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SPECIAL REPORT: Traffic survey: Members speak out.

Building more roads is good – but Cayman needs alternatives.

The road widening at the end of the Linford Pierson Highway

Over 100 responses coming back from a recent Chamber of Commerce traffic survey shows that members put “improving public transport,” as the top way to tackle Cayman’s traffic problems, with “busses for private schools,” coming in second. “Constructing new roads” was fairly near the bottom of the list, with only 31 percent opting for it as a solution. Surprisingly, many opted for solutions that didn’t involve new infrastructure at all: Car-pooling scored 25%, while ‘Staggering work times,” and, “Working from home,” each accounted for 64%.

On average, 30 percent of respondents said that they spend between one and three hours a week stuck in traffic. 19 percent put the figure at between three and five hours, while 29 percent said that they spend between five and ten hours a week stuck in traffic. When you multiply it up for everyone who uses the roads, that’s thousands of hours – and dollars – of lost productivity.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Bad traffic conditions can ruin the quality of life for most of the people living here. Starting off very early in the morning from the eastern districts to get to work on time, and then reaching home late in the evening leaves us less time for our families and for recreation, as well as leaving us feeling spent and irritable.

When it comes to hotspots, Hurley’s roundabout takes first prize for backups, according to 54% of respondents, with the Butterfield Roundabout next at 19%. But there were other bottlenecks too, including the turn-off

The Airport Connector Road

to Jose’s gas station on Crewe Road, or where Hirst Road meets Shamrock Road. Much depends on where you live, and most of our respondents live in George Town, so they don’t have to worry so much about the westbound traffic congestion into George Town in the early mornings, or the backups on the approach to the ALT roundabout, for example.

Successive governments have tackled Cayman’s traffic problem mostly by building new roads, and there are presently plenty of new projects that have been worked on for a long time and are nearing completion. These include the new Airport Connector between Industrial Park and the Esterly Tibbetts Highway set to be completed later this year. There are also major new road-widening projects to the Linford Pierson and the East West Arterial, and the near-completion of the road linking Godfrey Nixon Way and North Church Street.

While these developments will all reduce congestion in the short run, our survey shows most of our members would like to see many more options brought into play. Some suggested various ways of limiting the number of cars being imported, for example.  After all, small islands need to find solutions that don’t depend on endlessly building roads, and using up land that we just can’t spare.  

The Airport Connector Road

This Government and the previous government have sought to develop a comprehensive transport strategy – something that is able to look at each option and cherry pick it for a particular niche in the overall picture. George Town could have a park-and-ride option, for example, clearing the city centre and waterfront of excessive traffic and making it more attractive to residents and visitors alike. Electric bikes and scooters clearly have a lot of potential – but only if they are properly supported with innovative infrastructural development that can make the most of these exciting new technologies.

It’s still hard to get around safely and reliably if you don’t have a car. Public transport can be cramped and uncomfortable, and it still leaves passengers miles from their home or workplace, so that they must walk along the edge of busy roads without proper sidewalks. And while the new six-lane developments are welcome additions for car owners, it’s often a nightmare for non-car owners or cyclists to try to safely navigate across them, especially at roundabouts where cycle lanes often seem to run out.

Traffic congestion is one side of the transport problem that needs more than just new roads. It needs careful and clear planning, thinking outside the box, and a sound strategy that can embrace new technologies and new ideas. Many of the answers that came back in our survey, such as “staggered working times,” engage the private sector as much as the government. But some kind of strategy is needed to create a framework that is able to properly orchestrate each element, something that stifles free enterprise on the one hand, nor leaves it all up to ad-hoc development on the other.

In the next traffic and transport article in Commerce Matters, we will explore different aspects brought up by the survey, in greater detail.