Editor’s Note: Under discussion for 30 years, a Chappaquiddick bike path is on the drawing board again. An application has been filed with the Edgartown Community Preservation Committee for funds, and an active debate is now under way on the separated island about the pros and cons of a bike path. What follows is a selection of letters that have been sent to the Community Preservation Committee.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I was a member of the first bike path committee when it met in about 1978. Thirty years ago. That group was made up of thoughtful, intelligent and concerned citizens who felt that a bike path was a worthwhile and necessary addition to our community. Since that first meeting various efforts have been made to proceed with the project, but with the many obligations we all had and with the many objections that others had, the project always seemed to end up on the back burner. I personally held back because several of my friends seemed so upset about it. So while the rest of Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland enjoyed the advantages of bike paths for three decades, Chappaquiddick has been without one, and those 30 years have not been without incident.
My children grew up without the choice of a safe bike ride to the ferry. Cars and bikes should not have to share the same pavement. I rode my bike to the ferry at least twice a day this past summer and on at least half of the trips I was compelled to get off onto the shoulder because I felt endangered by the automobile traffic. Nobody in a car can truly operate safely around a child or even an adult on a bicycle. A person on a bike can easily wobble 10 feet and unless drivers wait to pass when they can get completely into the other lane they have come too close.
So those that didn’t want a bike path have enjoyed three decades without one. Now it’s time to get on with it. I have five grandchildren. They and I have the right to a safe bike ride in our community. My main purpose in taking over the Chappy ferry was to provide myself with a job where my grandchildren could work with me. They will be riding their bikes down to the ferry to go to work in a few short years. I will continue to ride my bike down to the ferry on a regular basis. Everyone who rides a bike, pushes a baby stroller, walks a dog or hikes along the road should be able to do so safely.
Those that don’t like the bike path concept for aesthetic reasons should know that this committee is very concerned about addressing that issue. Those that claim that there are statistically more accidents on bike paths than on roadways should remember that statistics are meaningless without knowledge. I can tell you from personal experience that riding on a bike path is better than riding on the road. The design of a safe and beautiful bike path takes a great deal of planning and will require consultation with professionals. We need to begin the process of design with a more detailed survey. Then we will be able to identify the true obstacles which we will encounter and work out solutions which we will be able to explain to the community. I know that there are strong feelings and concerns on both sides and your funding will make it possible for us to have educated and factual discussions during the process of bringing this project to fruition.
Ten Reasons to Say No
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
My wife, Barbara, and I have been seasonal residents and property owners on Chappaquiddick since 1995 and we’ve been coming to the Island for 30 years.
We are writing with regards to the proposal to install a bike path on Chappaquiddick. We are strongly opposed to the idea. Here are 10 reasons why not to build a bike path on Chappaquiddick:
• Chappaquiddick is a small island — too small in our opinion to warrant a bike path. The construction of a 12-foot wide paved bike path on such a small Island with such small dirt roads will have an irreparable and irreversible impact on the environment and rural character of Chappaquiddick.
• One of the things we cherish most about Chappaquiddick is the general lack of development. The “big Island” has many attractions — towns, restaurants, shops and bike paths. We, like most residents, chose Chappy precisely because it does not have these features. Yes, the dirt roads are slow and bumpy, but the inconvenience is part of the island’s charm. A bike path would represent major development and there’s no going back if it proves to be a bad idea.
• In the summertime, Chappaquiddick residents grapple with congestion on the ferry. We believe that building a formal bike path will only exacerbate this congestion.
• Most of the people who would use such a bike path are not Chappaquiddick residents. However, the residents will bear the brunt of any negative impact.
• People who want bike paths have a choice of many gorgeous bike paths in Edgartown and on the rest of Martha’s Vineyard. These areas do not have the size constraints; Chappaquiddick does. Why build on Chappaquiddick at great financial cost and ecological peril when there’s a state-of-the-art bike path a half-mile away in Edgartown?
• All over America, our land is being covered with cement and concrete. Chappaquiddick offers something unique — and fast disappearing — untrammeled nature. Bicyclists and cyclists can enjoy our island — as they have for decades — without cutting down more trees and paving over more land.
• Bike paths bring people and people bring trash. Last summer, I picked up more litter on Litchfield Road than I have in the previous five years. A bike path will bring more litter to Chappaquiddick.
