IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Let’s put our ideas on the table
WHILE SITTING IN MY CAR last week, stuck in traffic on the Cummins section of the ABC Highway, I could not help but ponder on the reasons why every morning vehicles just crawl along in this area.
The stretch between the junction at Hinds Hill and that by the lights at Wanstead is only a few hundred metres long, but depending on the time of day if you are heading toward the University of the West Indies from the Warrens side it can take ten to 15 minutes.
This really makes no sense because when traffic is light I can get from Warrens all the way to Fontabelle in seven minutes – without speeding. In Barbados we burn a lot of fuel as a result of stalled traffic, in the process causing unnecessary pollution.
So there I was sitting and observing, and it occurred to me that a solution is not really all that expensive or complex. The problem stems from the fact that there is only one lane going downhill and the signals are absolutely necessary to allow safe turning onto and from the area of Wanstead.
With the majority of traffic coming from the direction of Warrens and Queen’s College and going towards Bridgetown in the morning, the stream is never-ending between 7:15 a.m. and 9 a.m. With only one lane, each time the lights turn red to allow traffic out of Wanstead Road, the backup in the direction of Warrens gets worse.
A second downhill lane would reduce this backup by more than half since the only time there would need to be a red light, given the way we now handle traffic at junctions, would be when there is a green signal for traffic to proceed from Wanstead.
But we can go further and adopt an option other high traffic jurisdictions use to keep traffic moving. If there were two lanes between Hinds Hill and the entrance to UWI, then the extreme left lane going downhill would be 100 per cent free flowing, even when traffic is leaving Wanstead Road.
Plastic traffic dividers or cones separating the two downhill lanes from 100 metres ahead of this junction and for a similar distance after would keep traffic going downhill uninterrupted. Those motorists wishing to enter the university would have at least 200 metres to get into the left lane after the cones and those continuing to Spring Garden a similar distance to switch to the right lane.
A similar arrangement would not be necessary at the UWI entrance since the volume of traffic entering and leaving is significantly less than at the Wanstead Road junction and therefore the frequency of stop signals and the length of each stop are less.
Of course, I’m no traffic engineer and expect that the experts at the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW) will tell me what challenges such an approach would bring, but at least I am putting an idea on the table which they can massage and possibly turn into a tangible solution.
But this article is not really about fixing traffic congestion or criticising MTW. It’s about ideas. We need, in the face of all the challenges the country now faces, to invite and welcome ideas from citizens at every level. There are Barbadians at home and abroad who are observing and through experience or training might be able to put helpful options on the table.
None of us should believe that because of the position we hold we have a monopoly on ideas and that solutions can come only from our desks. And we should not believe that because we have a degree in some specialised area some ordinary individual can’t contribute to the discussion. Think of how many problems we have today maintaining our infrastructure, with so many highly qualified people employed to look after it, yet many of these problems did not exist when simple folk with only a “primma school” education were in charge.
And all of this got me thinking about an event called the Aspen Ideas Festival, which was started more than 60 years ago. Each year people from all over the world gather at the Aspen Institute in the United States for discussion on “some of the significant ideas and issues that touch all parts of our [global] society as found in the arts, science, culture, religion, philosophy, economics, and politics”.
The 2016 festival, held in June, looked at some of the world’s challenges, with topics such as: Can Zika Be Contained?; Water-Is Our Lifeblood At Risk?; Global Disease Patterns, Banishing Hunger: Inventive Strategies To Feed The World; and Creating Value On The Fringe: Social Entrepreneurs.
While we have some critical macro issues that need to be addressed in Barbados, a lot of what confronts us today are simple bread-and-butter issues. We don’t have to be as extravagant as the Aspen Ideas Festival, but we need to bring together Barbadians who are genuinely interested in helping us past this difficult time.
Yes, we elect politicians to lead, but 30 people sitting in Parliament never knew it all, and today that seems more real than ever in our history. We have a duty to offer them every assistance we can in the interest of getting our country back on track.
So today I throw out a challenge to every Barbadian, regardless of where he or she is in this world, as well as to friends of Barbados, to send me your ideas. They don’t have to be elaborate or embedded in some thesis. I am willing to commit at least one page a week in one of our publications to the sharing of ideas from you. Keep the presentations concise.
Let’s start our own Bajan Ideas Festival (in print) and see what it evolves into. Pick a subject or problem, forget the partisan political agenda or affiliation, and send your ideas on how we can improve the situation. It can be in politics or governance, health or transportation, youth or sport, education or culture, tourism or crime and security, housing or infrastructural development, or any other area of life in our country.
I put my idea on the table to improve traffic flow on a short stretch of the ABC Highway that hinders national productivity. Now share yours about your area of concern. I know public servants don’t like public debates, but I invite anyone from MTW to demonstrate that they welcome suggestions by sending me your thoughts on what I have proposed. I’ll share them and hope they spur others to stimulate their creative juices.
Email your ideas to me at [email protected]. Let’s start a movement, folks.