“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
– Emmett “Doc” Brown, “Back to the Future”
OK, perhaps time-traveling scientist Doc Brown was a bit optimistic about transportation needs in the 21st century.
For now and for the foreseeable future, good old-fashioned roadways remain the primary component of a city’s transportation infrastructure.
A country’s roads can be likened to a body’s circulatory system. They are a conduit that enables the free flow of critical resources (instead of blood and nutrients – people and goods).
A well-designed, – maintained and – functioning transportation system breathes life into every corner of the community – increasing livability and facilitating economic development.
An unfortunate side effect of Grand Cayman’s great economic fortune is that as our population and household wealth have increased, so too has the amount of traffic, which at peak times (the beginning and end of workdays and school days) overwhelms the capacity of our road network, despite continual improvements, expansions and upgrades over the past several years.
Certainly, more robust arterial roads will help alleviate congestion and allow traffic to flow more freely.
However, there is a limit to how much asphalt, and automobiles, are desirable in our insular slice of paradise. (Where would you rather live or vacation: On the side of a seething highway, choked with noisy traffic? Or on the beachside, caressed by fresh breezes and murmuring waves?)
Solving the long-term riddle of traffic congestion requires creative thinking. Eventually, the mantra of “more roads, forever” will lead to a dead end.
Cayman is not alone in the struggle to help residents and visitors get from point A to point B as painlessly, even as pleasantly, as possible. Among the multitude of ideas and innovations out in the wider world of transportation, here are a few that merit consideration in Cayman:
1) “Complete streets” policies
There are many ways to travel, but too often, transportation planning focuses only on private automobiles. Incorporating infrastructure for “active transportation” such as bicycling and walking can encourage residents to use those alternate forms, removing cars from our busy roadways. In Cayman, that might mean, for example, improving existing road shoulders for use as bicycle/pedestrian lanes, connecting gaps in existing sidewalks, or planting shade trees to make paths more attractive and provide protection from the sun.
2) Strategic subtraction
Just as important as having roads where we need them is reducing or eliminating the flow of traffic where we do not. Diverting traffic from cramped and congested areas such as downtown George Town could reduce snarls coming into and out of the area, and can “pave the way” for pedestrian-friendly urban renewal that will encourage visitors and residents to linger downtown.
3) Rational and reliable mass transit
Cayman’s microbuses provide an important service to many passengers, but there is tremendous capacity for growth, especially on busy commuter routes. Identifying and eliminating barriers to bus ridership – whether it be schedules, routes, capacity or simple lack of knowledge about this transportation option – could help get more commuters out of cars and onto buses.
4) Incentives for behavior
While we generally disagree with governmental attempts to control personal purchasing decisions, we would support incentivizing the purchase of smaller cars, motor scooters or electric vehicles (which already have a lowered import duty of 10 percent) through reduced or eliminated tariffs.
5) Private enterprise
Even though infrastructure is not the responsibility of private-sector companies, employers can look to cope with predictable traffic congestion by examining policies such as flexible hours, staggered shifts, employee car pools or remote work schedules. Employers might encourage active transportation by adding bike racks and basic shower facilities for employees who cycle or walk to the office.
Traffic congestion and unsightly roads are more than a drive-time irritant. Left unaddressed, those problems could impede our country’s economic growth, diminish our islands’ attractiveness as a tourism destination and detract from residents’ quality of life.
When envisioning a highly effective transportation system that is uniquely suited to Cayman, our leaders should not be afraid to switch lanes, shift gears or explore routes that are “less traveled” but more scenic.