The front-page news that the Steam ship Authority carried a record number of vehicles to and from the Island during this summer season, for the third year in a row, may have been welcomed by the authority’s management and board of governors with finances on their collective mind. But to those of us who have to live with the consequences of that record number of vehicles it is no cause for jubilation and exaltation.

Observations every year by Vineyarders that the summer traffic on our roads and in our towns seems to have gotten worse are obviously right on target, as the helpful graph in the article illustrates. Numbers aside, year-round residents can all testify to how much longer travel time is for medical and other appointments down-Island in the summer, and to never knowing how long a routine trip anywhere is going to take. Or the difficulties finding a parking space when you get, finally, where you’re going.

The farmers’ market and other events in West Tisbury on Saturday mornings routinely back up traffic on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road for over a mile. The Triangle in Edgartown has become a nightmare with similar backups. Five Corners on the Beach Road backs up traffic over the Lagoon bridge to the hospital. Barnes Road at the juncture with the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, even with the new turning lane, backs up to the furthest entrance to the Airport business park. Vineyarders and visitors alike don’t appreciate these daily summer ordeals.

Aside from the inconvenience and aggravation, the public safety implications of these traffic jams are dire. First responders (fire, police and ambulance) have to navigate through them on two-lane roads in emergency situations to the detriment of all concerned. Clearly, something has gone awry.

The numbers tell the story. Using the 25-year long graph in the article, the approximate average growth rate for the seasons from 1993 through 2014 was 1.4 per cent per year. That’s an almost 30 per cent cumulative increase. Alarmingly, from 2014 to 2018 the growth rate has been an average of 2.9 per cent per year, over twice as fast. That’s just under another 12 per cent in just four years. That should get everyone’s attention.

And it isn’t as if all six towns, in rare unanimity, didn’t recognize the growing problem long ago. As your article says, in 1997 all six in nonbinding referendums asked the Steamship Authority to freeze vehicle capacity at the 1995 level. So how is it that this past summer season the SSA carried approximately 50,000(!) total more vehicles than in 1995? Obviously, the towns’ expressed wishes didn’t carry much weight with the SSA. It’s fair to ask why not?

The SSA says it has only been responding to demand, but now won’t increase vehicle capacity next year. Whew! That’s a relief. So, what we experienced this past summer is what we can look forward to next year. And for how much longer? What about the year after that, and the five years after that? Will the next new ferry also carry more vehicles than the vessel it replaced? Will more trips slowly creep into the schedule again, as they have over the past few years? Will demand be the only consideration in this complex equation? Is there not such a concept as enough? Lots of us have definitely had enough.

The solution is obvious: Fewer cars equals less road congestion and hazard. Figure out a way to reduce the annual invasion of vehicles without discouraging visitors. Not easy, I realize, but absolutely necessary nonetheless.

The character and culture of the Island attracts our many summer visitors precisely because the Vineyard is still not like everywhere else, despite all the changes over the past 40 years. But it is getting closer. To the extent that we keep it different we will continue to be an attractive destination. To the extent we don’t, if we continue to become like everywhere else, why should anyone put up with the hassle and expense of the ferry only to get stuck in traffic jams and crowds, among other things, like they can on the mainland?

So to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which is charged with preserving our character and culture, I say what are you doing about the traffic problem before we reach gridlock all over the Island?

Richard Knabel lives in West Tisbury and is a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission.