The current debate about traffic congestion on Grand Cayman has brought about all kinds of hypothetical solutions. From limiting the number of vehicles on island and bridges across the North Sound to elevated or overseas highways, and new forms of public transport, MLAs and political hopefuls are outdoing each other with sometimes outlandish ideas to placate an electorate that is stuck in gridlock traffic at peak hours from as early as 6 a.m. in the morning, in particular from the eastern districts, at the bottle neck around Grand Harbour and in South Sound.
A surprisingly cash-rich government, after several budget surpluses, has now promised to take action.
Although extensions of the Esterley Tibbetts and Linford Pierson Highways are complete, increases in capacity have barely kept up with the growth in traffic. “In some cases, problems are just getting worse,” Premier Alden McLaughlin admitted in the Legislative Assembly during the presentation of government Strategic Policy Statement earlier last month.
In response, government will bring forward long-term road improvement and spending plans to address the traffic congestion along the main east-west routes, especially east of Grand Harbour.
In the coming two-year period, the East-West Arterial will be extended first through to Northward and then on to Bodden Town at a cost of about $18 million.
While this is absolutely crucial in solving the problems, it will not be sufficient, the premier said. “Accordingly, we are also reprioritising the rest of the highways’ programme to include projects around Grand Harbour and westward into George Town to ensure traffic can move more smoothly.”
The measures are expected to reduce congestion, shorten travel times and improve accessibility between George Town and the eastern districts.
However, road-building alone will not solve Cayman’s long-term traffic problems.
McLaughlin said all the evidence suggests that, sooner or later, the roads will just become congested again as the population continues to grow. It was therefore important to investigate alternative solutions for sustainable transport.
In a first step, government will commission a mass transportation study to analyse available options and what is needed to develop a viable public transport system.
“In anticipating tomorrow’s problems, we must deliver alternative solutions,” he said. “These include safer cycling and walking routes, but I also believe a radical new approach to public transport is necessary.”
The study is expected to be completed within a year.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate about traffic solutions in April, Transport Minister Joseph Hew said Cayman will have to adopt alternative means of mass transportation and address the issue holistically.
“We must look at things such as hop-on and hop-off buses along the Seven Mile corridor and also into George Town. We must start considering things like airport park-and-rides and downtown park-and-rides, water taxis, and an airport express from the hotels running on a regular basis.”
Key elements of the George Town revitalisation project also would include parking, and a hop-on and hop-off transit system, perhaps in combination with a park-and-ride.
In order to promote walking and cycling, new roads will have to be designed with a stronger focus on safety. To this end, the National Roads Authority has adopted the concept of ‘complete streets’ as its standard for future roads.
The transport minister explained that complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
The wider, more spacious design will make it easier to cross the street or to cycle to work.
In George Town, where a lack of street lights has been identified as one of the issues, pathways with lighting, as well as safety and security features, will give pedestrians more confidence to walk around town or to access some of the planned parking areas.
To make transport more sustainable, government has set itself targets in implementing the National Energy Policy between 2017 and 2035.
Hew said the government is working on increased incentives for compact electric vehicles, hybrid cars and smaller engine, low CC (cubic centimetre) motorbikes and electric bikes.
Government also committed to converting 7-10% of government vehicles to electric or hybrid within the first five years.
“I can tell you that we are well on our way to achieving that and we have been installing charging stations around the government buildings and agencies that will be purchasing these vehicles, and vehicles have already begun to be integrated into the government fleet,” Hew said.
These plans were not the complete solution, the minister conceded, but essential pieces of a wider approach to reducing traffic and Cayman’s carbon footprint.