• The residents of Chappaquiddick have not had an opportunity to debate the question of a bike path in a public forum, like the Chappaquiddick Island Association. That should happen next summer before any major decisions are considered or made.
• One of our neighbors, Dr. Siamak Adibi, has done a formal scientific study of the pros and cons of a bike path for Chappaquiddick. (The document is dated Sept. 24, 2008). In it he points out, that contrary to popular belief, bike paths don’t necessarily improve cycle safety and in many instances, actually increase the risk of a collision. To the best of my knowledge, we have never had a bike-car accident on Chappaquiddick.
• We believe Community Preservation Committee and state and town funds are best used for historic preservation, open space acquisition, and affordable housing. I’m sure the high cost of a bike path many Chappaquiddickers don’t want could be put to better use.
We all believe that the best way to insure bicycle safety with the minimal impact to our tiny island is to educate cyclists to ride single file and follow simple and safe rules of the road. We don’t need a bike path. The proof? We have lived just fine without one for decades.
Miami, Fla. and Chappquiddick
Engineering Study First
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I have carefully read the proposal for a bike path as well as the letters that have been sent recently to the C.I.A. membership. The question of a bike path has been an active issue on Chappy for over 20 years as many of our membership are well aware. I think one of the reasons that the question of whether or not to construct a mixed use paved path is that we, the residents of Chappy, have not had the opportunity to study the path realistically and completely to see if indeed the issues that are raised by those who oppose the path could be resolved and/or satisfied. In addition, since we have never had an engineering study performed, we do not have a clear and accurate assessment of the real impact the path would make on the Chappaquiddick landscape.
I believe we would all like to see a conclusion to the discussion that would reflect as far as possible a consensus decision that could satisfy as much as possible the concerns of those who support as well as those who do not support a path. Therefore, it seems to me that the time has arrived for us to conduct the study, review the results and engage in our discussion with the benefit of concrete visible facts rather than the supposition that the path will necessarily have the detrimental effects on the island that those who oppose the path suggest will happen. At the same time, if it is concluded that the natural beauty of Chappy will be irrevocably destroyed by a path, then perhaps a plan could be proposed that will satisfy those who feel that a path would improve the safety and quality of life for residents of Chappy as well as those who visit the island.
The benefits of having the results of an engineering study would be that we can have a discussion based on facts rather than opinion; we would be able to better assess the environmental impact of a path; we would have a clearer idea of its cost; all residents of Chappy whose property is adjacent to the path would be able to determine the impact the path would have on their property. This gives us common ground for a discussion from which we could arrive at a decision that might be acceptable to us all. After all, I believe this is the spirit of community participation which we all support.
Change For the Worse
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Peter Wells makes one good point in his panegyric supporting bike paths on Chappaquiddick.
“I can tell you from personal experience that riding on a bike path is better than riding on the road,” he writes.
He’s absolutely right about that. As a longtime bike rider, I can confirm it — assuming that by “better” he is not talking about “safer.” There are studies showing that it is actually more dangerous to ride on bike paths across intersecting driveways than riding along the side of a road.
But if Peter means that riding on a bike path is smoother and faster and easier and, well, sexier than riding on the side of a road — I’d have to agree. Which, of course, is the problem.
Laying a sleek, smooth asphalt bike path on Chappaquiddick will, in a single stroke, destroy the rural pace of life that makes our little island so different in this frenetic day and age — and so special. Paved bike paths are magnets. They draw bicyclists like bees to honey. I have nothing against bicyclists, being one myself as mentioned, but do we really want hundreds of them coming to Chappaquiddick every week, racing back and forth to the Trustees reservation, the fisherman’s parking lot and South Beach? That’s ahead, of course. No one should doubt for a minute that those will be the final destinations of the demonstration path being proposed.
A wider, smoother road for cars, which will be the next step in this process to keep parity with the paths; paving over the few remaining dirt roads for the same reason; faster speed limits for motorists after the roads are cleared; a huge influx of sightseers and vacationers on a daily basis; longer lines at both ends of the ferry, and, eventually, portable toilets for the large number of visitors pedaling and jogging and rollerskating and skateboarding around the island . . . these are the likely consequences of the seemingly innocuous proposal for a demonstration bike path on Chappaquiddick.
For these reasons, which will change Chappaquiddick forever, I hope everyone will think long and hard before going down this, ah, road.
Boston and Chappquiddick