If you live on Martha’s Vineyard, you have no doubt heard all about the roundabout. However, for those of you who haven’t – or just for those who need reminding - when you hear people talking about the roundabout, they’re talking about the proposed construction of a roundabout, or traffic circle, at the corner of Barnes Road and Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road.
Currently, there is a four-way flashing red light at this intersection. Since it is the only official traffic light on the Island, this location is also known as “the blinker.”
Since its origins in 2004, the roundabout has been the subject of much discussion, debate and protest. There have been votes, more votes, an attempted lawsuit and thousands of collected signatures in protest. There are Facebook pages, blogs and bumper stickers all devoted to stopping the roundabout.
Most recently, the Stop the Roundabout Movement has been successful in getting a non-binding a referendum question about the roundabout on the annual election ballot of all six towns this spring.
With such oppositional force behind this issue, we set out to uncover the forces behind the Stop the Roundabout Movement. Who exactly are these people and why are they against the roundabout? What are their motives? What do they know that we don’t?
Here is who and what we found:
Madeline Fisher lives in Edgartown. She is a member of the original Fisher family who has been on the Island since the 1600s. She owns the Fisher Gallery on Edgartown Vineyard Haven road. She has been involved with the Stop the Roundabout Movement since the initial proposals were discussed in 2004.
In her words:
I started in on this in 2004. It’s been a learning curve, I can tell you that. I remember opening the Martha’s Vineyard Times and there it was. I called Sandra Lippens, who owns Tilton Rental and Trip Barnes, who is a trucker, and asked them if they knew anything about it. After talking for a while, we figured we’d do a petition to the Oak Bluffs Selectmen. We didn’t stand outside and get signatures; we just put the petition at places like Woodland Market and Ace Hardware. Within about two weeks, we had 1200 signatures.
We presented the signatures, and the Oak Bluffs selectmen decided to table the issue. In our naiveté, we thought it had gone away. Then in 2006 it reappeared, so we got another 1,400 signatures or so and presented them. The selectmen voted on it right away, and it passed, 3-2. I liken it to a funny little hockey game…wham, in it went.
It disappeared again, but what we didn’t know was that it was on engineering desks and state government desks. We walked away after not hearing about it for so long, we figured they lost the funding. Well no, when it came back up in April 2011, it was already a pretty sealed deal with the state.
Originally, they said it had to do with safety. But Susanna (Sturgis) got a hold of that one and didn’t let it go. Now all of a sudden it’s about traffic flow. I realize that the intersection is in Oak Bluffs, but we all use that road. It used to be a narrow, winding road like West Tisbury-Edgartown Road. Now it’s a sad, ugly road and they want to put in a big, state designed ugly circle. Look at Tashmoo Overlook or downtown Oak Bluffs. That’s what happens when the state gets involved with design.
Our senator, representative, congressman and governor ought to be aware that a whole lot of us are concerned. Meanwhile, the state is acting like there’s nothing going on and tuning up their bulldozers.
It bothers me that they didn’t look at alternative courses of actions and it bothers me that the environmental impact has not been studied. The land on two of the corners … isn’t Land Bank land conservation land? Can easements be given on conservation land just to the state for highway development?
It is my feeling that as an Island, we should really demand that proper studies and agencies be involved before we make such a major change and they haven’t been brought in. The EPA has what they call a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) http://www.epa.gov/region1/nepa/ - It states that the NEPA will “go into effect when airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases and other federal activities with the potential for impacts are proposed.”
Since we haven’t been able to get the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) or any of the Oak Bluffs Selectmen to listen, we’re now going ahead with this all-Island vote. I’m so sorry we didn’t do this three years ago. We were able to get the roundabout question on all six of the town ballots. It is a nonbinding question, but it will indicate what the voters of Martha’s Vineyard want. I believe we’re going to get a good percentage. To me it shows lack of judgment that Oak Bluffs did not at least say to the other towns, “Hey, what do you think about this?”
We feel that the roundabout project is a direct assault on all the reasons that Martha's Vineyard is special. The rural character and the rural ways. There has been no environmental impact statement which we think should precede any action. People come to the Vineyard because it's not Duxbury or Waltham and other suburban communities. This project would further diminish the Island's special character.
I’ve lived on this Island my whole life and I really love it more than anything in the world. My question is are we really taking care of this place that is so fragile? People come from everywhere to see our fragility and can we maintain that without blowing it?
