New roads are good – but we need more options (part II)
When the Chamber received more than 100 results from its recent traffic survey, there were a few surprises. “Improve Public Transport,” was nearly three times more popular than “Build More Roads,” as a solution to Cayman’s traffic problems. People welcome the new roads as a way of getting traffic to flow faster. But they also acknowledge that each time new roads are built, we don’t have to wait too long before the traffic catches up. In the long run, it’s not such a good idea on a small island, having a transport policy which consists of: “More roads and more cars.” It not only uses up valuable land, but it leaves some people who can’t afford a car, or people who can’t drive, behind.
Other solutions like “staggered working hours,” and “working from home,” were popular too. While these don’t require millions to be spent on infrastructure, they do involve participation from all stakeholders. All the great ideas we received – everything from monorails to park and ride schemes to water taxis – had one thing in common: they needed some organisation to make them work.
Breaking Cayman free from its car addiction isn’t going to be easy. How do you get to work, with a public transport system that is often unreliable, and doesn’t visit all areas? How could you expect your child to walk or cycle safely to school, or just around the corner to the neighborhood park or playground when hardly any of the streets have proper, safe sidewalks? Grand Cayman is flat and the weather’s nice most-of-the-time, so it should be ideal for cycling. But, with police statistics showing around 50 injuries to pedestrians and cyclists every year – many of them serious – it isn’t the cycling-haven that it should be. That’s sad for our residents, but it’s also sad for tourists. How many of them would love to explore Cayman by bike but presently feel unsafe and stressed whenever they try to do so?
Thinking outside the box means added bonuses, not only in terms of quality of life for residents, but also in terms of establishing Cayman as a more attractive tourist destination. We need transport solutions that are fair, and accessible to all.
Looking to the long run, we need to rethink everything from first principles. That means planning more self-contained communities, where all the amenities, from shops to parks to clinics, are easily and safely accessible to everyone. It means making proper provision for alternative forms of transport such as cycles, e-bikes, and e-scooters, so that living in Cayman and not having a car is no longer unthinkable, but practical, even attractive. This isn’t impossible, and many other places in the world, partly by design, or partly through tradition and culture, have created spaces just like this.
The Planning Department’s Comprehensive Transport Plan (CTP) embraces all the above elements and more. It is part of Plan Cayman, a long-term planning strategy for the Cayman Islands. Here is an excerpt:
“Grand Cayman has grown and developed around the automobile and the vast majority of trips around the island are made by car. This dependence on private vehicles contributes to congestion, decreases air quality, and negatively impacts health. Safe and appealing alternatives are required, such as public transportation, walking and cycling. If properly planned and supported these forms of transport can be enjoyable, non-polluting, and efficient.”
It goes on to list an incredibly wide range of options and ‘Action Points,’ and includes strategies for prioritization. You can access it through the Planning department’s webpage, here: https://www.plancayman.ky/topics-transport/
It’s bursting with good ideas including water taxis, monorails, and mandatory cycle-parking and shower facilities so that more people are attracted to cycling. Its purpose is to look at each piece of the jigsaw and see where it should fit. It’s a great plan. But how far along is it? It’s already been around for some years, but so far, what’s been done? Last year, Cardinal Avenue was pedestrianized, and that’s welcome, for residents and tourists alike. But if years go past, and all we can really see is the ‘business-as-usual’ aspect of new-roads-and-more cars, what’s to be done?
All new plans cost money, of course, and that is often the reason for inactivity. But plenty of government money is already being spent on all the new roads and plans which are underway. But what would happen if a larger proportion of the annual budget for new roads was spent on some of these alternatives, making them viable, truly practical, and attractive: Fit-for-purpose cycle lanes for example. Really nice sidewalks, which don’t just go on for a hundred yards and then finish but are able to act as a pleasant and safe way for children, old people, the disabled or young mothers and fathers who maybe can’t afford a car, to safely access the amenities they need. Perhaps, in the long run, we could break ourselves free from car addiction, and we would find that we saved the money that would otherwise need to keep being spent on new roads. In the long run, we would enjoy multiple options which make life here more enjoyable, less stressful, and safer.