The welfare of drivers and pedestrians in the Cayman Islands took center stage at The Ritz-Carlton on Monday as the National Roads Authority staged the first day of a four-day Road Safety Conference.
Donovan Ebanks, chairman of the NRA, and Edward Howard, the agency’s acting managing director, served as the opening speakers at the conference. Mr. Howard spoke about the history of road fatalities in Cayman and about the efforts the NRA has made to make the roads safer.
A generation ago, Mr. Howard said, Cayman reached its road fatalities peak with 21 deaths in 1985, when there was a resident population of 21,104 according to the Economics and Statistics Office, and 20 in 1990, when there was a population of 26,969. Despite more cars and drivers on the road, Cayman has not seen more than 14 road fatalities a year since 2006, and Mr. Howard said it is important to continue work to make that trend continue.
“We’ve done a lot, but we can do more. That’s one of the things I’m going to stress continually,” said Mr. Howard early in the conference. “We want you all to be informed. We want you to be educated about the issues of road safety, not just in the Cayman Islands but globally.
“We don’t have all the answers. Road safety is not just an NRA issue. It’s not just a DVDL issue. It’s not a police issue. It’s everybody’s business and it’s everybody’s concern.”
Cayman experienced 256 road deaths between 1985 and 2017, and Mr. Howard said it is the fifth-leading cause of deaths in that span. A number of factors – engineering, education, enforcement, emergency services and evaluation – have caused road fatalities to decrease over time.
Glen McCarvell, a senior operations manager for the Caribbean Development Bank, gave a presentation on an initiative that helped Belize markedly reduce its road fatalities over time. Also, Alex Russell and Ken Hydes of Dart Enterprises spoke about the company’s commitment to road development.
Mr. Russell, Dart’s senior manager for design, spoke about the many ways that the Esterley Tibbetts Highway was designed with multiple road users in mind. The point of the road and its parallel pathways, he said, is to allow safe north-south passageway for both drivers and pedestrians alike.
“It incorporates three drive lanes, a bike lane on the actual paved surface, a heavily landscaped raised median and verge zones on either side of the highway that were sized to accommodate intense landscaping and a shared-use path for both pedestrians and cyclists,” he said. “Although the highway is operational, the landscaping and the work on the verges is still very much a work in progress.”
A pedestrian and bike “subway” that will allow for traffic underneath the raised roadway will be placed adjacent to the Cayman International School and the National Gallery, Mr. Russell said. That artery will allow an east-west connection between the Camana Bay Town Centre roundabout and the airport connector road.
Dart, in conjunction with the NRA, hopes to construct a proper bike path, most of which will be painted a different color from the normal roadway, that will run from Batabano to the Butterfield roundabout, according to Mr. Hydes, Dart’s vice president of special projects and partnerships.
Mr. Howard said that the NRA has worked with Dart on the bike paths and has come up with a few concerns that need to be addressed before the project goes forward. The recent death of cyclist Geoff Cornwall, Mr. Howard said, has lent some new perspective to the function of the bike lane. Mr. Cornwall died on Sept. 11, after the bike he was cycling crashed into a vehicle that had stopped on the cycle lane on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.
“Portions of the [Esterley Tibbetts Highway], when it was originally developed, that extra space on the side was a breakdown shoulder,” he said. “Now it brings into question going forward, are we going to be able to utilize what was essentially about 8-to-10 feet of shoulder space and also incorporate bike lanes into that.”
Many other jurisdictions, Mr. Howard said, run into the same problem with bike lanes and the road shoulder. Drivers do not always respect the bike lane, he said. Sometimes they park in it and sometimes they use it to pull over. Broken down cars, he said, can stay there for days or perhaps weeks.
Another problem, Mr. Howard said, is the speed limit on a road designed for multiple uses.
“If we’re going to start putting a lot more pedestrians and a lot more bike riders on these major highways, what are we going to do about the 40 mph speed limit?” Mr. Howard asked
“As we know in Cayman, when you post it at 40, people drive at 50 and 55. The chances of a pedestrian surviving once they’re hit at 40 mph, it’s one in 10. If you get hit by a car traveling 40 mph, it’s more than likely you’re dead. It’s a little bit better for cyclists. But those are some of the challenges we’re going to have.”