April 28, 2007
The traffic lights are coming back. Several city intersections have had even worse disruptions than usual over the past month or so as the necessary infrastructure to support new traffic lights were being laid. Many of the spanking new lights on their long yellow poles have already been put down, complete with the accompanying solar panels by which they will be powered. A first for Guyana and indeed a sign of progress! Or is it?
Will the traffic lights, which we have been told come complete with 'Walk' and 'Don't Walk' signals for pedestrians be enough to regulate the traffic on our roads? Only time will tell. For now, the lawlessness knows no bounds.
There are still no definitive measures in place to curb speeding, known to be the major cause of fatal road accidents in this country. Traffic lights, even if they were to be placed throughout the country would be useless against the road hogs who floor their accelerators on the East Coast, East Bank and Corentyne highways, or for that matter any straight stretch of road. Speed cameras and speed guns, which would be somewhat effective, remain plans on paper for now, while the carnage continues.
Traffic lights are also useless against kerb-crawlers, and some of those guilty of this are police officers in uniform in police vehicles, who slow down to way below the speed limit in order to try and chat up women walking along the streets. And because the roads are so narrow, kerb-crawling is simply a turn of phrase. What these lechers do is hold up an entire line of traffic, sometimes at rush hour, to leer at female pedestrians.
Traffic lights will be no use against drivers who stop in the middle of the road, with no concern for who might be driving behind them, to have a conversation with a driver in another car. Or against those who can be seen juggling with a cell phone while the vehicle they should be controlling veers from one side of the road to the next or slows to a crawl blocking a line of traffic behind them.
And can traffic lights help the police identify those who drink or use drugs and then get behind the wheel of a car? How many breathalyzers do the police own; are they in use?
And what of the pedestrians for whom jaywalking seems to be a foreign term? On a daily basis on our roads, pedestrians break road safety rules by (i) crossing the street diagonally; (ii) stepping out suddenly from behind parked vehicles; (iv) ignoring the direction within which the traffic is flowing.
A case in point is the intersection at Camp and Regent streets. Quite often there is a traffic policeman directing the flow of traffic at this busy four-corner intersection. What happens is that when the policeman instructs drivers to proceed, pedestrians step into the path of vehicles and stroll across the street, forcing them to stop. The policeman on duty either does not notice or chooses not to do anything about it. This is wrong and could cause havoc when the lights begin working, not only at this point but at any other.
Months ago, the police had unveiled a series of measures aimed at curbing road lawlessness, these included what the police called 'spotting': using radar guns and radio sets to report traffic infractions such as speeding; increased police presence at bus parks to ease congestion; the recruitment of traffic wardens who would be employed particularly around schools; the repainting of road markings and traffic signs; the setting up of billboards; the distribution of flyers with road safety tips; and the renewal of road safety education in schools. Whether any of these measures has seen the light of day is anyone's guess; there is nothing to suggest that any of them has been implemented. However, road safety education is doable and crucial before the traffic lights project comes on stream. There are children in schools now who have never seen working traffic lights. They need to be instructed in their use. The police also need to work on the re-education of the wider population as well as the enforcement of punishment and fines for jaywalking pedestrians and rule-breaking drivers. And this must include the members of the force, who are also guilty of some infractions.