Walkable Panorama City

There is a kind of positive energy associated with Carnival and particularly with the steelband movement. Players survive on less sleep and exhibit discipline and high levels of productivity in order to learn their Panorama tune. There is something we need to understand about Carnival, Pan and Panyards and their social impact. I see several positives in the approach by the ordinary panman and panwoman, and this year the number of youngsters who populate the bands.

A few years ago, Pan Trinbago introduced Preliminary judging at the panyards. This has morphed into busloads of supporters riding privately contracted maxi taxis from one panyard to the next, following the judges and attempting to maximize their experience of how each band is approaching their tune of choice. Hundreds of people move from panyard to panyard on these judging nights and there is an atmosphere of happiness and peace.

An unintended consequence of this desire to follow the judges is the horrendous traffic jams along the judging route. Some brave souls will walk in the Woodbrook area, but generally supporters drive and this just adds to the traffic congestion along the route.

Here’s an opportunity for a thinking Mayor of Port of Spain, the Minister of Works and Transport and Commissioner of Police. We can experiment with “a walkable city” with a park-and-ride transit system just for the night. This would keep hundreds of cars off the street and introduce a healthy approach to this fun-filled evening. If it works, we can then expand it so little by little we can demonstrate to our citizenry that we have to take a different approach to transportation, and that it can work.  

This idea was taken from a book called “Walkable City” by Urbanist Jeff Speck. He answers the question: “How do we solve the problem of the suburbs?” In this case, substitute “congested cities” for “suburbs”. He suggests that we free ourselves from our dependence on the car “by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for people”.

I recall the stridency of the current Prime Minister on the campaign trail talking about transportation being a quality of life issue. Since his assumption of office, the stridency has turned to a meek cry that the IADB study says it would be too expensive. Ok, a mass transit system may be expensive but there are other things we can do. We can invite Mr. Speck to give us some advice or we can retrieve the transportation plan for which the country has paid millions and see if there is anything in there worth implementing. We can even ask advice from locals, Dr. Trevor Townsend and Dr. Ray Furlonge or we can even set up a think-tank of urban planners with a brief to provide some short-term solutions. But instead, we do nothing and the traffic continues to be murderous. I wonder when was the last time any of the “big boys” travelled from Arima to Port of Spain at peak traffic without their sirens blaring to rush past their forlorn employers stuck in sweltering heat. I guarantee you that it takes at least two hours so that’s a four hour commute every day for women and children.

There is ample data that walkable cities will positively impact lifestyle diseases like obesity and hypertension because people will have to walk and that alone has a positive impact. Instead, what I continue to see is an absence of thought, leadership and innovation.

We know the date for Carnival 2020 and I hope that Mayor of Port of Spain, the Minister of Works and Transport and Commissioner of Police will collaborate to try a walkable city for the judging of Panorama 2020.

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