Developer aims to cut traffic by cutting journeys

New overpasses bridging the highway and West Bay Road are designed, in part, to make biking and walking safer.

Cayman’s traffic congestion woes are as much about where people live and work as they are about the number of cars they own.

Distinct residential and employment zones mean commuters travel several miles from the same housing developments to get to the same cluster of schools, shops and offices. They do it because they have to, not because they want to.

A different approach to urban design will help to change that dynamic, says Alex Russell, Dart vice president of design.

With the construction of OLEA, the new 124-home community at the southern end of Camana Bay, the developer hopes to extend the scope of its walkable community.

Instead of just eliminating cars, they are seeking to eliminate journeys.

OLEA extends the ‘walkable community’ of Camana Bay.

“Previous approaches to zoning have resulted in segregation by land use,” says Russell.

“You have to go from your work place to where you shop and where you live and they are all completely separate. Camana Bay is what happens when you mix those uses and plan an area that incorporates all those things together.”

Sea to sound

Two new overpasses have helped expand the town and create a safe pedestrian and cycle route that runs from Cayman International School as far north as the Kimpton Seafire Resort.

Creating a ‘walkable community’ is a key part of the Dart design philosophy, says Russell.

It is theoretically now possible for someone to live at OLEA, work at Camana Bay offices, shop at Foster’s, drop their kids off at school and go to the cinema or take a trip to the beach without needing a vehicle. Car- and bike- share schemes are augmenting that process.

Planned Area Developments like Camana Bay are highlighted in Plan Cayman – the discussion document for Cayman’s national development plan – as a means of encouraging mixed-use, master-planned communities that encourage localised growth and reduce commutes.

Developments like Countryside in Savannah and Harbour Walk, in Grand Harbour, are smaller examples of the same concept.

Alex Russell

“The whole new urbanist movement is a little bit Utopian,” Russell concedes.

Where the approach falls down is where the curated environment of a master-planned development like Camana Bay collides with the existing surroundings. One developer, even one as powerful as Dart, can only exert so much influence.

“The scalability of how you link into an existing environment is where the real challenge lies,” said Russell.

Missing links

He cites his own journey to work. Just over a couple of miles is easily manageable on foot or by bike and much of the route is safe and traffic-free. But a handful of short stretches along the highway where there is no footpath or cycle lane mean a car is still the safest mode of transport.

“Those missing links are what we need to think about at a country level, so you don’t end up with these discontinuous pieces of sidewalk where it feels safe and then unsafe.”

Dart talks regularly with the National Roads Authority about joint projects and is keen to be involved, as a major stakeholder, in government’s ‘area plan’ for the Seven Mile Beach Corridor.

Russell is particularly enthused about one existing project, to reinvent West Bay Road, making it safer for bikes and pedestrians.

“That could be a game changer for this part of the island,” he says.

On Dart’s own property, the developer is doing everything it can to drive down traffic, Russell adds. The amount of land given over to parking is an area of concern.

“It is driven by code requirements but, when we are considering how to ensure sustainable growth, not just for Camana Bay but for the country, we have to ask if devoting so much space to parking is highest and best use of the limited space available,” he says.

Other recent and ongoing projects include a nature trail within Camana Bay and walkways along the Esterley Tibbetts Highway linking to a pedestrian subway that goes underneath the road at the National Gallery.

“We designed Camana Bay to accommodate diverse uses and users in order to facilitate the creation of a dynamic community that has beautiful shared spaces everyone can enjoy,” Russell says. “These projects are part of a longer-term view to development that considers how people can get around on foot or on bike but not necessarily by car.”

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now