It's an encouraging sign that work continues toward achieving a viable traffic plan for St James in west Port of Spain. It is even more encouraging that a St James Improvement Committee has taken the lead in drawing up such a plan, and that it is holding consultations with people in the area.
Always, it had looked like a hopeless example of turning back the hands of the clock when, just around the Independence anniversary, an experimentally implemented traffic plan, not just for St James but for all of west Port of Spain, was suddenly abandoned, with hardly any reasons given. Signage for that ill-fated plan was hurriedly removed, or painted over, and some traffic lights once due to be switched into service were simply left standing as unlit monuments to forsaken ambition.
Considerable sums expended reflected an investment in the way to go for making movement easier into and out of Port of Spain from western areas. By when schools reopened, however, there was nothing to show by way of return on such investment. The authorities—specifically, the Transport Ministry—gave in to demands for a reversion to the way it had always been.
The City of Port of Spain, which had bought into the pre-Independence plan, appeared to have been simply bypassed as the Transport Ministry was seized by its change of heart. Nor did it help that MP for the area Marlene McDonald, dismissing the City Council led by People's National Movement (PNM) colleagues, hitched a convenient ride on the protest bandwagon that had begun to roll over what was being tried.
Today's Plan B, being elaborated and moved forward by the Improvement Committee, should reflect both in content and approach learning from what had happened before. In this respect, it seems hardly helpful that no involvement yet appears of the City corporation. If, as reported, Mayor Louis Lee is out of the country, there appears no reason why his administration could not be represented at some appropriate level in the Thursday night St James Amphitheatre session.
Such an eventuality, though ominous, need not render stirrings toward the new exercise as a false start. But obviously that Improvement Committee, if living up to its name, should ensure the inclusion of all who qualify as stakeholders.
Moreover, St James' interests, though large in any arrangements for traffic, hardly represent the whole story. Any west Port of Spain traffic plan must obviously take account of the needs and concerns of residents, businesses, and visitors and in the burgeoning Woodbrook area as well.
Already, the St James stakeholders appear to be insisting on two-way traffic on the Western Main Road as the equivalent of a non-negotiable demand. Certainly, some open-mindedness must be preserved as discussions continue, engaging professional traffic engineers and planners. St James cannot hope to have it all its own way.
More than anything else, however, Plan B must ensure, for its effective implementation, the consistently active support and co-operation of the Police. For that factor, indeed, marked the vital missing element during the July-August experimentation, when residents and others complained that the one-way Western Main Road had become a dangerous freeway.
Where, indeed, were the police whose function it is to enforce the limits on speed, guarantee the assurance of law and order on the roads? This time around, the planning for better traffic in the west must be based on firm commitments to dependable policing. Anything else now being considered will be improvement only in name.