Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lessons from Sea Lots

Express editorial logo32

Mark Fraser

THE call for a walkover at Sea Lots following the death of a mother and her two children and serious injury to three others raises important questions about national planning and communities.

It is a serious dereliction of responsibility when, more than five decades after this highway was built between Sea Lots and the city, the people of this community still have to take their chances dodging cars.

As the controversy over the proposed Mon Desir to Debe highway has shown, highways are not only about vehicles or about people in cars; they are also about people who live in areas through which they pass.

The Beetham Highway into Port of Spain was a valuable addition to the country’s infrastructure when it was built in 1956, transforming access into and out of the capital. As a highway with heavy traffic usage it has undergone significant development over the years, being expanded most recently to three lanes in either direction. And yet, notwithstanding the small but tightly-packed Sea Lots community to one side and the Central Market on the other, no government has acted on the critical need to create people-friendly access to and from the highway.

Now, with last weekend’s gut-wrenching tragedy, the authorities have made a spontaneous decision to build a highway walkover for the Sea Lots community. While we would like to believe that this will solve the problem, hard evidence does not support optimism. Judging from the experiences of other areas, it is clear that it takes a lot more than walkovers to achieve road safety.

The success of road safety initiatives depends, to a significant extent, on breeding a culture of safety for oneself and for others which, no one will dispute, simply does not exist in this country. Our highways are motor jungles where survival is often a matter of the fittest.

It is not that we do not know what needs to be done, but that we simply are unable to organise the co-ordination and generate the will to tackle this problem head-on.

The experts have already made the case for serious law enforcement underpinned by a systematic programme of public education, starting at the primary school level and expanding out into the wider society. While a walkover is urgently needed at Sea Lots, it is only one element of the solution. We have already had the experience of building much-needed walkovers that are rejected by pedestrians as being too steep and lengthy and who therefore choose to risk life and limb dodging traffic across dangerous highways.

Unfortunately, whatever solutions will now be implemented are too late for Hady Paul and her daughters, Akasha and Shakira who have already fallen victim to the madness on our roads and our general lack of planning. The least we can do now is to ensure that the lessons we have learnt this weekend are never forgotten and inform our future behaviour.