One of the first observations about British Guiana that was made by renowned novelist V. S. Naipaul was the extent to which Guyanese living in such a large country huddled together on a narrow coastal strip.
We operate in this country as if there is a shortage of land. Land and property values are exorbitantly high. And skyscrapers are going up in a country that has one of the lowest population densities in the world. You would believe from the high price of real estate and the towering structures that are being erected that Guyana has a shortage of land.
The opposite is quite true. We have extensive flat lands, poorly drained of course but we do have lands. The coastal plain has some of the best lands for agricultural purposes, while the hilly sand and clay area has some of the poorest lands for such purposes. Yet increasingly the well drained and fertile lands of the Guyana Sugar Corporation located on the coastal plain are being ceded for housing development, while more and more persons are taking up the lands alongside the Soesdyke/Linden Highway for agricultural purposes.
It should have been the other way around. Greater human settlements should have been encouraged on the hilly sand and clay area and the low coastal plain should have been reserved for agricultural cultivation.
The government built bypasses on the East Coast Public Road which allowed for a reduction in the number of turns in the area between Mahaica and Mahaicony. There was one stretch of roadway that cut through former coconut estates. No sooner was this road completed that habitation began alongside the roadway.
This is one of the main problems that being faced. In this modern age, you cannot continue to encourage housing areas along side major highways and roadways because these roads are intended for fast moving traffic and when persons live alongside major public roads and highways there is the tendency for persons to be either walking on the roads or crossing them either on foot or bicycle. A great many pedestrians have lost their lives after being struck down while using public roads. They should not be on these roadways.
This past Christmas at least nine persons lost their lives on our roadways. This is unfortunate and is a product of reckless use of our roadways. But it is not a problem that can be fixed by having a greater police presence on our road. It is a problem that has to be addressed fundamentally by isolating the public roads to pedestrians and businesses.
If a road is designated a major public highway, then there should not be pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists using that roadway. That does not happen anywhere in the developed world. A major highway is for fast moving vehicles. Yet our major public roads are not only lined with houses and businesses but are crisscrossed every fifty or more yards by streets emerging from the villages that the major public roads pass through.
This has to change. The access from village to the main public road has to be limited to a few junctions. You cannot have a junction every fifty or so yards. You cannot have entrances of homes and businesses leading out into a public highway. You cannot continue to encourage businesses alongside major public roads. These are recipes for disaster.
A new public road has been built on the West Bank. It leads into one of the major housing schemes. It is only a matter of time before lands alongside this road are converted into homes and businesses. This is the mistake that we continue to make. In fact, instead of building that road, the government should have experimented with a small rail service that would have moved hundreds of persons at any one time.
It can still be done with the road being used as an alternative mode of transportation.
Another major cause of accidents on public highways is overtaking. Often there is a miscalculation and an overtaking vehicle finds itself in the path of oncoming traffic. The result is fatalities.
What is needed to reduce this are medians that would separate the flow of traffic so that there is no way in which an overtaking vehicle can end up in the path of traffic coming in the opposite direction. As far as possible this should be happening in the redesigning of the road works being undertaken on the East Bank and East Coast Public Roads.
Engineering and better road planning, not firmer police action has to be the solution to road deaths. And that solution has to be implemented now rather than later.
Guyana has land. Let us stop crowding the coastal belt and open up new areas for development. And let us stop this habit of having to build houses and businesses along our major thoroughfares.
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