EVERY road fatality is a tragedy but there is something extraordinarily heartbreaking about Saturday’s deadly incident in which two cyclists in a group of 14 lost their lives on the Beetham Highway.
None of the usual precautions taken by cycling clubs proved to be sufficient deterrent against the cycling nightmare that occurred when a car careened across the east-bound highway and claimed the lives of highly respected chef and restaurateur Joe Brown and bpTT employee, Joanna Banks, while injuring two others. Brown’s death has thrown into grief the large community of people who enjoyed the mastery of his menu and conviviality of personality. However, it is worth noting that none of the residents of the much-maligned Beetham community who flew out of their homes to help knew anything about the victims. They were simply driven by compassion and care.
Police reports indicate that CCTV cameras along the highway were functional and should therefore be able to show precisely how the car ended up snuffing out the lives of two people enjoying an early morning Saturday sweat on wheels. The incident has drawn much public comment about the risk of cycling on highways, even when confined to the shoulders, as Saturday’s was, and accompanied by police escort with the obligatory vehicle bringing up the rear.
The tragedy has not only shaken members of Slipstream Cycling Club but the national community of cyclists who are well aware of the hostile conditions under which cyclists brave the nation’s highways and other roads. Works Minister Rohan Sinanan has responded with the promise of a policy for protecting cyclists. Apparently, the ministry has been working on the policy with cycling clubs for some time but Saturday’s disaster appears to have speeded up its agenda for getting it before Cabinet this week. If government action can make T&T’s roads safer for cyclists, the obvious question is why wasn’t it done before lives were lost?
The reality is that given the quality of driving and the increasing dangerous conditions of T&T’s potholed roads, cycling is fast becoming an endangered sport. A cyclist riding on the shoulder is as much at risk of being injured by a pothole as by a runaway vehicle. Given yesterday’s horrific incident, it was not surprising to learn that a number of Slipstream’s members, and perhaps other cyclists as well, are thinking about calling it a day.
For many, there is no greater joy than an early morning ride, cutting through dawn’s dew and a fresh breeze while breaking a sweat. The danger that roared to life to claim two fit individuals on Saturday, and which remains a risk to all cyclists, did not occur overnight. It is one of the many failures of planning. As in the current case of a policy going to Cabinet post haste on Thursday, we seem to be forever in a reactive mode. Whatever is being planned is already too late for Joe Brown, Joanna Banks and the many others who have lost their lives on the nation’s roads. Let’s hope that urgent action on an effective and imaginative plan will protect the lives of others.