Richard Knabel is a selectman for the town of West Tisbury. He has been vocal in both print and meetings against the roundabout. Recently he, along with selectmen from Edgartown, looked into suing the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in order to keep the roundabout construction from going forward. In October and December of 2011, Knabel wrote to the Vineyard Gazette and the Martha's Vineyard Times on the topic. He has allowed us to excerpt some of those letters here.
In his words:
Because of the asymmetric traffic flow through the blinker intersection, i.e., much heavier between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown then on Barnes and Airport Roads, during peak traffic times, a roundabout effectively restores the two-way stop situation that existed prior to 2003.
Vehicles on the roundabout have the right-of-way, those trying to get into the roundabout from Barnes and Airport Roads will have to stop and wait for an opening in the traffic flow. The opportunity, and in my mind the eventuality, for higher speed collisions is very real. Those entering from the two side roads, including many up-Islanders, are greatly disadvantaged, unlike now with the four-way stop.
Furthermore, despite the assertions of the proponents and their hired engineers, the roundabout will make the intersection less safe than it is now for all who use it, including cyclists, pedestrians, as well as vehicles.
The roundabout is an overkill and expensive solution to a non-existent problem for most of the year, if not the whole year. Even Dan Greenbaum, a retired traffic consultant living in Chilmark and who serves on the MVC’s Joint Transportation Committee, says as much. Even though he has supported the roundabout as a member of that committee, he now says it doesn’t have to be built now, or possibly ever. The delays are not intolerable, even in the summer, he says.
Thousands of residents have clearly said they don’t want a roundabout. Why doesn’t that matter? Who should prevail? The many residents who have indicated what they don’t want very clearly, or the planners and builders? Saying, “trust us, don’t worry, you’ll like it,” drips with arrogance and condescension. No wonder people are angry.
The less expensive, less invasive, less ungainly, less environmentally destructive alternative, if we need one at all, is a simple, seasonal, programmable traffic signal such as exists just about everywhere. Moreover, to those who say a traffic light on Martha’s Vineyard is “un-Island-like,” I say how is a roundabout Island-like? We don’t have any roundabouts, we don’t want this one, but there is already a traffic signal at the intersection, and there has been for decades. So which is more “un-Island-like?”
I have said that the MVC approved an incomplete plan presented by the DOT. And I say it again. We will not know what the unwanted roundabout will actually look like unless and until it is built. Ask those familiar with the rebuilding by the DOT of the end of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Ask if what was on paper, 25%, 75%, or 95% plans, actually got built or if there were unexpected and unwanted surprises.
And we won’t know the actual cost of the roundabout in advance, or possibly ever. So far the estimated cost has gone up by about a factor of five, from $300,000 to $1.4-million. If the state and federal funding is considered free money, as it is by many of the proponents, then of course it doesn’t matter even if the cost is $5-million. Let’s face reality: If the cost of the roundabout had to be paid for entirely by Oak Bluffs, or even if every town on the Island had to agree to pay a portion of the cost, would we be having this discussion?
It’s not a big stretch to see there are more cost-efficient ways to address our blinker intersection issues. The most cost-effective one, of course, is to do nothing. And maybe that’s the answer for now.
Susanna Sturgis is a writer and editor who lives in West Tisbury. She got involved with the Stop the Roundabout Movement last spring. She has written on the topic her blog and in Op-Eds to the Vineyard Gazette. She has spoken at hearings and commented extensively on articles regarding the roundabout on the Martha’s Vineyard Times website. She also created the Stop the Roundabout Bumper sticker, started the No Roundabout at Blinker Facebook page along with Madeline Fisher and helped gather anti-roundabout petitions.
In her words:
People who had various reasons for questioning this thing gradually found each other. I got involved last spring when it resurfaced and the fact that it has stayed alive as long as it has as a public issue speaks to how important it is Island-wide.
What it came down to was that I was not convinced that this was a solution for the intersection. It is a fairly drastic rearranging of the landscape so I started going to meetings. I was unpleasantly surprised at the level of discussion that was happening. On September 1, 2011, at what was supposed to be a public hearing about the Development of Regional Impact (DRI), there was a lengthy presentation from John Diaz of Greenman Pedersen Inc., the engineers hired by the state. The presentations focused on the general benefits of roundabouts rather than the specifics of this location. At the end, there was very little time for public comment.
