a rotten driver, but even the nicest, most liberal Massachusetts people — don’t know how to drive. At least one car length per each ten miles/per hour of speed – 40 MPH, that means 4 car lengths – not one. Drivers really are better elsewhere. It will suck to be stuck behind a moped. That said, if you are rushing to get somewhere on Martha’s Vineyard, you are probably in the place. And build in time!

  3. Perhaps the Times could find out many accidents have occured on this stretch of road as a result of someone exercising poor judgement and passing when it is unsafe in the last few years.
    I will simply not abide by this rule, and will continue to pass people doing 10 mph below the speed limit when it is safe to do so.
    Sorry, sometimes I just want to get where I am going.

      • I ask again, Albert– what would you think if the state just declared a 25 mph speed limit state wide, and put 4 way stop signs at every intersection?
        Some laws are just created by bureaucrats that are not in the interest of the public, and may actually make us less safe as I have pointed out in my comment above.
        As far as I can tell there has never been an accident on beach road because someone was safely passing. Why fix something that works ?

  4. Didn’t a plane crash on that beach road a few years back?
    I wonder if the pilot was trying to pass someone…..hhmmm 😉

  5. It is time for the towns to take control of and pay for the construction and maintenance of all of the roadways within their borders.

  6. Ok guys…..
    Plan ahead, leave early and make it safely to your destination. Let’s try and be patient.

    • I cannot plan ahead and am on the Beach Road multiple times a day. It’s my job and people depend on me to get to them in a timely manner. I don’t mind someone driving slow. The road is really hectic in summer. However, when all of the parking spots are taken and people are literally sitting, holding up traffic waiting for someone to pack up and leave their spot, I think it’s going to be a big problem. People sometimes sit for 10 minutes or more and if they cannot be passed it’s going to be very frustrating to say the least.

        • Because I have to. I drive for a ride share company. When someone requests a ride the expect me to pick them up in the amount of time estimated on the app. To drive around via VH would take a lot longer and has it’s own traffic issues. Not to mention there are a lot of people who want to be picked up one Beach Road/Seaview Avenue.

      • you can pass a car that is stopped if it has it’s blinker on– even in a no passing zone. Just don’t do it when another vehicle is in the other lane.

        • Lol. Good to know. Several years ago I had a State trooper jump in his cruiser, chase me down and stop me for passing him on Seaview Ave. He had someone else stopped and was out of the cruiser talking to them. He marched up to me and said “You can’t pass on a double yellow line!” I said I was sorry and that I thought I could pass someone with their flashers on. He said “You can’t pass on a double yellow line period!” Then he marched back to his cruiser and left.

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