Last week’s vote in Aquinnah brought the total number of Islanders who voted on the nonbinding referendum roundabout question to 2,558. While a strong showing of yeas were raised in support of the roundabout at the Oak Bluffs town meeting (where the roundabout question was on the warrant, but not on the ballot) there was quite a different result in the rest of the towns.
Of those 2,558 voters, only 635 voters said yes to the construction of a roundabout at the four-way stop at the corner of Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road. The other 1,923 voters said no.
In Aquinnah the vote was 44 – 9; Chilmark 180 – 65; Edgartown 508 – 171; Tisbury 686 – 215 and West Tisbury 505 – 175.
Back in February, we asked the community members who were behind the to weigh in as to why they felt so strongly about their views. With the results of the recent votes tallied, we again asked the group to tell us what they think those results mean, or should mean for the Island. We heard back from Vineyard Haven business owner Craig Hockmeyer, West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel and West Tisbury resident, writer and editor Susanna Sturgis.
We also asked for a response regarding the voting results from the but did not receive a response by press time.
Richard Knabel, West Tisbury selectman, issued the following statement:
“The extremely heavy vote in five of our six towns against building a roundabout at the important blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs confirms, again, what many elected officials, like myself, have been hearing from our constituents for years: “We don’t want it!” It’s just that simple. Had there been a ballot question in Oak Bluffs I would venture to say the result there would not have been materially different from the roughly 3-1 landslide against it in the other towns. It’s hard to be in elected office and not be responsive to an overwhelming one-sided vote like that, despite its being non-binding. I know that if I were running for office and knew that 75% of my constituency were on one side of a particular issue I would have to think long and hard before I either ignored that fact, or I dug in my heels and tried to convince that super majority it was wrong.
Given the long-term, broad-based, grassroots citizen activism against it, the seemingly unstoppable progress of this controversial and very disliked roundabout proposal is astonishing. What I find particularly disquieting is why one town, in this case Oak Bluffs, would want to impose on its five neighbor towns what those neighbors so clearly don’t want. On the one hand, I, as are other elected officials on the Vineyard, am aware of the fierce sense of sovereignty that exists in our towns (the late Art Flathers said with great insight, “The Vineyard is not an island. It is six islands connected by land”). On the other hand, we are irrevocably all neighbors, we all use the blinker intersection, what happens there as a solution to traffic issues affects everyone.
So, given the ballot results, I would respectfully propose to the Oak Bluffs Selectmen that, as sensitive and considerate neighbors, they consider telling the State DOT to put the contract and the financing to build the ‘roundabout’ on hold; that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission initiate an inclusive process, one that specifically recognizes and respects the clear results of the ballot initiatives, to address the problems at the blinker intersection, such as they may be. In other words, find a different solution. I’m not trying to make an already awkward situation worse, but my parents taught me that neighbors shouldn’t behave in ways they know will irritate those around them merely because they can. Let’s try to be good neighbors.”
Craig Hockmeyer, Vineyard Haven business owner, issued the following statement:
“When I arrived on Maui this winter, I learned that a roundabout was being built at a 4-way stop in Kihei, right near a shopping mall. The scenario is almost identical to ours here on MV; a 4 way stop where the main road is heavily travelled, and the side/cross road used much less. It also has a parallel bike path on the side road. I wondered how long it would take to build, as the road was closed for 5 months during construction. It was re-opened in mid-April and I witnessed the cars and cyclists using it.
Truth be told; it works well. I think a roundabout at our Blinker intersection will work fine. Talk of traffic backing up in other towns will go silent, as I'm sure it will prove. My big worry of bicycles trying to cross on the path might still be an issue when larger groups will stop roundabout traffic while they use the cross-walks. Cyclists skilled and brave enough to act as traffic and enter the circle will also have to stop and wait for cross-walkers, so there will still be that issue of cars wanting to "always go," and those travellers yielding to those in the cross-walk. I still fear someone getting hurt and then talk of putting in a stop light, even pedestrian-activated, will come back and we will have the scenario I've always feared: An ugly, off-island looking roundabout and a stop light.
So really the big question is: Do we like how this looks? Do we want a modern off-island roundabout? With all the signs and splinters and lights? This traffic device looks fine and normal in Kihei; where just down the street is a mall containing Safeway, Starbucks, RoundTable Pizza, Jamba Juice, Outback, etc. Also up the street from that roundabout is a four-lane highway and many traffic lights. So is a roundabout the right thing to do with our "blinker" intersection? Unfortunately, as far as car traffic goes, I have to say yes.
Martha's Vineyard is drifting toward looking just like the mainland. Much has happened over the last 40 years and each drop in the bucket does matter. Will there be resistance if I want to convert my bike shop into a Dick's Sporting Goods? or a TGI Friday's? We already have Stop N Shop, Napa, UPS Store, Century 21, Shell, West Marine, Cumberland Farms, United States Post Office, (We all liked 02568, but it "had to go"). Will there be a Casino? How 'bout a bridge to the mainland? All of that once sounded absurd, and for many it still does. For many though, especially new-comers, visitors, and off-island planners; it all makes perfect sense. Just imagine how many jobs might be provided by a bridge, or a Casino."
Susanna Sturgis, writer, editor and West Tisbury resident, issued the following statement:
“The election results confirmed in spades what I learned when I was out collecting anti-roundabout signatures: popular opinion is overwhelmingly against this thing. Since the percentage against was well over 70% in five island towns (over 80% in Aquinnah), I think it's a safe bet that the result in Oak Bluffs would have been similar if the OB selectmen had allowed the town's citizens to vote by secret ballot.
If it were up to Vineyard voters, there would be no roundabout at the blinker. Unfortunately, it's not up to us. It's up to the state -- to MassDOT and, ultimately, the governor. I wish I could say I was confident they'd do the right thing, but I'm not. Martha's Vineyard doesn't even have the electoral clout to influence our state senator and our state rep. Clout is what matters, and I'm afraid MassDOT and Greenman Petersen Inc. (GPI), the contractor, have much more clout at the State House than we do.
I didn't get involved in fighting the roundabout till early last summer. Like many other Vineyarders, I thought the project was dead till it came roaring back in April 2011. We've made a lot of headway since then, but all the while I've been asking How did this boondoggle get this far? At what point did the Vineyard lose control of the process?"
As I understand it, we lost control of the process when the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen signed the contract giving the state financial and managerial control of the project. Most likely that contract would never have been drawn up, never mind signed, if the elected and appointed members of Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) had been paying closer attention and asking more rigorous questions in the period from 2004 through 2006.
Popular opinion was mobilized against the roundabout in those years -- and it was totally blown off. In 2011 and 2012 it's been blown off again. What's the message here? That there's no point in getting involved. No matter how well you do your research and present your arguments, no matter how many people you've got on your side, you're not going to be heard.
And guess what? The ones who aren't listening aren't the so-called "1%." Many of them are our very own elected officials, and some of them live right up the road from us. For me the big lesson here is that we need to wake up, believe we can make a difference, then pull together to make our voices heard.”
What do you think it means that the results of the nonbinding referendum came out so strongly against the proposed roundabout? What do you think is the right course of action? Tell us what you think in the comments!