Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan announced last week that the Traffic Management Branch would be installing nine new zebra crossings and 15 pedestrian signals throughout the country with some of these measures to be implemented on the Priority Bus Route. Sinanan was responding to a question put to him in the Senate about the state's response to the death, in September, of Emmanuel John from injuries caused by a maxi taxi on the bus route. That effort should mark the start of a national move to insist on greater pedestrian awareness among drivers in TT.
Many drivers don't show appropriate caution when approaching flashing traffic lights, pedestrian warning lights and seem to draw a collective blank on the question of zebra crossings. Painting zebra crossings won't have much impact unless it becomes clearer to drivers what they are for and what the proper etiquette on the road demands of them.
The Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act of TT is clear on the rights of pedestrians on a zebra crossing. The law states the following, as explicitly as any bit of legalese can, “Every pedestrian on a zebra crossing has precedence over any vehicle and the driver of the vehicle shall accord such precedence to the pedestrian where the pedestrian came onto the zebra crossing prior to the vehicle.”
Drivers, controlling powerful vehicles capable of doing great damage, have a moral and legal responsibility to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists as they operate their machines, but anyone who has ever stepped onto a crosswalk will admit to trepidation about what will happen next.
Government should also be concerned about the state of local sidewalks, the area allocated to foot traffic in this country. In high-income neighbourhoods, public sidewalks are often overtaken by enthusiastic gardeners who extend their horticulture to the footpath, making them impassable. In low-income neighbourhoods, poor city planning and almost non-existent building oversight have led to structures that have overtaken the sidewalks, leaving no space for pedestrians at all. Even where sidewalks exist and are properly configured, vehicles park illegally on them, with heavy trucks often destroying the paved surface. In commercial districts, stores will configure their limited parking spaces so that vehicles end up using much of the pavement.
All these decisions are made in the expectation that existing law won’t be enforced. Consequently, pedestrians end up being forced to walk in the road, increasing the potential for danger. Roadways are only as safe as we insist they be, and neither law nor caution signs will have much effect if there isn't a campaign of education and enforcement to inform the use of our roads and sidewalks.