Forks in a Rural Road

There are deepening divisions on Chappaquiddick over whether a bike path should be built on the tiny rural island that lies off the extreme eastern end of Edgartown. Indeed, the debate over the Chappy bike path has continued for more than thirty years, but the discussion has taken on more urgency in recent months and weeks and landed in front of the Edgartown selectmen again.

Setting aside for a minute the very real question of whether there is funding to build a bike path, on both sides of this debate stand good, thinking people who have a strong sense of place. And Chappaquiddick is indeed a place unto itself, where daily life is separated from the main Island by a three-car ferry that plies a narrow channel across the Edgartown harbor.

The arguments for a bike path are grounded in safety concerns; the lone paved road on Chappaquiddick is narrow and often sandy, a concern for bikers. The arguments against the path are framed around character and aesthetics: widening the road to accommodate a bike path may be unnecessary for the number of bicycles that actually use the road, and could be ruinous to the place which is arguably one of the last rural outposts in Edgartown.

The arguments on both sides have merit. Safety concerns cannot be dismissed, nor can concerns for character — indeed, the same discussion about character has been ongoing on the Vineyard for at least the past three decades.

But however good their intentions may be, the Edgartown selectmen, whose collective values are decidedly more suburban than rural, are the wrong body to handle this. And to politicize the bike path question will only serve to deepen the divide when exactly the opposite is needed.

At this juncture the Chappy people, independent and self-sufficient by nature and tradition, should have confidence in their ability to come to some consensus. The bike path discussion is ripe for some kind of mediation with the guiding hand of a neutral party; perhaps town counsel or some other attorney well practiced at resolving disputes could step in to help. The selectmen would be wise to encourage this.

First, of course, the people of Chappaquiddick must come together and agree to disagree. There is common ground here; they just need help finding it.