Opinion: Self-imposed misery

POSTED: 01/5/12 1:08 PM

We’re unable to shake the feeling that the whining about traffic jams is in fact akin to self-imposed misery. When our beleaguered government finally gets down to actually executing some much needed work – like the just concluded upgrades in Cole Bay and the ongoing work in Dutch Quarter – traffic jams and delays are an inevitable side-effect.

We won’t go into all the huffing and puffing disgruntled motorists have spent their energy on during the past couple of months, because it really isn’t worth our time. Instead, we would like to look at this situation from a different angle.

Like: why do we have traffic jams?

Keep in mind that they do not only occur when the government executes infrastructural improvement projects, they are also common during the high season. Is this because we don’t have enough roads? Or is it maybe because we have too many cars? Or is it because of the way we tend to use all these cars?

We think that the infrastructure on the island is the way it is. The roundabouts that have been built over the past couple of years are an improvement for sure, but they are not enough to end all congestion on our roads.

It is certain that there are too many cars for our own good on the island. People are free to buy cars, and to import cars to their heart’s delight. This is exactly what our motorists have been doing for decades. The banks are enthralled, because they get to finance all this gleaming steel and rubber.

We invite disgruntled motorists to look in the mirror or, better even, to look at their own situation. How many cars are there in the household? And how are these cars used?

How many people live in the same neighborhood as their colleagues, who also have several cars in front of their door? And how many of these people are driving to work every day alone?

It is certain that a car gives its owner the freedom to go wherever and whenever she or he wants. The car is the personification of individualism. The car is also the reason that our roads get clogged, the reason for traffic jams and delays. Confronted with these situations, motorists begin to grumble, not realizing that they themselves are causing the situation they are complaining about.

This is of course not what car-owners want to hear. Most of them don’t even want to think about traffic jams this way. They feel entitled – yes sir: entitled – to smooth sailing on their way from home to work and back. It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that this comfort is provided on a daily basis, or so the argument goes.

The tragic reality is that the collective community of selfish motorists is at the heart of this matter. It is time for people to wake up and to rethink the way they get from A to B. Car pooling comes to mind, not only within the family, but also in circles of colleagues, friends and neighbors.

True, the government could do its part, not by building a causeway over the lagoon, but by developing a solid public transport system. But what we need first and foremost is a change of mentality. If we do not want to suffocate ourselves on our roads, we need to say goodbye to the good old socialist ideal of a car for every worker. We have to return to a community-driven approach, and make individual needs subordinate to the needs of our community.

There are plenty of ideas about how to do this. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of action and initiative. Until that changes, traffic jams will remain part of our daily routine, but it’s nice to know that we only have ourselves to blame for it.

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