Last week’s Gazette editorial eloquently recognizing the one-sided results of the ballot questions on the roundabout was a welcome coda to this ongoing and vexing issue.
The extremely heavy vote in five of our six towns against building a roundabout at the important blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs confirms, again, what many elected officials, like myself, have been hearing from our constituents for years: “We don’t want it!” It’s just that simple. Had there been a ballot question in Oak Bluffs I would venture to say the result there would not have been materially different from the roughly three-to-one landslide against it in the other towns.
It’s hard to be in elected office and not be responsive to an overwhelming one-sided vote like that, despite its being nonbinding. I know that if I were running for office and knew that 75 per cent of my constituency were on one side of a particular issue I would have to think long and hard before I either ignored that fact, or I dug in my heels and tried to convince that super majority it was wrong. Given the long-term, broad-based, grassroots citizen activism against it, the seemingly unstoppable progress of this controversial and very disliked roundabout proposal is astonishing.
What I find particularly disquieting is why one town, in this case Oak Bluffs, would want to impose on its five neighbor towns what those neighbors so clearly don’t want. On the one hand, I, as are other elected officials on the Vineyard, am aware of the fierce sense of sovereignty that exists in our towns. The late Art Flathers of Tisbury said with great insight, “The Vineyard is not an Island. It is six islands connected by land.” On the other hand, regardless of where we live on the Island, we are irrevocably all neighbors, we all use the blinker intersection, what happens there as a solution to traffic issues affects everyone.
So, given the ballot results, I would respectfully propose to the Oak Bluffs selectmen that, as sensitive and considerate neighbors, they consider telling the state department of Transportation to put the contract and the financing to build the roundabout on hold; that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission initiate an inclusive process, one that specifically recognizes and respects the clear results of the ballot initiatives, to address the problems at the blinker intersection, such as they may be. In other words, find a different solution.
I’m not trying to make an already awkward situation worse, but my parents taught me that neighbors shouldn’t behave in ways they know will irritate those around them merely because they can. Let’s try to be good neighbors.
Richard Knabel is a West Tisbury selectman.