First at these hearings there was all sorts of emotional appeal from Oak Bluffs town officials about safety and that it was worth the money if it meant the roundabout would prevent even just one fatality. The average crash rate for the intersection is something like 4.25 per year and almost all of them are fender benders
According to data, it is estimated that roundabouts reduce accident rates at four-way stops by 20%. Well that reduces the crash rate to 3 accidents from 4.25 for $1.4 million dollars. Even though safety was a big deal on September 1st, by the October 6th vote suddenly the whole thing was about back ups. This I find infuriating. There are so many other possibilities for managing back ups that are less invasive.
So why is this happening? If Oak Bluffs were paying for this it would never happen. It is because the state is calling the shots and that means the state gets to decide. The fact is, we are being railroaded by the state, though it is still unclear why.
The opposition is so strong. However, regardless of the fact that people are coming out of the woodwork, including planning board members, selectmen and the VTA as being against the roundabout, things are going ahead. This is enough to make anyone question the motives behind it.
There was a MVC report done in 2006 that predicted an increase in traffic. However, in the five years since then, traffic has actually gone down. It’s difficult to argue with the future, but this is hardly a do-or-die situation. If we don’t put it in, it’s not like we are missing some kind of opportunity we won’t have again. Furthermore, it sounds like the state could use some of that $1.4 million in other places right now.
We can’t even be assured that this will actually create Island jobs. It would make more sense in more ways than one to hire a qualified Island traffic officer to stand there during peak traffic hours in the summer.
Sara Crafts has lived on the Island for 40 years. She has been a part of the Stop the Roundabout Movement since it began and has recently been very active in getting the non-binding referendum question on the town ballots.
In her words:
There are people more active in this movement than I am, but it came to me that we could maybe overturn the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s decision and say that we don’t want this roundabout. Originally I just thought of an Oak Bluffs vote; but others have expanded it to an all-Island referendum, which I think is great!
I’ve gone to all the meetings and I tried to go with as open a mind as I could. I am a person who goes on facts and so far, I haven’t heard any. In the beginning I spoke with someone from the state and I asked him why he was for it. He started to explain it to me, but everything he said was a canned response and a lot of yammering on about safety. The next thing I know, they are talking about saving time. Save it for what? People here are on vacation.
There is one fact and that is that traffic has not increased on the Island. Maybe it will someday, but who knows when that is. At this point we don’t need this thing so why does the state insist on spending this money? Why can’t that money go someplace else?
I vacillate as to what bothers me about this the most. The waste of money, which I find reasonably obscene in time of belt tightening, and the obliteration of the landscape.
This past summer I went through the intersection quite often because I was picking blueberries nearby. The traffic wasn’t onerous beyond belief. Yes, for about two hours a day, you had to wait a little while, but it is nothing compared to what real traffic is. If you’ve ever commuted to work into New York or Boston you know that traffic doesn’t mean adding five extra minutes to your beach trip.
What no one on the MVC is really discussing, now that this is about traffic and not safety, is the increase traffic on the other ends – at the triangle in Edgartown and other end of Edgartown Vineyard Haven Rd. If what they are really trying to do is lighten heavy traffic areas, then what about five corners, or either end of Edgartown Vineyard Haven Rd? As far as I’m concerned a stoplight would be great, but the state and MVC says that stoplights will cost more. Somehow, I just find that hard to believe.
Craig Hockmeyer owns Craig's Bicycles in Vineyard Haven. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1970, went to the and has been in the bike business on the Island for almost 25 years. He became involved in the Stop the Roundabout Movement as an advocate for bicyclists. He has attended many meetings and brought a great deal of attention to how the roundabout will affect the many bicycle riders and pedestrians who use the intersection.
In his words:
When I first saw the plan in the Martha’s Vineyard Times with a picture of the proposed roundabout, my first thought was, that looks really huge and over designed and really…off Island. My second thought was how is a bicyclist going to navigate through that?
When you think about how traffic runs through that intersection and then you think about the fact that there is a parallel bike path to that intersection, you begin to wonder how a roundabout is going to work. In the summer that intersection is loaded with cars as well as an extraordinary range of bikers and pedestrians – there are joggers, bikers, baby strollers, walkers and literally kids with training wheels who are trying to get to the bike path.
