The faces of the drivers tell the story. Frustrated, angry, anxious. The morning and evening commutes have become a stressful endurance test for many. The term rush ‘hour’ is no longer sufficient to cover the growing chunk of time Cayman residents are wasting in traffic.
Congestion is more than a nuisance issue. It is fundamentally about quality of life.
Time spent behind the wheel is lost work time, lost family time, lost beach time. Island life was not supposed to be this stressful.
Traffic congestion, a mounting concern in Grand Cayman for some time, reached a tipping point late last year. If you want to know why, look at the table below, where the statistics are laid out in black and white.
More than 6,500 additional vehicles were added to our already clogged roads in 2019 – an increase of almost 20%. The rise in car ownership is linked both to population growth and economic success. Government will argue, with some justification, that this is a good problem, that ‘we are victims of our own success’.
Premier Alden McLaughlin practically said as much in an interview with the Cayman Compass as he unveiled government’s budget for the next two years in November.
Suggesting the islands’ population had grown by more than 10,000 in the last seven years, he acknowledged that economic growth had come with consequences.
“The increase in economic activity has created a situation where the infrastructure in some areas, particularly the road network, is creaking,” he said.
McLaughlin, who is also the representative for Red Bay, says traffic is the number one concern of his constituents. Ask any legislator east of George Town and they say the same thing.
Government has proposed a handful of new road projects, the most significant of which is the planned extension to the East-West Arterial Highway linking Bodden Town to Savannah. The National Roads Authority is hard at work on tweaks to improve traffic flow at key bottle-necks. They are fighting the tide.
With new residents and new vehicles arriving on island daily, there is growing consensus that road building will not be enough.
It seems obvious that we cannot build our way out of this problem.
Over the next month, the Cayman Compass Issues team will take an in-depth look at traffic congestion.
To some extent, the causes are obvious – more people, more cars and clusters of housing and office developments that are concentrated in distinct centres.
The answers are less clear.
We will talk to the politicians, roads officials and town planners searching for solutions. We will profile Cayman’s public transport system and ask if it is fit for purpose. And we will spread the net further and examine case studies of countries that have implemented innovative solutions to control congestion.
Informed columnists have been invited to share their complaints, concerns and ideas for the future.
Our goal is to broaden the discussion and challenge Cayman to find long-term solutions for a problem that is unlikely to go away.
By some projections, the island’s population could hit 100,000 within the next decade. The wisdom and consequences of that kind of growth are an issue for another day.
What is clear is that without proper planning, the number of cars in Cayman could double again.
If that happens, no amount of tarmac will be enough. Cayman must find solutions that go beyond paving paradise to build roads that resemble parking lots.
The discussion starts here.
Have your say – contact Issues Editor James Whittaker on [email protected]