There comes a time when you cannot be silent anymore and this is it. Like many people on the Island, I would like to live in a place with clean air, clean water, a flourishing natural environment and amiable neighbors who have a respect for each other and for the heritage of the place. As a proud citizen of the United States and the town of Oak Bluffs, I believe these are my basic rights. So when these rights are threatened for myself and others, I must speak up. I am standing up for the roundabout. What follows are my reasons.
This place near the blinker light has heritage and a land bank property nearby, the Wehataqua Springs Preserve, whose name derives from a Wampanoag name for land at the head of the Lagoon Pond. You can easily see the cross-Oak Bluffs trail and Old Holmes Hole Road, ancient ways that are now land bank trails. Historically there was no four-way stop and a Barnes-Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road intersection did not exist. A circle of grass had historically been the way horses, bicycles and cars during the industrial revolution slowed down but kept moving at intersections in dense parts of town. As it states on the land bank Web site, this property of springs and Stepping Stone Brook was purchased primarily for drinking water protection and sits squarely in the draw-down zone for the Oak Bluffs town well at Upper Lagoon Pond.
The Oak Bluffs water district well and historic pump house are located at the head of the Lagoon. This is part of our drinking water and fire hydrant system. Long lines of cars and trucks up to 20 or more (at the height of the season) who stop and go, especially west of the intersection, cause an increase of polluted particulate matter from vehicular exhaust on the roadway adjacent to the Weahtaqua Spring Preserve. The summer season is the peak time for water usage in our town and the peak time for traffic backups west of the blinker light. State law prohibits, wherever possible, idling vehicles for more than five minutes because of pollution. You may have seen signs at the Steamship Authority parking lots which display this notice. During peak traffic periods, 50 cars and trucks can sometimes be found idling around this intersection.
Take a walk in the Wehataqua Spring Preserve. Come visit the head of the Lagoon Pond to enjoy the serenity. Observe the clarity of the water above and below the herring run, and compare clarity now to that in August. Two shellfish hatcheries on the Lagoon require clean water to produce shellfish seed, which is distributed to all the Island towns. Island families depend on this shellfish to eat and fishermen depend on it for their livelihood. Granted, there are many factors which contribute to the cleanliness of a coastal pond. Tisbury and Oak Bluffs are studying what can be done to save the Lagoon Pond from peril. Even septic systems from West Tisbury contribute nitrogen to the Lagoon. The least we can do is to keep traffic moving at the blinker intersection. And we need everyone to pitch in.
I avoid the blinker intersection most times because I cannot predict who will go when. Islanders and visitors don’t necessarily remember rules of the road for four-way stops. I have witnessed cars drafting directly behind others like they were attached bumper-to-bumper, a serious accident waiting to happen. Our new teenaged drivers going to and from the regional high school have to negotiate this mayhem. So do pedestrians and bicyclists. Bus riders also transfer to other buses here. Currently there is no even ground or surface for a physically-handicapped person to get out onto.
Oak Bluffs recently agreed with the Vineyard Joint Transportation Committee to put Vineyard Haven ahead of the Oak Bluffs roundabout on the state Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) list for funding, after a bicyclist was tragically killed on State Road. This was a safety problem and now there are beautiful, flat sidewalks that have universal access. It seems to me that Oak Bluffs also has been quite magnanimous in hosting most of the large nonprofit regional institutions of the Island, and the associated traffic burden that goes along with them. Is it too much to ask that we replace the well-documented temporary four-way stop solution and its attendant pollution with the best-evidenced long term solution?
In summary, I am for clean air, clean water, shellfish propagation, universal access to public transportation and a safer intersection for all modes of travel. I am for the roundabout in Oak Bluffs.
Nancy Phillips lives in Oak Bluffs.