EDITORIAL – Talking traffic: Are we reaching ‘critical mass’?

Last week, Cayman experienced a different type of traffic-related pile-up, with several officials offering ideas to solve our thorny transportation woes.

First, there was Prospect legislator Austin Harris’s proposal that government restrict vehicle imports – which he says have ballooned to about 398 vehicles per month. This surge is offset only by about the approximately 30 per month which are disposed of in the George Town Landfill, the legislator said. With that kind of ratio, it’s no wonder the island has so many cars.

To anyone enduring morning or evening traffic, Harris’s estimate – that Grand Cayman is now home to more vehicles than people – probably seemed about right. Just how many of these vehicles are actually on our roadways at any given time, or during rush hours in particular, is a slightly different question. That said, it could be an idea worth pursuing as one piece of a much bigger plan.

There was good news on that front, as well, with Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew advising that the National Roads Authority has adopted ‘Complete Street’ standards that will incorporate active and passive transportation into road design – making roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and more accommodating of public transit.

“We must look at things such as hop-on and hop-off buses along the Seven Mile corridor and also into George Town,” he said. “We must start considering things like airport park-and-rides and downtown park-and-rides, water taxis, an airport express from the hotels running on a regular basis.”

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And in his Strategic Policy Statement, Premier Alden McLaughlin promised to prioritise completion of the East-West Arterial Highway extension, as well as other road improvements designed to alleviate bottlenecks for commuters.

Clearly, a robust arterial that allows free flow of heavy traffic to and from the eastern districts would be a boon for our many residents who prefer quieter, more affordable communities, provided steps are taken to avoid unnecessarily compromising fragile wetlands.

The premier also called for a “radical new approach” to public transportation, announcing that government will commission a mass transportation study to examine the options within the next year.

It is good to see transportation issues rising to this level of awareness after years of slowly deteriorating conditions. As Harris warned his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly last Thursday, without drastic change, traffic congestion will only increase as our population continues to grow. He estimates that growth at greater than 200 percent over the next five years – an astonishing figure that is difficult to imagine, given our already-intolerable gridlock.

But as we have repeatedly written, there is no single strategy that will untangle Cayman’s traffic snarls. Only a comprehensive and forward-looking plan that prioritises high-impact improvements will steer us out of this mess.

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  1. It is unfortunate that in this case as in so many others, Government is reactive rather than pro-active. As for the headline, it would have been more descriptive referring to the current traffic conditions as a critical “mess”.

  2. Cayman must make some tough decisions in this area. Bermuda has long had the rule of “one car per family”, which is in reality one car per household. Additional transportation needs are fulfilled by motorcycles (aka “bikes”), and those being only 150cc or less. The taxi industry is well developed and mini-buses cater to groups. Public buses are large and prevalent, if not well managed! It will be a tough call to take away everyone’s 2nd car in Cayman – perhaps take away every the 3rd and 4th car to start, and new arrivals are only allowed one car + a bike. Good luck!