Gridlock, road hogs and potholes

Our roads are increasingly crowded and at times grid-locked. And it will get worse as Independence and Christmas approach, with shopping, socialising, excess alcohol and the inevitable accidents, injury, loss of life and even more delays on the roads. However, as someone claimed, potholes make you slow down, so there may be less accidents!

Everyone complains about the traffic jams, but nothing is done to study the causes or create solutions. The primary cause, of course, is the number of vehicles on the roads, partly because of the poor, erratic transport system. Secondary causes include the types of vehicles, the behaviour of the drivers and the nature of the roads. These causes suggest some obvious solutions.

First, the types of vehicles. We have more and more pick-up trucks, which are used as personal cars, and not for agriculture or industrial use. Twice the size of my little Nissan Tiida, they take up far more space on the road, and far more car park space, often making parking and exiting a major problem and a hazard. A farmer’s or factory license should be required to own such a large vehicle.

Secondly, behaviour. The problem here is chiefly the ZR vans, driven by unsociable law-breakers who enjoy unexplained protection from the law. They stop anywhere, especially on corners and at junctions, waiting for up to a minute or two for a potential passenger they spot on a side road. This happens constantly on the Wildey Road by the old Banks Brewery site, holding up long lines of traffic. ZR van drivers also hold conferences with other drivers when they meet, frustrating traffic in both directions. And this week, on the Britton’s Hill Road, a passenger got out at a bend in the road but engaged the driver or another passenger in conversation for a full two minutes … I timed them, in the interest of science and this column! An obvious solution to these problems is to provide many more bus stop lay-byes in many available places in the suburban roads into the city, and enforce their use, outlawing casual pick-up stops.

Thirdly, the potholes: one has to drive slowly, but spotting a Chinese wok or deep “pressure cooker” at the last minute can result in a desperate swerve to avoid it, and that can cause an accident, while dropping into a deep one does damage to driver, passenger and car.

Then there’s the problem of road hogs – several kinds – those who drive two feet behind you to scare you out of the way, those who change lanes without indicating, those who speed down the Wildey hill at 100 miles per hour and refuse to let drivers from St. David’s move into the right lanes, and those who refuse to dip their headlights at night. An excellent letter and editorial note in another section of the Press highlighted this dangerous behaviour. In my experience while half of drivers drive on dip, of the other half only a few dip their lights on approaching. Bus drivers, mini-buses, pick-up trucks and giant SUV drivers rarely do … “the bigger, the badder!” But it’s difficult to bell the cat by prosecuting that kind of law-breaking, even with enough traffic cops, because license plates are hard to see at night.

Finally, there’s the major problem of potholes and road maintenance. Clearly there’s been no serious road maintenance programme for years. Some stretches of road, such as the Halton to Brighton Road and the northeast St. Philip road, have taken nearly as long to fix as the St. John Polyclinic’s 20 plus years. And the new fashion for road building is to build nice little guard walls which can damage tyres and do a great job of keeping rain water in the road, to hasten pot hole production.

There have been myriad questions about government expenditure. Maintenance of buildings was apparently dropped at the first oil crisis in 1973, so that one government building after another goes derelict, allowing demolition and a costly new building for a Minister to unveil a plaque. The political imperatives are clear. However, bad roads upset the electorate more, and pre-election road repairs a standard but naïve policy, although this time around it didn’t perhaps go quite as planned.

We are in a debt crisis, but the state of the roads, sanitation, public transport, health care challenges, public buildings et cetera beg the question where the money goes. This is cogent, since there has been a massive failure of many government authorities, boards, commissions, corporations, departments, funds and other entities like the Caves of Barbados Ltd. to produce financial statements/audits for many years. This delinquency has been drawn to the attention of Parliament and public by the Auditor General year after year, but it seems to have become accepted as normal. Failure of these departments to act responsibly, and the failure of government to heed the Auditor General is, quite simply, unacceptable.

At the last count some 19 government entities have failed in their legal duty and responsibility. While the average period without audits is an astonishing six years, some are much longer.

Bouquets: This week, a big bouquet to Senator the Reverend Dr. David Durant, for pointing out the link between how children are brought up and deviant behaviour. It’s a complex issue, but the inculcation of values through religious and spiritual instruction and the hallowed tradition of Sunday School for young children, while no guarantee of producing perfect citizens, is much more successful than leaving them to chance, with poor parental influence, and no training in humanitarian and ethical or spiritual values. The philosophy of humanism, with emphasis on virtuous action as the goal of learning, espoused by thinkers like Aldous Huxley as a secular alternative to Christianity has always been an intellectual exercise and irrelevant for bringing up children in the way they should go. What we have failed to recognise is that we now have, as the late Professor George Nicholson said, “too many children having children”, without benefit of spiritual or ethical values, a father figure, or a positive environment for raising a good citizen. It is a challenge that needs much more attention and urgently.

Another bouquet: to Nerissa Niles of Grantley Adams School for being judged best in the region for her 3D piece in CXC art; and congratulations to Grantley Adams School and their art teachers for their emphasis on art and creativity.

Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website:

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