In a letter to Newsday last week, reader Noel Kalicharan bemoaned the presence of cyclists on the nation’s highways and called for the enforcement of the law regarding the presence of such riders on these high-speed carriageways. This position was articulated as a response to the accident which claimed the lives of two Slipstream riders, hospitalised two others and brought increased concern for the safety of cyclists in TT.
Kalicharan insists that signage at entrances to the highway insisting that bicycles, pedestrians, mopeds and animals are not allowed constitutes an articulation of law. According to the Highways Act of Trinidad and Tobago, first proclaimed in 1970 and last updated in 2015, there is no provision for the banning of cyclists from the TT highways. Indeed, the law cites specific provisions for the creation and maintenance of cycling tracks on existing highways.
No such provisions exist on our highways now, though there was one effort at declaring a cycle track around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain in 2015. In that arrangement, the inside lane of the roadway around the huge city park, the lane closest to the Savannah’s sidewalk, was set aside exclusively for cyclists between 4 am and 6 am and 8 pm to 9.30 pm during the work week, and on weekends between 6 am and 9 am. The government also agreed then to encourage the Chaguaramas Development Authority to implement the infrastructure upgrades needed to improve the quality of the enthusiastically used Chaguaramas golf course circuit.
Kalicharan’s insistence that the disappearance of cyclists from the nation’s roads generally and from its highways, in particular, is evidence of a decline in the culture of pedalling from one destination to another. That may be so, but it’s largely a causality dilemma, or more popularly, a chicken and egg situation.
Cycling was once a widely accepted form of transportation in TT, but the deterioration of both the quality of our roads and the increased presence of careless drivers has led inexorably to parents insisting that their children pursue safer forms of exercise. With fewer children taking up cycling, there has been a decline in the number of people even capable of riding a bicycle, far less willing to mount one to ride on today’s roads.
What happened to the Slipstream club on a sunny Saturday morning as they pedalled along the Beetham escorted by police outriders was a tragedy but it wasn’t illegal, and to suggest that is insulting and uninformed.
There needs, instead, to be a refreshed commitment to healthy, safe cycling opportunities in a country overrun with foreign-used vehicles and flirting with a growing profile of national obesity.