Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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More Blinkin' Signs

July 08, 2005

This morning I headed up-island for the monthly taming of les cheveux; my hair is wash-and-wear as long as I keep it short. At the top of Skiff Ave., the choice is right or left on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Right leads to the bottleneck intersection with State Road leading into Vineyard Haven; left, after a couple more miles, brings you to the equally daunting congestion at the blinking light. I turned left.

The Blinker used to preside over a free-for-all in which traffic bound for Edgartown or Vineyard Haven proceeded at will while drivers headed north or south on Barnes Road sat and fumed. A couple of years ago it became a four-way stop. Drivers now proceed through the intersection in order of their arrival. Apart from occasional faint-hearted motorists and those who can't count, it works pretty well. Ten months of the year cars move smoothly through the intersection. The other two months -- that would be July and August -- backups on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road can be impressive, particularly in bad weather. The weather today was not good, but the traffic could have been worse. Uhura Mazda, my trusty '97 pickup, slowed to a near halt just past the electric company and crawled steadily toward the intersection.

A new sign has appeared on the southwest corner of the crossroad. An arrow points north to "Oak Bluffs Center" and another arrow points south to "Edgartown South Beach Up-Island." A similar sign now stands several miles due south where Barnes Road hits the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. To the left, I read, lies Edgartown and South Beach; to the right Up-Island and Aquinnah, the erstwhile Gay Head, the island's smallest and most distant town. I headed right, toward West Tisbury.

The signs bummed me out. Not so long ago, signs were scarce on the roads of Martha's Vineyard. The upper and lower ends of long, winding Lambert's Cove Road weren't marked at all. To figure out which was which, I first listened to people talk, then I guessed that the up-island end was probably "upper Lambert's Cove Road." (Bingo.) Bolder newcomers just came out and asked. Now signs have replaced one of the initiation rituals of yesteryear: learning your way around by listening and asking directions, i.e., interacting with the locals.

In recent years much blather and a few traffic studies have been devoted to improving traffic flow at the Blinker. A traffic light was the obvious solution. Instead, local planners and the state decided to build a roundabout, or rotary. Huh? The main argument for the roundabout was that Martha's Vineyard currently has no traffic lights (except the one at the drawbridge on the Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, which most people don't count). Just say no to traffic lights and the island will remain its pure, undefiled, early-twentieth-century self? No islanders have come forward to argue this dubious proposition in public, and the plans for a roundabout seem to be fading away. We'll get our traffic light yet, and backups to the town line will go the way of -- what? houses that working people can afford?


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