Good for Traffic: Bad for business
The experimental traffic plan in west Port of Spain may be well on its way to achieve the primary goal set by its architects – speeding up the flow of traffic into and out of the capital city for commuters in the West. Both Mayor Louis Lee Sing, whose brainchild it was, and Minister of Works Emmanuel George, whose ministry implemented it, have thus far praised the success of the plan even as they address bottlenecks.
The changes appear to have brought positive results for motorists and commuters who live in the wider Diego Martin Valley and communities west of Glencoe and Westmoorings. Main arteries like Tragarete Road, the Western Main Road and Ariapita Avenue, hitherto clogged by crawling traffic and indiscriminate parking, are now one-way, free-flowing four-lane highways. Many of those who benefit, who have seen hour-plus torture magically turn into ten-minute rides, have nothing but praise for the plan.
However, residents and business operators from the thriving communities through which these new freeways flow are howling out loud – understandably so. It seems that those who planned the changes focussed only on vehicular traffic. They forgot or ignored the reality that all the communities through which vehicles now travel at high speed have large numbers of residents and established businesses.
Take St James as an example. This district has, over the past three decades, earned the title of the 'the city that never sleeps'. While most of Port of Spain shuts down at sundown, not so St James: it comes alive. Restaurants, fast food outlets and sidewalk eateries adorn the Western Main Road. The suburb is famous for its many bars and clubs. Indeed, with its unique sub-culture and its Amphitheatre, it's a community like no other in Trinidad and Tobago. If any district in Trinidad can be described as a tourist attraction, it is St James.
This reputation however hinges on another characteristic – pavement liming. Residents and visiting patrons expect to 'take it easy' on the sidewalks, drink and eat something, and cross the main road at an almost leisurely pace. True, illegal parking has become a major headache and uncivil behaviour irks residents.
Now, though, with a virtual highway bisecting the bustling community, patrons no longer feel safe. Business operators have reported precipitous drops in sales. Sidewalk vendors are re-examining their options. Indeed, their very existence is under threat. Residents risk their lives trying to cross the new 'highway'. Those seeking to get transport into downtown Port of Spain do not know where to go.
In other words, while the traffic is flowing, people are stewing and businesses are dying. People in parts of St Clair, Newtown and Woodbrook – residents and business operators – face similar challenges with the new traffic plan in effect.
Within recent years, many businesses have chosen to establish themselves or relocate to Tragarete Road and Ariapita Avenue and the environs. Now, with traffic speeding past their establishments and virtually no spaces to stop or park, business activity has slumped. Over the last week, following meetings of the affected communities, there have been calls for government to abandon the new plan.
We believe that with proper consultation among residents, business operators, the City Corporation and the Ministry of Works, and most of all involving transport and traffic engineers, stakeholders can arrive at workable and acceptable solutions to the traffic problems and those the affected communities face. Those in authority, the people with the power to make decisions and implement policies, must approach these conversations with open minds, willing to listen to what the stakeholders have to offer.
Clearly, while the new plan works reasonably well for traffic, it does not bode well for residents and businesses in the communities mentioned above. We note that while much of Port of Spain has declined over the past few decades, both as a residential district and commercial centre, St James, Woodbrook and Ariapita Avenue have been booming on all sides. The capital city cannot afford new 'dead zones'.