Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Jaevion Nelson | Jamaica too lax on pedestrian safety

Published:Tuesday | February 18, 2020 | 12:17 AM
Images of children and adults hopping over medians and finding their way through traffic that flooded traditional and social media last year illuminate the seriousness of the situation.

It seems that in Jamaica, road safety is more about motorists rather than all road users, including pedestrians, who make up the majority of road users. We are too lax when it comes to engendering greater safety on the roads for those who commute by foot.

Reports show that worldwide, based on road accidents and fatalities each year, pedestrians are among the most vulnerable road users everywhere.

It’s unfathomable how unfriendly our roads are for pedestrians – even major thoroughfares where there is heavy pedestrian traffic. Images of children and adults hopping over medians and finding their way through traffic that flooded traditional and social media last year illuminate the seriousness of the situation. Our policy and decision-makers, therefore, have an important role to play in implementing measures to better protect pedestrians, given their vulnerability.

I have been a pedestrian pretty much all my life and it is truly disheartening to know that despite lots of major infrastructural projects over the years, pedestrian safety does not seem to be a big concern for decision-makers across successive governments, as roads are still being constructed without requisite features. Proper sidewalks and pedestrian lights and crossings are often non-existent or many, many metres apart. Utility poles and signage are still being erected or installed on sidewalks and obstructing pedestrians.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Five years ago, in an article in this paper titled ‘Road safety not just about vehicles’, I asked some questions that still need to be answered:

1 What prevents utility companies and private individuals from erecting/installing whatever on sidewalks that may then obstruct people’s movement, causing people who are blind, for example, to go into the road to pass?

2 What stipulates that there must be traffic and pedestrian lights? And pedestrian crossings?

3 Who ensures that those charged with the responsibility of installing and moving pedestrian crossings do so? Who is responsible for such a simple task, anyway?

4 What is the role of the National Road Safety Council and a similar unit at the Ministry of Transport?

5 How many fatalities will it take before we do something about such an urgent matter? Which member of parliament will raise this issue in Gordon House on behalf of their constituents?

Whenever I walk from my office to get lunch or a snack or to get some business done, I am reminded of how very unsafe commuting by foot actually is. There is no pedestrian crossing on a busy thoroughfare, so I am forced to rush across the road at the mercy of oncoming motorists who, quite often, are unwilling to allow you to cross the road.

Quite often, I ask myself if our policy and decision-makers and road-safety advocates do not see the struggle pedestrians have on the roads across the country on a daily basis, as sidewalks and pedestrian crossings and lights are often non-existent.

Is it that only motorists matter to us? Do we not realise the risks people – especially children and those who are vulnerable – face on the road? Even in areas where there are students who commute by foot, to and from school or from the bus stop to school, on roads that are not particularly safe for them.

On Barbican Road, for example, there are sidewalks (thankfully) but the little children from the Barbican area (and there are quite a few of them) who attend New Providence Primary (in Standpipe) and who commute to and from school every day by foot, unsupervised, have no pedestrian crossings to help them safely use the road.

About two years ago, my colleagues and I, with the assistance of the National Works Agency (NWA), redid the pedestrian crossing on Windward Road in the vicinity of the school, as part of pride. Some residents who passed by expressed their delight, as it had basically become non-existent.

Mohammed Elhamy, in a 2012 paper titled Improvement of Road Layout and Safety in an Urban Environment, argues that “In many countries, roads are planned and built to allow motor vehicles to travel faster, while insufficient thought is given to the needs of pedestrians, which means that these vulnerable road users face increasing risk in using and crossing the roads. It is necessary to further secure the safety of pedestrians, as well as the safety of those especially vulnerable, such as the elderly, the disabled, and children.”

Last year, there was quite a bit of debate about road safety, given the high number of fatalities and the challenges pedestrians had using roads that were being redone as part of the Major Infrastructural Development Project (MDIP).

Human rights advocate Susan Goffe has ventilated at length about the dire situation over and over, especially with respect to the inattention paid to safety by contractors, and not much has changed, if anything. The situation is even worse in rural Jamaica, and has been so for all of my life. In fact, I learned to manoeuvre the road safely as a pedestrian from very early in my life because sidewalks and pedestrian crossings were always non-existent. I remember always holding my hand up to stop traffic so my friends and I could get safely across the road in May Pen.

The state of affairs begs one question that our policy and decision-makers across the political divide must answer – what is the point of pretty new cyaapet everyweh if it nuh safe fi everybadi use, and only nice fi drive pan?

In August 2019, the National Road Safety Council reported that vulnerable road users (that is, pedestrians, pedal cyclists, motorcyclists, and pillion riders) accounted for 66 per cent of road deaths. At the time, pedestrians accounted for a quarter of the number of road users who died from crashes.

Reports show that between 2001 and 2014, pedestrians accounted for the most deaths of the 11 categories of road users recorded. There were over 100 pedestrian fatalities in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011.

Though there are some pedestrians like those in Half-Way-Tree by JN Bank who are the bane of motorists’ experience, the World Health Organization advises that “pedestrian deaths and injuries are often preventable, and proven interventions exist” to reduce the number of fatalities. It’s up to our policy and decision-makers to take the necessary steps and make our roads more pedestrian-friendly.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Elhamy (2012), in his paper, argues “a pedestrian-friendly street is interactive, achieving a balance between the various forms of transit: cars, bikes, buses and pedestrians so that it does not favour motorised traffic” .

He recommends that, inter alia, the following is critical:

n Pedestrians must be separated from moving traffic;

n Intersections should be designed to reduce pedestrian crossing distances;

n Pedestrian crossing should be sufficient, clearly marked and aligned with sidewalks; and that

n Pedestrian crosswalk signals should be put in place to allow pedestrians to cross with ease.

This level of gross negligence to pay keen attention to the challenges faced by ‘walk foot’ Jamaicans on the road has gone on for too long. Let’s speak up now so that our political leaders recognise the severity of the situation, and act with a sense of urgency to make our roads safe for all road users.

Jaevion Nelson is executive director at Equality for All Foundation Jamaica, and a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.