Bull’s Eye

Coming soon to an intersection near you?

In yet another lesson in the banality of local politics, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Thursday night voted 7–6 to approve the roundabout, with a few conditions most of which had to do with landscaping, bus stops, and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The vote was closer than I expected. Linda Sibley of West Tisbury and Ned Orleans of Tisbury, both of whom had been talking as if they were going to vote yes, voted no. The commission was deadlocked at 6–6. Chris Murphy, the current MVC chair, broke the tie by voting yes “in support of the Oak Bluffs selectmen.” This was no surprise. Neither was the smirk on his face when he cast his vote. From the beginning he’s been consistently supportive of the project and hostile to those who opposed it.

Voting yes: Holly Stephenson, Doug Sederholm, Chris Murphy, James Joyce, Fred Hancock, Erik Hammarlund, and John Breckenridge.

Voting no: Brian Smith, Linda Sibley, Camille Rose, Ned Orleans, Lenny Jason, and Christina Brown.

My mind is so boggled it can’t boggle anymore. I don’t get it: Why can’t these people have a real discussion? Time and time again I wanted to be crouching on the floor in the middle of their horseshoe-shaped table, prompting them with facts, insights, and questions raised in the public hearings. But what about this? Have you forgotten that? Just for a moment forget about the damn experts and think about what you know about this intersection and about Martha’s Vineyard.

Noticed in passing: Once upon a time, the big selling point for the roundabout was safety. Opponents kept asking just how dangerous the four-way stop was (answer: not very), and how much the roundabout could be expected to improve it (answer: not much). At this meeting, the safety issue was being pretty much blown off. Safety for motorists, that is. The MVC did seem to be uneasy about the safety implications for bicyclists and pedestrians, with good reason.

Hapless John Breckinridge didn’t like the “helicopter pad aspect” of the project, but since he’s from Oak Bluffs he apparently felt obliged to present a united front with his town’s board of selectmen. He did, however, propose a string of conditions to do with landscaping. I think he said that landscaping, including the use of “native plants,” is key to maintaining island character. Yeah, right: the island character of a helicopter pad. He also tried to make it a condition that his town, the one that’s foisted this project off on the rest of us, wouldn’t have to cover the cost of anything the state didn’t pay for.

Trip Barnes’s video was mentioned, and the fact that the attempt to show it at a previous meeting came to nothing for lack of adequate equipment. Pro-roundabouters were ridiculing the whole premise that big trucks would have any trouble with the roundabout, then Christina Brown said that “when someone submits testimony, we don’t argue with them; we listen to them.” So the video was shown, the revised version that includes Craig Hockmeyer providing a bicyclist’s perspective. At the end Doug Sederholm said that if this were a court of law, the video wouldn’t have been admissible because it didn’t deal with the facts. Pot calls kettle black, I say: Sederholm and his co-religionists have managed to discount any facts that threatened to interfere with their lust for roundabout.

Every time Brian Smith spoke, he addressed the issue and he made sense. He had done some research of his own on the matter of bicycle safety. I was seriously impressed by this guy. He’s the selectmen’s appointee from West Tisbury, the town I currently live in.

Oak Bluffs selectman Greg Coogan sprawled in a chair by the door, twitching. Was he having a bad dream? stroking out? Fascinated, I kept sneaking glances in his direction. In September 2006 the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen voted 3–2 to approve the roundabout project. Of the three who voted for it, Coogan is the only one still in office. If he’s ever made a mistake in his life, he doesn’t know it.

MVC meetings are supposed to end by 10 p.m. After that motions to extend the meeting had to be made, seconded, and passed. It was, if I recall correctly, in the third of these 15-minute extensions that Christina Brown pointed out that the commission had to consider the “benefits and detriments” of the project as a whole. Up to this point, the commission had spent the overwhelming majority of its time dicking around with the roundabout’s specs. At long last, for maybe 15 minutes, they talked about the pros and cons.

Finally they took the vote. 7–6. Better than I expected, but it still sucks.

Still — you know what? I don’t believe this thing is going to be built. Short of legal action, for which we don’t have the money, I don’t see how it’s going to be stopped, but I still don’t think we’re going to have a roundabout where Barnes Road meets the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. As far as I can tell, most Vineyarders don’t want the damn thing. Whether we have the guts to stop it is open to question.

Occupy the blinker intersection?

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to Bull’s Eye

  1. mvmartina says:

    I think I would get lost in that round- a -bout. I would get stuck going around and around and around. sorry to hear that it was approved.


  2. susan robinson says:

    Good report, enlivened by your crouching and his twitching and your sneaking looks.


  3. Posters. Large, bold, blocky, legible caps in good, mid-19th c. circus poster typefaces: “STOP THE BOONDOGGLE!” Traffic-light red lettering on traffic-light-amber background. In smaller, black type at the bottom, specify the date, time, and place for a citizens’ meeting/teach-in/rally. Or leave blanks so you can fill them in for a series of events as they come up. Post them in every store window, on every lamppost and utility pole, on both sides of every car. Make it something no one can ignore.

    If my neighbors and I were able to stop a huge, two-county landfill project, you and your neighbors can stop this. Hold an organizing meeting and get started.


  4. dabodog says:

    Load of crap… that’s what they can fill hat round-a-round with. I have YET to speak with ONE year round island resident that WANTS the stupid thing… What a pain in the ass that thing will be if/when it gets built. Imagine the confused High School drivers playing bumper cars as they learn to drive. Sink or swim, eh?


  5. Sharon Stewart says:

    I see the emperor is still nekkid. Such a shame.

    Half of the commissioners seem to be thinking folk.

    Do you ever have plebiscites? If most Vineyarders don’t want this abomination, the selectpeople and commissioners have to listen, right? Or is that a quaint idea.

    Sharon in Canada


    • Interesting thing about this place: When it suits our purposes we talk about “the Vineyard” or “the island” as if it was one entity. Geographically it is; legally and politically, it mostly isn’t. Power resides in each of the six towns. Each one has its own town government, police force, fire department, etc. Here the “R-word” isn’t racism, it’s regionalization. There’s some regionalization in the school system, but people still talk about the bloody battle to establish Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, even though it happened over 50 years ago. County government provides some regional coordination, and the MVC itself is supposed to deal with planning and development with an overall perspective, but there’s no provision for an island-wide plebiscite, or island-wide much of anything. Island-wide issues (like funding for the county housing authority) have to go to town meeting in each of the six towns.

      So one undercurrent here is “this is an Oak Bluffs project and no other town has any right to mess with it.” The MVC chair was appealing to that when he said he was casting his tie-breaking vote “for the Oak Bluffs selectmen.” Some current and past members of the OB town government are still furious with the West Tisbury selectmen for insisting that the roundabout be considered as a “development of regional impact” (which IMNSHO can be seen by anyone who looks at a map or ever drives through that intersection). And the screamingly funny (hah) thing is that not even Oak Bluffs voters have had the opportunity to vote on it, apart from a minor procedural point that came before a special town meeting last June, long after the damn thing was being treated as a done deal by the town, the commission, and the state (which is funding the whole thing).


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