Government must quicken steps to boost pedestrian safety
Jaevion Nelson and Javed Jaghai, Guest Columnists
Despite the throngs of Jamaicans who move about the Corporate Area on foot, most roadways are devoid of accommodation for pedestrian traffic. City planners and successive transport ministers have ignored the needs of so-called 'walk-foot' people, who happen to be the majority of Jamaicans.
Walking is one of the most basic and accessible forms of transportation, yet our roadways are built almost exclusively with motorists in mind. Consequently, working-class and poor Jamaicans, who make up the majority of walk-foot people, are left to suffer.
Have you noticed how unsafe the roads are for pedestrians? Do you realise that so many roads and entrances to public spaces barely make accommodation for those of us who travel mainly by foot? We cannot realistically ask persons to be responsible road users if we abdicate our responsibility to install desperately needed facilities.
As pedestrians, we are extremely vulnerable to injuries and death in our daily commute. Statistics show that we are nine times more likely to be affected by road traffic accidents. Peden, et al, in a 2004 study revealed that about three in every 10 traffic accidents involve pedestrians. In the last five years, there have been more than 500 road fatalities involving walk-foot Jamaicans. No other category is as high.
REDUCE RISK FACTORS
A number of factors might account for the large number of fatalities. This includes the lack of pedestrian facilities in road design, discourteous behaviour of motorists, speeding, and poor knowledge and practice of road-safety measures by persons. Whatever the reason, we must all appreciate that the safety and convenience of pedestrian travel is a necessary consideration if we are to reduce road fatalities. No one should have to risk his life when crossing the street.
If you take a walk along Trafalgar Road, one of main thoroughfares connecting New Kingston with bustling Half-Way Tree, there isn't a single pedestrian crossing or traffic light that facilitates pedestrian movement. You are forced to study the traffic lights directed at motorists only and negotiate the movement of oncoming traffic as you make a quick dash and hope you get across safely. It is apparent that there is little or no consideration for the needs of pedestrians, who live and work in the area, and who must traverse this road daily.
The plight of pedestrians doubles when it rains because of insufficient drainage infrastructure. For example, Knutsford Boulevard, at the heart of the commercial district, is very difficult for pedestrians at this time because the roads are flooded. While many political leaders profess to love and care for the poor, the utter disregard for pedestrians betrays their indifference.
There is also the issue of access for persons with disabilities. Sidewalks in the Corporate Area vary from adequate to non-existent. When they exist, the width of the pedestrian facility varies with the generosity of the developer. In addition, it is typical to find utility poles and signage planted in the middle of sidewalks. This will obviously pose problems for the visually impaired, or paraplegics who move around in wheelchairs.
Pedestrian infrastructure must be an important part of any comprehensive transportation plan. It is negligent of those responsible for designing, building and maintaining urban transportation infrastructure to not consider the needs of the majority of Jamaicans who live, work and study in the Corporate Area.
The Government must do more to demonstrate that it understands and is willing to respond to the needs of working-class Jamaicans. Furthermore, given the Government's commitment to environmental sustainability, we should encourage walking and implement measures to make moving about on foot a more pleasant experience.
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