West Bay Road: Where inaction endangers lives

How many more people must be injured, or killed, before Cayman Islands leaders do something about our most crowded tourism corridor, called West Bay Road?

American tourist Harrison Zierenberg is the most recent victim. Vacationing here with family, the 16-year-old was struck by a Suzuki mini-van on Monday night as he was crossing the road outside the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. The driver, a 66-year-old resident, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving. The teenager was hospitalized with serious injuries.

The driver’s behavior in this particular incident is now a matter for police and prosecutors.

However, generally speaking, even those motorists who strictly adhere to the legal speed limit of 40 miles per hour on that strip become, potentially, dangerous drivers. That’s because the speed limit is far too high along the West Bay Road corridor, considering the density of development and the concentration of ambulatory tourists.

Simply put, automobiles and pedestrians don’t mix. The only deadlier combination is gasoline and alcohol. Pour all the ingredients together, and the result is the lethal cocktail we see on West Bay Road.

It is germane to point out the example of the Dart Group, the country’s preeminent property developer. When Dart determined to go ahead with its Kimpton resort, the first thing it did was to separate its future guests and residents, physically, from automobile traffic, even though it meant building a brand-new section of highway all the way to West Bay. (The free-flowing Esterley Tibbetts extension, not coincidentally, removes the primary objection one might have to slowing traffic on the parallel West Bay Road.)

Similarly, now that Dart has decided to move forward with its second tourist-oriented development, this one a part of the westward expansion of Camana Bay (which is itself a “safe zone” for pedestrians), the top item on Dart’s plan is a pair of expensive “underpasses” to ensure that motorists and pedestrians not only steer clear of one another, but won’t even cross paths.

Contrast that with Cabinet’s approach to the hazardous, but eminently addressable, situation along Seven Mile Beach. Following years of deliberations and a string of pedestrian deaths, a cross-departmental panel of government announced a plan to revise speed limits across Grand Cayman.

That was back in November 2013. The panel’s proposals were sent to Cabinet in February 2014, where they have lain dormant for more than a year now, casualties of what we’ll call “inaction via unnecessary complication.”

A serious beginning to resolving the safety problem on West Bay Road is, in reality, a straightforward, two-step process:
1) Lower the speed limit from 40 miles per hour to 30 or even 25 miles per hour. Cabinet could, and should, do it this afternoon. No more public consultations or island-wide speed limit reviews. Call out the sign painters and put up the signs.
2) Enforce the law, strictly. (Police can do it as soon as the new signs go up.)

One measure will not suffice in the absence of the other. First, Cabinet’s radar screen. Then, the police’s radar guns.

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  1. I must drive the wrong roads, because I genuinely cannot recall the last time I saw a police officer with a radar gun.

    South Sound used to have frequent checks, but even that is now a free for all.

    They used to have the giant speed display panel, that would flash up your current speed as you passed it, but I presume it is in a state of disrepair due to vandalism or lack of maintenance.

    I don’t get it, as speed limit enforcement is pretty lucrative. There are fines to collect, as well as the secondary offences to be picked up…no license, tinted windows, no insurance, unroadworthy heaps etc.

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  2. You are perfectly right there, the speed limit should be 25 and whoever wants to go fast can use the bypass. That should be one of the easiest measures to take for government.

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  3. While I agree with the general message of this editorial, there’s some serious bending of the truth going on here. The primary reason the Dart group moved the highway was not to separate pedestrians from traffic, but instead to make the hotel a beach-front property, significantly increasing its value and attractiveness to tourists.

    Just yesterday the Compass ran an editorial about journalistic integrity. I think part of that is being honest with facts as part of your editorials (which I concede is not "news reporting"). You can’t take facts and twist them to fit your narrative. There are valid arguments for increasing traffic safety rules — it’s not necessary to twist facts to create false justifications. If you’re going to lecture on journalistic integrity, please be consistent in applying it.

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  4. From Comfort Suites to the traffic lights past the Marriott the lights on the roadside are pretty much non-existent.. Throw into the mix the completely ineffective and antiquated pedestrian light sequence at the junction along with the flashing ad-board by TI which ruins whatever limited vision a driver has and then bring in a couple of hundred people crossing to Coconut Joe’s or Peppers (who are looking the wrong way when crossing) and you have a lethal cocktail.. Not to mention people using the central medium for overtaking.. The solution is many fold – reduced speed for a this particular section, a fully function pedestrian crossing or flyover and better regulated traffic regulations. Lights first please…

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  5. Agreed reduce speed limit to 30mph then enforce it.
    But most of all improve the lighting along that strip of road.

    Another danger is the large number of cyclists who cycle at night, not only without any sort of lighting but wearing dark clothing.

    This is an especial problem driving through West Bay.

    I have nothing against cyclists. In fact you can see me on my own bike most Sunday mornings. But I”m wearing an orange reflective shirt, even in daylight!

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  6. It is past noon already. Not a word about speed reduction. It would be interesting to see what the Independent assessment says about this particular part of the road.
    I think talks about poor lighting and lack of warnings about which way to look for incoming traffic go for years with no actions from the authorities to correct it. Isn’t it the same stretch where a young professional from the U. K was killed few years ago while trying to cross? Can CIG be legally held responsible?
    I also concur, no matter how slow and carefully you drive WB road at night, you can’t see much due to all factors mentioned in comments, Jay Colgan especially.

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  7. James Whittaker”s excellent piece in the Compass on 8 April – "Teen Tourist Critically Injured in Road Accident" – was more than sufficient to bring to the attention of Caymanian Government and Caymanian drivers who are affected by lax traffic laws and lack of proper policing of the death-trap West Bay Road. Today”s Editorial by the Compass”s Editorial Board – "West Bay Road: where inaction endangers lives" was just gilding the lily, frosting the cake of traffic violations and injuries, maimings and even death to tourists who take their lives in their hands when they try to cross that roadway which was badly planned and poorly engineered from The Year Dot. 3 Simple solutions – 3 inexpensive, one pricey:
    1- Speed reduction – to 30 mph
    2- Speed bumps
    3- Cops with radarguns and videocams at the ready, policing West Bay Road
    4- More ambitious, and more expensive but an opportunity to have an unusual feature on West Bay Road: – overpasses – pedestrian bridges to carry folks safely from one side to the other.

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  8. Many years ago I jokingly nicknamed this "death" bay road. Trying to get across at any time of the day or night is dangerous. pedestrian walk overs would be my choice for a solution. Getting people above the traffic would be the best answer. Getting hit by a car traveling 20 or 40 miles an hour doesn’t change the outcome very much. As a side note, I also hate trying to cross Esterly Tibbets at Caymana Way. I read that they were going to add a traffic signal at this intersection. that would certainly help matters.

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