With eastern districts residents mired in hours-long traffic jams during both morning and afternoon rushes, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is considering drastic new measures in attempts to make the daily commute safer and somewhat more bearable.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne told a group of about 40 residents at the Seafarers Hall in Prospect Thursday night that when it comes to crowded streets, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is struggling with two major difficulties; a lack of an overall traffic management plan and a roads infrastructure that was never built to accommodate the number of cars it serves now.
There is little police can do to change the latter issue, Mr. Byrne said. However, there are a number of options the RCIPS is now exploring to improve traffic flows, particularly during the morning commute when schools are beginning their day.
Some of those options, Mr. Byrne said, included putting uniformed police officers out to direct traffic at roundabouts, closing down certain side streets to through traffic and even proposals to keep heavy truck traffic off the roads entirely during morning commute times [roughly between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.].
The last item received a big round of applause from those gathered at the Seafarers Hall, but Mr. Byrne cautioned that it was only an idea at this stage, and that practically speaking, keeping heavy marl trucks out of commission for a couple of hours each day “would affect a whole lot of people.”
RCIPS Traffic Unit Inspector Ian Yearwood summed up the current eastern district traffic nightmare, which comes to a head each day in the Prospect/Red Bay area: “We’ve now got three junctions in heavy traffic trying to compete, to fight, to get into George Town.”
Mr. Yearwood said the RCIPS helicopter has been touring the roads system within the past week from downtown George Town to Savannah to determine where the bottlenecks occur.
Problem areas identified included the Tomlinson roundabout near the Lantern Point complex, where traffic from both the East-West Arterial Road and Shamrock Road merges, causing delays. To avoid that junction, drivers are either turning off north on Poindexter Road or due west on Prospect Point Road. In either direction, that through traffic is coming into contact with school zones – Prospect Primary’s to the north, and Montessori by the Sea to the west – where hundreds of school children and their parents are arriving during the mornings.
The traffic from Prospect Point, at its western end, is then merging at the Red Bay roundabout further down the street on Shamrock Road and causing further delays, Mr. Yearwood said.
To combat motorists using “rat runs” – as Commissioner Byrne called the side streets traffic is piling up on – police closed off the southern end of Poindexter Road to through traffic in the mornings. This was aimed at reducing traffic, cutting the risk of accidents around local schools and also to keep the number of cars merging at the Tomlinson and Red Bay roundabouts to a minimum, he said.
“It’s attracted a mixed reaction so far,” Mr. Byrne said of the morning time road closure on Poindexter, which began last week.
On Friday, police announced the southern end of Poindexter Road at Shamrock Road would be reopened this week. However, they said the entrance to Prospect on Poindexter at the Prospect Primary School would continue to be closed on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Only people living in Prospect and those with children at the school will be allowed to enter at that time.
Mr. Yearwood said many motorists seemed not to understand that taking those side streets was actually making traffic jams worse by adding more “merges” during the morning commute.
“Once people see traffic has come to a standstill, they will take what they perceive as the easier route, but they’re all going to meet back at the Red Bay roundabout,” Mr. Yearwood said.
The troubles do not end in Red Bay during the morning commute. Mr. Yearwood said helicopter patrols also noted some delays at the Hurley’s-Grand Harbour roundabout where traffic from South Sound meets those headed in from the eastern districts.
Further down the road, closer to George Town on the Linford Pierson Highway, government road widening-efforts are about half done, with a two-lane road narrowing down to one in the middle of the road. This additional merger further clogs up traffic, police said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who attended Thursday’s meeting at the Seafarers Hall, said the first phase of that construction should be complete in February. However, at the western end of the Linford Pierson, the widening project would not be finished for some time – likely until early 2019, the premier said.
“We still have some legal issues to navigate with some landowners there,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the Linford Pierson project. “Eventually, we will have two lanes [in both directions] from Savannah all the way to Batabano in West Bay.
“That will significantly relieve the issue … until we get about another 10,000 cars,” the premier said. Local resident Catherine Guilbard suggested putting in traffic lights to govern flows at roundabouts, particularly those in Prospect, where she said the situation seems to be getting out of hand.
“There’s road rage in the mornings on the streets and its very dangerous,” Ms. Guilbard said.
Commissioner Byrne said it was likely that police officers “physical presence” would be required to direct drivers at roundabouts, mainly for safety reasons.
Other residents noted that traffic jams appeared to occur only on days when local schools are in session and suggested staggered start times for some of the schools to alleviate the backups. However, Mr. McLaughlin said experience has shown Cayman that such moves have not worked.
“We tried it after [Hurricane] Ivan,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Some kids went to school in the morning and some in the afternoon because we didn’t have a choice. It was an absolute nightmare for parents.
“If you start the school later, it puts the parents in the position of ‘what do they do with the children in the meantime’.”