When the last National Development Plan was released in 1997, this base document that governs zoning and the physical development of the Cayman Islands was a mere 14 pages long and made scant reference to traffic.
Its stated aim was to minimise road congestion through “the introduction of prudent transportation planning initiatives” and to ensure minimal traffic impacts on surrounding properties and existing public roads in the consideration of development applications.
The plan identified population trends as the number one factor that should inform planning policy, noting that the population on Grand Cayman at the time was mainly growing on the western side of the island with the exception of Bodden Town.
A new plan
Fast forward to today and Cayman’s population has almost doubled, considerably exacerbating traffic problems.
Not surprisingly, traffic is a much-larger topic in the new updated development plan, the National Planning Framework, which has yet to be approved by the Ministry of Planning and the Legislative Assembly, after more than 2,000 public comments on the draft were incorporated last year.
“The vision in this plan is to enhance the quality of life. A big part of the quality of life is obviously not sitting in traffic for an hour,” said Richard Mileham, planning assistant in the Department of Planning.
The objectives of the high-level framework are set to be implemented in more-detailed area plans and affect the zoning map, which in turn can encourage activity in certain areas by tweaking conditions for density and setbacks.
Cayman’s car-centric development
Most of the traffic problems that Grand Cayman experiences stem from the island’s development around the use of the car.
While this is in part due to the climate, it is also a result of the heavy concentration in George Town and Seven Mile Beach as the main centres for work or commercial activity.
This makes it necessary for almost everyone to commute to work.
To the extent that people have a preference for homes with a garden, and thus light-density residential areas, or if they are simply forced to live further east because they can no longer afford the popular South Sound and Seven Mile Beach areas, it means daily commutes past the well-known pinch point at Grand Harbour.
From a zoning perspective, the prevailing model of a single-use site – such as hotel/tourism, residential, commercial or industrial – has resulted in sprawling development and increased the number of trips needed, as everyone must not only travel from their home to work but also to go shopping or for entertainment.
Commercial centres in the east
It is hoped that development planning will alleviate some traffic congestion over the long term by encouraging the establishment of other centres on island that combine commercial and residential activity.
The draft planning framework stresses that to reduce commuting and traffic congestion at peak hours, there is a need for additional neighbourhood commercial nodes outside of George Town which could accommodate a range of tenancy types, as well as the creation of mixed-use zones.
East of George Town, potential denser clusters of activity that could be established over time are in Savannah, Bodden Town, and in East End, especially around Health City. The creation of different of clusters of living and working also supports a more-efficient public transport system.
“We want the plan to ultimately reflect the zoning in different parts of the island and to reflect the intensity of development in certain, appropriate places,” Mileham said.
“If we can encourage these high-density centres, then people can potentially live closer to where they work, closer to where they shop. This reduces the number of individual trips.”
Mixed-use zones will be a key element of that plan. Camana Bay, designed as a town centre that combines work, leisure, retail shopping and residential areas, is a good example of what mixed use looks like. The concept encourages walking within a safe and shady environment that does not require a car.
“The distances are not great, but longer than people would be prepared to walk in other places,” Mileham said.
Individual area plans – work is currently under way on the first plan for Seven Mile Beach – can be used to identify places with high pedestrian activity, or the potential for it, and set the standards that make them more enjoyable with cycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and walkways.
The combination of high-level planning objectives and on-the-ground improvements to the transportation environment shows that there is not one quick fix for Grand Cayman’s traffic issues.
As such, the development framework also touches on a number of other traffic objectives that will need more detailed plans and studies.
These include developing an island-wide comprehensive transportation plan for all modes of transport, specific corridor plans for areas that have unique physical characteristics along a specific roadway, and improving the efficiency of public transport as an attractive alternative to personal vehicles.