Published On: Tue, Dec 4th, 2018

No easy solution for traffic jams

Traffic Jam

PHILIPSBURG – A rough estimate, based on plate numbers, suggests that there are between 60,000 and 70,000 cars on the road in St. Maarten – that’s counting both the Dutch and the French side. Given our island’s limited infrastructure, traffic jams are unavoidable. It’s at times bad in the low season and worse in the high season when there are many more rental cars on the road. One thing we know by now for sure: the causeway bridge was not the solution. But what is?

Stmaartennews.com readers have expressed their thoughts about this topic and provided a wide array of possible solutions – from building more roads and addressing the behavior of drivers to fiscal measures and limiting the number of cars per household. There is also this sentiment: the government should do something about the traffic situation before the island collapses under the pressure of even more cars on the road.

The main bottlenecks are in Cole Bay towards the roundabout at the bottom of the Harold Jack Hill, on Illidge Road and – on the French side – from the Hope Estate commercial zone via Grand Case to Marigot.

Building more roads – some readers suggested overpasses or tunnels – sounds like a logical solution, but traffic studies elsewhere have found that more roads will only result in more cars on the road. And then there is the so-called funnel-effect. All these cars have to go somewhere and sooner or later they will have to leave the main road and enter smaller streets. That’s where congestion will still occur.

Let’s have a look at the reactions we received from our readers. Bigsmoke Williams has a simple answer: lower the number of cars coming into the country and have a proper place to dispose of old vehicles.

Rajin Singh suggests lowering the number of cars per household. Car pooling could alleviate traffic congestion and also reduce pollution, he notes. Singh also points to the role of financial institutions: “The bank gives you a loan faster to buy a new car than a house.”

Jenny Martina pointed out that the island of Bermuda does not allow rental cars. Instead, tourists have the option to rent a scooter. Bermuda households cannot have more than one car. The government considers setting a limit for the number of cars it will allow on the island.

Maggie Hodge is looking for a solution in a different direction:  “What we need is a proper, safe, cost efficient and reliable transportation system on the island. That will alleviate a lot of stress on the roads as persons would make use of the public transportation. Also if we had bicycle paths persons would use their bikes on flat areas, and children would bike to school.”

Getting old and abandoned cars off the road is something that will not immediately reduce congestion but it would surely make the island look better. In the past, the VROMI-ministry has taken the initiative to remove car wrecks, but somehow these activities seemed to stop after a relatively short while.

Readers have also suggested fiscal measures, like taxing second, third and fourth cars for the same owner, or taxing cars based on weight.

Another idea is allowing cars with even plate numbers – those ending with 2, 4, 6, or 8 – on the road one day and cars with uneven numbers the other day.

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Related links:
Facebook debate about solutions needs for traffic jams on St. Maarten/St. Martin
Opinion piece: “A car for every working (wo)man” by Hilbert Haar