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Putting traffic and transportation high on the agenda

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Two or three weeks ago, in my column “Still Remembering the Tragedy at Rock Gutter,” I argued that we not only needed to reach out to the families of those who suffered losses, but also to look ahead. I suggested that it was a good time to re-examine the entire operation of our transportation system — overcrowding, speeding, general behaviour of drivers, conductors, passengers — indeed the entire system. I was pleased to see that last week all three papers touched on matters related to traffic and transportation. This was in response to a release by the Traffic Department that they were putting into action a plan to clamp down on a spate of recklessness, singling out van drivers and motorists generally.{{more}} The Vincentian dealt with this nicely. Under the caption “Traffic Branch promises action again,” it stated, “Not for the first time the Traffic Branch of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force is threatening increased action against traffic offenders.” While we compliment the Traffic Branch on this renewed burst of energy, we have to admit that we have heard it all before. So, what’s new?

The Searchlight newspaper puts it in the context of serious issues becoming short-term chatter. But then it went on to call for a national conversation on public transportation that goes beyond talk. The answer is not to call for a national conversation, which might only ensure more short-term chatter, but to ask the traffic authorities to enforce existing laws and regulations. I don’t know if we need a conversation on reckless driving, overcrowding, uninsured vehicles and drivers without updated licenses. The Searchlight did mention some issues that have not really been a part of the national conversation — hours of operation of vans and their availability on a consistent basis on Sundays and public holidays. The truth is that without an organized transportation system this is a No! No! In any event, we have to start with what can easily be done, that is enforcing existing laws and regulations. I am suggesting to the traffic boss that it is not only the recklessness of motorists and checking licences and insurances that should be the focus. They need to look at the whole system.

The user is faced with a lot of confusion in the system. Sometime last week, while walking past the Court House, I saw two persons, who were obviously tourists, standing near to the pedestrian crossing between the market and Coreas. They were taking an exceedingly long time to cross and so this caught my attention, until they eventually crossed over to the Corea’s side. I then realized what had happened. The two persons were trying to figure out what the hell was going on, how the system worked, when to pass and not to pass. People were crossing while vehicles were moving and vehicles were moving while persons were crossing. So they took some time before finally deciding to join the madding crowd.

A friend of mine had suggested to me a long time ago that the problem with traffic in Kingstown was with the pedestrians. If you are a driver, try driving past the pedestrian crossing between the market and police barracks. You can very well spend a lot of time just waiting, unless you understand how we operate. Some persons believe that once they reach the crossing they have automatic walking rights, regardless of circumstances. When you see that things are clear on your right hand side and begin to move you are likely to be confronted by persons crossing from the left hand side or vans coming across from the market going windward, blocking vehicles on the other side. This is sheer madness and brings me to another forbidden topic that no one wants to deal with and that is the need for traffic lights, moving us into the 21st century. Pedestrians who do not respect instructions from traffic police when they are at the crossings will certainly not want to tamper with the red lights. But then this is forbidden matter.

Two other matters that I am not clear about! That space in front of FCIB! Is it an expanded sidewalk or is it an area to park vehicles? If it is an area that allows parking, is it only for bank customers or for general use, and are there times specified. I am confused because at times I see vehicles being clamped and other times not. I must confess to my ignorance on issues like this, but I suspect others are equally confused. My latest beef, the ‘detour’ at Campden Park! I tend to follow instructions, especially traffic instructions, so with the sign indicating a detour I religiously take the road through Campden Park and either up to top Questelles, or through Clare Valley to Chauncey, but I notice other vehicles operating as normal. I concluded that after work stops at 4 p.m., traffic resorts to its normal route; but then I looked to see if there was any small print indicating that the detour was for a specific time and didn’t see any. Then I realized too that work is sometimes done during the night; so my confusion grows. Our traffic and transportation system needs a thorough overhaul. We know what should be done, so it is only left to the police and traffic department to ensure that they are serious about their clampdown. If there is a shortage of resources for them, then this must be urgently addressed. There is really no need for any conversation on these matters. Who would, for instance, want to defend loud music on vehicles!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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