Accident at the roundabout. Photo by James, courtesy of M.V. Patch.

Accident at the roundabout. Photo by James, courtesy of M.V. Patch.

Around midday yesterday a Honda sedan hit the curb at the roundabout hard enough to deploy both airbags and send the driver to the hospital with what initial reports indicate (and we’re hoping) are fairly minor injuries. The Martha’s Vineyard Times reports that according to Emergency Medical Service chief John Rose this was the first accident at the roundabout that required an ambulance response.

I’m inferring from the early details — the driver was young, her father was in the passenger seat — that this may have been a fairly inexperienced driver who got flummoxed by an unfamiliar traffic pattern. Reminds me of the public hearing where an Oak Bluffs elected official got up and wailed that her teenage daughter was afraid to drive the four-way stop. This was the same elected official who said that it was worth spending $1.4 million on the roundabout if it would save the life of someone’s granny who might be killed at the four-way. Never mind that there hadn’t been any serious injuries, never mind fatalities, at the four-way — someday there might be!!!!

Sometimes what passes for logic on Martha’s Vineyard just takes my breath away. And of course it helped that the $1.4 million wasn’t coming out of her town’s budget.

But I digress. I’ve been meaning to blog a little update about the roundabout, or, as I sometimes call it, the blinkabout. I’ve been calling that intersection “the blinker” for a long time and it’s taking a while to get out of the habit.

For the record: I was passionately opposed to the roundabout. I was not passionately opposed to the roundabout because I hated roundabouts, couldn’t drive roundabouts, or thought roundabouts violated “the character of the island.” I was passionately opposed to the roundabout because (a) it wasn’t needed, and (b) it was being stuffed down our throats by interests over which we had little control, notably MassDOT and their pet contractors.

Once the roundabout steamroller became unstoppable, all I wanted was that the roundabout not be worse than the old four-way. I got my wish. It works. For traffic flow it may even be better then the old four-way. Yesterday’s accident is unfortunate, but it’s not a deal-breaker. It shouldn’t be an occasion for “told you so” crowing.

I am curious about the effect the roundabout is having on the intersections linked to it. I’ve experienced longer backups than in previous summers at both the T intersection of Barnes Road and the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road and (especially) the four-way near the Oak Bluffs fire station. The two ends of the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road are such terrible summer bottlenecks that it’s impossible to tell whether this year’s are worse. Sometimes you really do have to rely on statistics gathered over time.

However, the fact that the roundabout works does not erase the fact that the process leading up to it was seriously flawed, and those flaws have not been addressed by much of anybody. Remember how the project was pitched as a matter of safety — then when proponents couldn’t present any evidence that roundabouts improved the safety record of four-way stops, the primary raison d’être became traffic flow? Could we discuss other ways to address traffic flow, like “smart” traffic lights? No, we could not — MassDOT said we didn’t qualify for a traffic light, and MassDOT was managing the project so that was that.

The fight over the roundabout featured some really bad behavior by the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, and some less-than-stellar behavior by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Has any of this been discussed? Not that I know of. A lackadaisical story published in the M.V. Times in early August suggested that everything was hunky-dory and implied that most opponents had come round (so to speak) and learned to love the roundabout. The frame was all too familiar: See? Those contentious Vineyarders who were so afraid of change have discovered it wasn’t so bad after all.

Gag. The roundabout works, but island self-determination lost a big one. Oak Bluffs is still stuck with a crappy town government, and some members of the MVC can’t think their way out of a paper bag. Win-win? I think not.

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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5 Responses to Roundabooboo

  1. mvfoodguy says:

    I love the Roundabout. I could care less about the political part of it but as far as traffic flow I have to say it’s 100 times better than the “blinker”. I never have to wait in traffic there, although I think you are right, other intersections have become a little bit busier.
    I guess it’s a matter of having too many cars in a couple small towns. We can put a round-a-bout at every corner but as long as more and more cars and people come here there won’t be anywhere to put them.


  2. tompostpile says:

    I will aver that this accident was as bad as it was because the roundabout is not yet finished. When it’s finished this fall, there will be a couple more inches of paving , and the islands will have infill, either earth or masonry, I don’t know which. With a higher paving level (lower height of curb to bonk into) and filled-in islands, this might not have even been a reportable accident.


  3. David W says:

    I agree with everything you have said in your opposition to the roundabout. As a roundabout this roundabout functions as it is suppose to but the powers that be who pushed this thought very little of how it would impact elsewhere. I live within a half mile of the roundabout and have ridden through the circle more times than I can count with out any issue and have driven through it half a dozen times at most.

    I’ve been a member of the Joint Transportation Committee out of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for over 20 years representing the interests of cyclists and pedestrians. I have been the sole vote against the roundabouts since it’s conception.
    My issue is that was that to accommodate more traffic leads to more traffic. There is an old adage that goes something like this. Seeking a cure for motor vehicle congestion by widening the road to accommodate traffic is like curing obesity with larger pair of pants.
    There are to many motor vehicles on our limited infrastructure and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission continues to plan for a 1.6% annual increase in traffic with no end.

    There is no one among those who lead and serve us who even think about when do we say enough is enough with automobile congestion.

    At the public meetings way back at the beginning, John Diaz, Assistant Vice President of Greenman-Pedersen Inc., the engineering firm who designed the roundabout, when asked by me what about the traffic problems we will see at either end of the Edgartown Vineyard Haven Rd because of the roundabout, he answered that he wasn’t hired to deal with the traffic impact at either end or any other place but the blinker intersection.

    Angy Grant representing the VTA said that with the 4 way stop in place, it was much easier to get the buses into Edgartown. That is no longer the case because of the constant flow of traffic.

    Nothing has had more of an impact to this Island than the automobile and it is only going to get worse.


    • When I think of John Diaz and his deadly dull and long presentations, along with his inability to answer anything off-script . . . arrgghh. Before I got involved in the anti-roundabout fight, I’d never even heard of the Joint Transportation Committee. Was very glad to learn you were on it. Isn’t Craig Whitaker on it now? He’s very aware that widening the road -> more and faster traffic. I remember him saying that in some places they’ve actually started narrowing roads in response to congestion — and it works. Will anyone around here listen? Hah. Intelligence, courage, and vision seem to be in short supply among our so-called “leaders.”


      • David W says:

        Very short supply indeed. The T.I.P., Transportation Improvement Program has bicycle improvement and expanded bicycle facilities for decades to come. Once the drawbridge is finished there will be no more expansion of our road ways or widening of the travel lanes. There will be an improvement to the intersection of State Rd and Old County in West Tisbury. I found that intersection to be more dangerous than the blinker ever was. I’ve been pushing to turn Circuit into a pedestrian mall. We will eventually have to start putting limits on motor vehicles and even seek to reduce the numbers. We will have no other choice. That or be engulfed with perpetual gridlock. This and last Summer have been quite the mess traffic wise. The SSA is talking about replacing the freight boat Governor with something even bigger to bring even more cars to the Island. That is nuts.

        I believe Craig is still on the JTC.


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