So when I see this plan with all the concrete and the lights and the traffic going around in a circle, I wonder how is anyone, never mind a kid on training wheels, going to navigate through this? In order for it to work, the bikers will have to become part of the traffic. Many bikers can handle doing that, but many can’t. They are going to have to pull over to the side, look to cross the road, but there won’t be any more stop sign, so they are going to have to trust the traffic.
What will wind up happening is there will have to be some sort of stopping mechanism to the roundabout for the pedestrians. So in the end, we’ll wind up with an ugly off-Island roundabout and an ugly off-Island stop light.
As far as I can tell, all of the studies that have been cited in regards to this roundabout are studies that do not include a parallel bike path. One of the things I have proposed is what is called a Smart Light. Smart lights are a four-way traffic light with a camera on it that can see what is happening in the intersection and adjust the light accordingly. They can also be controlled remotely, so if a fire truck has to come through there, the light can be manipulated to make sure that happens quickly and smoothly. Smart Lights can also be set to operate differently in the off-season than in the summer.
Part of what is troublesome for me is that the MVC keeps changing their tune. Initially, the reason for putting in the roundabout was safety – but this was always safety for cars. Now that it has been well documented that this type of roundabout is actually less safe for pedestrians, they are saying that it’s being put in for better traffic flow.
Sandra Lippens owns Tilton Tents and Party Rentals, a tent and party supply rental company that has been in business since 1974. Tilton Tents headquarters is located on the Northeast corner of the intersection where the roundabout is planned. Lippens has lived and worked on that corner for over 30 year and was one of the first members of the community to question the necessity of the roundabout.
In her words:
I’ve been standing on this corner for over 30 years. No one knows the traffic better than I do. I can tell you on any day, any month of the year what the traffic is going to be like, but none of the so-called experts listen.
For a while they were trying to tie people up with a name, saying it’s not a rotary it’s a roundabout. Whether you say roundabout, rotary or traffic circle, the cars enter, go around and exit. We are all talking about an area that is making the traffic go round and round.
Even though I do have many other interests in my life, I’ve been forced to research roundabouts. If you do your research, you discover that on a national and global level, the main reason that traffic circles are installed is because it is an area where there are high levels of accidents. There has never been an automobile fatality at this intersection. We came close with Mrs. Norton, who had to be taken out with the Jaws of Life, but she survived. And that was back when the lights flashed red in one direction and yellow in another. Since it’s been flashing red in both directions, nothing like that has happened.
There is not one piece of evidence that indicates that going in to a circle at up to 25 miles per hour is safer than coming to a dead stop and then proceeding. You want safety? Put a bike path on Barnes Road that leads from the Steamship Authority to the Youth Hostel, that’s safety. That’s a smart use of money.
But it’s no longer about safety. Now our so-called experts are planning this circle to speed up the traffic flow to alleviate the “wait build-up” for a few times a day during July and August. Here on lovely, wonderful, Martha’s Vineyard, the worst thing that happens is, oh my God, you may have to take an extra ten minutes to get from point A to point B at certain times of the day. Those of us who live here know how to avoid those times. Even the VTA builds that extra time into their schedules.
I work with people from all over the world, but most are from New York, Connecticut and Boston where it is a daily minimum of two hours from point A to point B. Invariably they say, are you people crazy? Come to where I live, we’ll show you traffic. And since we’re talking about summer traffic, let’s talk about summer traffic. There is not a roundabout in this world that takes into account mopeds, bicycles, handicapped people, pedestrians, and we have all of that in the summer.
There are also so many issues here that are not being discussed and if they are, they aren’t being discussed publicly. Hard scape is an issue, lighting is an issue, and fog is an issue. Come midnight how many teenagers are going to try to run directly through the roundabout? What about the environmental impact? And for those who say this is an Oak Bluffs issue only, have you seen the ripples on a pond, do you know about the “butterfly effect” and what about mutual aid amongst towns in emergencies?
Nowhere was there a democratic process in this. Where is it written that elected officials can ignore their constituency? We have petitions with over 3000 signatures against the roundabout. What about supporting those people?
What I want to know is, with all this opposition by so many residents of Martha’s Vineyard, why is it still getting pushed through? Why not talk to people who have already made this mistake? But the MVC is only taking advice from the designers who want the money to build this. I say let everyone vote and then so be it!