Vineyard roads are pretty much like roads in any other small-town or semi-rural area, but there are some differences. One is that we have no traffic lights. Well, OK, there’s one of those red, yellow, and green thingies by the Beach Road drawbridge, but general consensus is that it doesn’t count. It’s always green except when the bridge goes up to let boat traffic pass from the Lagoon into Vineyard Haven harbor and back again, but then it’s not the red light that stops you, it’s the gap in the road.
The highest legal speed limit on Martha’s Vineyard is 45 miles per hour. Of course we frequently exceed that, especially on straightaways like the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, Old County Road, and the long stretch of Barnes that runs by the county airport and the state forest.
The narrower, winding roads impose their own limits, no matter what the speed signs say, at least on the driver who’s reasonably aware of the terrain and her own mortality. When my speedometer creeps past 40 on Lambert’s Cove Road, I know I’m going too fast.
The roads we most like to talk about, though, are not the roads that are like roads everywhere else. No surprise there, right? The eyes of off-islanders, especially city folk, widen a bit when you say you live on a dirt road. Many of us who live outside of town, any town, live on dirt roads. It is not a big deal. Mention it to some people, though, and they wonder if you have electricity and indoor plumbing.
A handful of Vineyard roads are so bad they elicit respect, or at least knowing nods, even from Vineyard residents. The hands-down winner in this category has to be Cook Street in Vineyard Haven. Cook Street is a series of axle-defying mounds and valleys that no sane person would drive down. It’s also the fastest way to get from State Road to the Edgartown Road when summer traffic snarls the T-intersection where those two main thoroughfares meet.
Most of the year, stop signs and courteous drivers do a pretty good job of keeping the traffic moving, but in summer traffic backs up as much as a mile in all directions from Vineyard Haven and you can spend 20 minutes crawling forward before you reach the intersection. Hence those in the know take Cook Street. Most of the year we’re relatively sane, but summer makes us all a little crazy.
The Stoney Hill Road is another one. If someone says “I killed my shocks on the Stoney Hill Road,” you know exactly what they mean and where they did it. The Stoney Hill Road in West Tisbury itself is a fairly wide, well-maintained dirt road. Its other end, Head of the Pond Road in Oak Bluffs, is a good paved road that leads into a subdivision. The notorious stretch is what connects the two — or doesn’t: maybe two tenths of a mile of moguls. Not as bad as Cook Street, but still bad.
Those who live on this stretch of the Stoney Hill Road have resisted all attempts to grade it or (gods forbid) pave it. It’s not hard to figure out why. If this road were in good shape from one end to the other, it would immediately become a favored route for bypassing Vineyard Haven, especially in the summer. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which the current route — via the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road — is not.
In my horsekeeping days I spent a lot of time on the Stoney Hill Road. For the last eight years, the notorious road closest to home is the Dr. Fisher Road. It’s close, very close. Travvy and I walk on it almost every day, sometimes more than once. “Walking” is the operative word here. I don’t drive on it.
Most of it is actually OK for a single-lane dirt road. Part of it isn’t. It stays bad for the same reason that stretch of the Stoney Hill Road stays bad: to discourage people from driving through. The Dr. Fisher Road connects State Road in West Tisbury with Old County Road. The other connecting routes take you several miles out of your way. And the Dr. Fisher Road comes out of the woods right across from the West Tisbury dump — uh, make that “landfill,” or no, “transfer station” — which is a frequent destination of most people in town, not just to leave off trash and recyclables but to browse the Dumptique.
As a walker and occasional bicyclist on the road, I see a sort of tug-of-war being played out along the rough stretch. At some points the footpath that runs alongside it will widen just enough to let an ATV or even a pickup through. Then a heavy branch will appear, blocking passage for anything with wheels — including bicycles, so if it blocks my passage, I’ll drag it a bit until it doesn’t. Then the branch will vanish or, if it’s small enough and low to the ground, be broken in two by something driving over it.
My hunch is that eventually the Dr. Fisher Road will become a through way — not, mind you, a throughway. Until then only those with high suspensions or nerves of steel will risk it.