Based on stale data, for 2010, Jamaicans have about 179 vehicles per 1000 people, and ranked 78th out of 193 countries. That compares with about 800/1000 in the USA, ranking it 3rd; 519 for the UK, ranking it 34th; 469 for Barbados, ranking it 41st. Barbados is known to have very high vehicle density. 

Jamaica is essentially a poor, rural country, with a few dense urban areas, especially its capital, Kingston. Most Jamaicans get around in public vehicles–buses and taxis–and walk a lot between the start and end of their journeys. That’s not so rare around the world. In fact, much of my life in England involved my using public transport and walking a lot to complete my journeys. That contrasts with the USA, where it’s very difficult to get good public transpor, as that society has given much greater preference to cars and access by motor vehicles.

In the UK, USA, and Barbados, most of the time if you are walking in urban areas, you are putting your feet on relatively stable and even ground. The sidewalks are also usually free of obstructions. That’s more important in times when many users of sidewalks are disabled and/or using wheel methods to negotiate their journeys.

In Jamaica, one can almost say that the situation is the exact opposite. I have unfortunately had to learn that fact from having to walk around Kingston in recent times. I was struck how poor the walking surfaces were, when I dropped off a car a few weeks ago and decided to walk home. ​You can refresh your memory by noting the state of the sidewalk in the video (taken on Constant Spring Road), and the sidewalks in the pictures, below.

Garbage or other things often obstruct the sidewalks

A sidewalk has been placed on one side of the road, but clearly, people want to walk on both sides, so have ‘created’ a path.

Just the other day, I was going to pick up a car, and got a ride into New Kingston and walked the relatively short distance from Trafalgar Road, through Worthington Avenue/Belmont Road to Oxford Road, to locate the journey. The map shows the 5 minute strolling route; not a bad walk at about 7.30am.

As I made that journey, I was again appalled at the state of the sidewalk, given that it’s in the commercial heart of the city, where a lot of people have to walk around as the simplest and quickest way of getting between the many businesses and organizations there. I was more appalled when I recalled that the offices of the now-ruling Jamaican Labour Party are located on Belmont Road.

I was so struck that I didn’t do what I would normally–take a picture–because the footing was so precarious, I was frightened I would really injure myself. So, let me just describe the worst of what is along the left side of that road, heading toward Oxford Road.

  • A huge hole, about 2-3 feet across, where it seems the sidewalk was damaged by something heavy. Jagged edges. NO WARNING around the hole.
  • Light/telephone pole set in the sidewalk, reducing the walking area to about one foot width.
  • A drainage channel that is in place of the sidewalk, forcing the walker to negotiate an area about 6 inches-one foot for about  10 metres. NO WARNING. (The drainage channel could be covered, so that the walking area would be maintained.)
  • The walking surface was so uneven that, even in simple flat shoes, the risk of turning an ankle or stumbling was high. It looked like concrete had been poured and not levelled.

In typical Jamaican fashion, we could get into a discussion about which agencies are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of areas such as this. Let’s save the energy and say that government, local or national, are failing to do something basic to maintain the safety and health of citizens.

As is often the way in Jamaica, also, one has to wonder whether:

  • No one has noticed this set of awful situations
  • Someone has noticed, but cannot be concerned enough to fix the problem
  • Someone has noticed, but is in dispute with some other body about who will do the repair or correction

As may also be the Jamaican way, perhaps we need the current PM to take a walk from JAMPRO to his party headquarters and see if he thinks this situation is either acceptable or out of the ordinary.

Jamaicans know that many public agencies struggle to do the simple, daily things that make life tolerable because you know that care and attention to detail feature high in everyone’s consciousness. 

I pity anyone who has to negotiate areas like this who is not able-bodied, with good sight, and not using a wheelchair.

Life should not be this hard.

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