Traditionally, street parking in Georgetown has been the rule rather than the exception. Homes that were built with garages or even yard space for parking were far and few between, particularly in central Georgetown where buildings were tightly squeezed into narrow spaces; every extra square foot of space would have been needed for dwelling or conducting business. As Georgetown began to change, unfortunately many of its amenities remained in the last century. One can think of the water and sewerage systems that might have been adequate for a city of say 20,000 residents, trying and failing miserably to cater for the approximately 140,000 current city dwellers. Similarly, there was a lack of foresight as regards the electricity grid, resulting in it being unable to ably carry its burgeoning load; blackouts became the order of the day and have remained to date.
The majority of the city’s roads are still exactly the way they were built in the last century – the same width and length, that is. Some are so extremely narrow that it is a daily marvel that two vehicles manage to pass each other without exchanging paint. And there are instances where one must pull over to the grass verge to allow another to pass. On some streets there is actually scope for widening, but city improvements have not been addressed in a very long time.
The story of what might be the longest serving and most ineffectual Mayor and City Council (M&CC) in history is well known and might even make it to the Guinness Book of World Records. So we will just concede that the M&CC lacked the financial capability, among other things, to develop the city in any way, and successive central governments just did not care.
Meanwhile, as the city population grew so did the number of motor vehicles. Five years ago, Georgetown was already extremely congested in terms of the number of vehicles traversing the streets on a daily basis. At that point, this newspaper had quoted the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) as stating that as at March 2009, some 32,500 cars were registered with the agency, along with 17,181 motorcycles, 5,935 minibuses and 6,353 lorries. These figures would have covered the entire country. Nevertheless, it seemed at the time that the majority of these vehicles were being operated in Georgetown.
At that same time, concerns had been raised over the rising number of private auto dealers, who were seemingly conducting underhand business to evade taxes. The GRA had admitted that there were some 1,638 vehicles not on its database to which licences were sold in 2009.
None of this has abated. In fact, if anything, the amount of vehicle purchases appears to have risen exponentially over the past five years. While figures are not readily available, one sign of this would be the rapid advancement in vehicle registrations. These have been moving at the rate of one series per annum and have gone from the “LL” series in 2009 to the “TT” series today; 10,000 vehicles are registered per series.
With the city in the throes of a traffic crisis, the Guyana Police Force has taken a decision to implement parallel parking in the downtown areas. This initiative began about a month ago in Regent Street, perhaps the busiest in the city, which is predominantly business-oriented and one of the wider roadways. Apart from its institutionalized illegal pavement vending, Regent Street is a minibus route, so it has several bus stops and affords two-way traffic. It also has two paid parking lots that were fairly recently put into operation, with one being used more than the other. Given its general characteristics, parallel parking seemed a fit for Regent Street.
Robb Street is different. It has its fair share of businesses, but not as many retail entities as Regent Street. It is a one-way, single lane street, which perhaps made it a better fit for angled or diagonal parking. However, what the Police Traffic Department has done is a unilateral, one-size-fits-all cure for congestion. In response to queries by this newspaper, Traffic Chief Ian Amsterdam said the department had noted that major roadways in the city had been narrowed as a result of diagonal parking and decided that “If people parked differently there would be more road space.” He advocated that people should use paid parking.
It is clear that no study was done and the input of the businesses that would be affected by the new system was not canvassed. What the police would have learned had they done prior investigations was that on any given day, there would be a number of vehicles double-parked parallel to those already angled into the small spaces available. They would have found vehicles that are incapable of being moved taking up permanent space on the street. They would have realised too that there is no paid parking on Robb Street. What this new mandate has done is to reduce parking by half; forget customers, business owners now no longer have adequate parking.
What ought to have been addressed instead, is the movement of huge lorries, container trucks and garbage disposal vehicles through downtown areas during rush hour. Given the congestion, these vehicles should be made to operate at specific times. In addition, there should be more traffic ranks in these busy areas to observe the everyday law-breaking that obtains, which adds to the congestion, causes accidents and will continue until enforcement actually takes place.