A two-car collision on Tea Lane last week has raised questions about speeding on the single-lane, two-mile-long, unpaved historic byway that connects North and Middle Roads in Chilmark.
A pickup truck rollover in July and two pet deaths this month, possibly due to speeders on Tea Lane, have also been reported. The posted speed limit on the road is 15 miles per hour.
A week-long study of vehicle speed on the road was completed by the Chilmark police department on Monday, and the results were sent to the board of selectmen.
Last week's accident occurred on August 15 at the entrance to Bijah's Way, where a year-round resident was turning onto Tea Lane. The female driver and one-year-old passenger of the car already on Tea Lane - also year-round residents, but not of Chilmark - were hospitalized and released.
"The resident was pulling out onto Tea Lane and they didn't see each other coming," police chief Timothy Rich said. "There aren't so many accidents on Tea Lane - there are more complaints of speeding from residents," he added.
At the regular selectmen's meeting on the same day as the accident, Tea Lane resident Trina Kingsbury said that speeding on the lane is epidemic; she suggested that speed traps be set.
"I have begged you people for decades - use my property as a speed trap," Ms. Kingsbury said to the board. She said her coon cat was killed on Tea Lane on August 7. "Just about every car that goes by here is speeding," she said in an interview this week.
A previous week-long speed study of Tea Lane, done in May 2005, determined that the average speed of the 96 vehicles that passed was 17.5 miles per hour, Chief Rich said.
Little difference was found in this month's study. Of 94 vehicles that drove on the lane between August 16 and 21, the average speed was 17.65 miles per hour, according to Chief Rich - not a high enough number to warrant posting an officer on the road.
"We can have that same officer monitoring several hundred vehicles on South Road," Chief Rich said. "You have to put your resources where they're most effective."
Over half of the vehicles clocked by officers were going over the 15 mile per hour speed limit, and 35 per cent were going 20 miles per hour or above. The highest speed observed was 27 miles per hour. The vehicle was not ticketed, Chief Rich said.
With road improvements on Tea Lane in the past year that made it possible for drivers to go faster, Chief Rich said he expected the average speed to be higher.
"Some of the people who were complaining were observed speeding," Chief Rich said of the 2005 study. In this year's study too, officers observed residents speeding, Chief Rich said.
Some residents agree that the people who drive the fastest on the road are often those who know it the best.
"I think local people speed because they know the roads so well," Tea Lane resident Jules Worthington said. "I think some of the delivery people speed because I don't think they're especially enamoured by Tea Lane and I think they just want to get out of here," he added with a laugh.
The greatest worry to drivers on Tea Lane is not speeding, he said, but newcomers who don't know how to behave on single lane dirt roads.
"It's the inexperienced people that get into trouble it seems," Mr. Worthington said. "I go very slowly myself, because you don't know what to expect - especially in the summer."
The most dangerous section of the Tea Lane is the Middle Road side, which has blind curves and high embankments. The risk is exacerbated when drivers do not know where the turnouts are and are not expecting to encounter an oncoming car.
"People don't expect to run into a car - I don't know why," Tea Lane resident Bridget Tobin said. "This time of year, I go around," she added, meaning that she exits on the North Road side and drives to Middle Road on paved Tabor House Road instead.
"My part is the safest part, but it's also a straightaway, so people will speed," Ms. Tobin said of the North Road end of the lane. The Tobins believe their pet rabbit was killed this month on the road.
"They assume they can pass anywhere," said Pamela Goff who is a Tea Lane resident and member of the town conservation commission. "The road is in some places deep and narrow and at the top of the bank is a stone wall, and every time they drive up on the bank, it undermines the stone wall - and that's going to fall down," she said.
Driving up the embankment can also flip a vehicle, as was the case with the pickup truck in July, although Chief Rich attributed the accident to the driver's lack of familiarity with the truck, rather than with the road.
Improper driving on Tea Lane has contributed to the degradation of the road.
"If we all drove 15 miles per hour, they wouldn't have half the problems," said Keith Emins, highway superintendent and superintendent of streets in Chilmark. "It causes washboarding - when cars speed like that it gets really ripply," he said.
"The normal people that live on the lane are the ones that are destroying it," Ms. Kingsbury agreed. "I haven't been able to open my windows in decades because of the dust."