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Thursday, August 11, 2022
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ACCESS TO, THROUGH CHARLOTTE AMALIE

When considering Charlotte Amalie's traffic congestion, the first thing to recognize is that there is no total solution. The time for that was more than 20 years ago when a northern bypass from east of town all the way to the western end of Brewer's Bay beach was proposed.
No one listened, and gradually the land along the recommended route became full of houses, making condemnation prohibitively expensive.
There is no absolute solution. Much as some of us may want to do so, even if we had six lanes of roadway, we would not be able to whiz along from one end of Charlotte Amalie to the other. So let us forget the futile search for the perfect formula.
However, there is a way to congestion relief. The problem is that the way to relief is simple, not romantic or grandiose, and requires comprehensive planning.
The very idea of a comprehensive approach to Charlotte Amalie's traffic problem seems to have caused permanent administrative paralysis.
To plan for anything other than faster traffic lanes and for anything other than more and more vehicles on those lanes seems much too complex.
Every modest no-build, less destructive suggestion has been cavalierly dismissed by the highway experts in Public Works. The few that were given short-term trials in isolation from other remedies (examples: park-and-ride and share-a-ride) were rejected as impractical — "we tried that and it didn't work."
At the annual meeting of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands in 1980, those assembled reached a consensus, not altered since, that we opposed any further filling in of St. Thomas Harbor for the purpose of highway construction until less costly and drastic measures had been tried.
At that time, we proposed some short- and long-term alternatives to the DPW waterfront highway proposal, then offered as the "Lineal Park Mitigation Plan."
Since 1980, the League's transportation plan has changed very little, and after most of our key recommendations were approved by a 1984-85 DPW advisory group, we thought relief to long-suffering St. Thomas motorists was on its way.
Here are the elements of the plan (those starred received general approval from the advisory group):
1) *PARCARD System in town for short-term curbside parking with 30- and 60-minute limits, converting the Barracks Yard parking lot to the same system and increasing the fees.
2) *Park and Ride with low all-day rates paid by the in-town employers: park at Reichhold Center or Sub-Base in the west, Tutu Mall and the Cost-U-Less area in the east; shuttles leaving for town every 15 minutes during rush hours and every half-hour at other times during the day.
3) *Controlled Transportation Nodes for taxis and shuttle buses, one by Emancipation Garden, one midway along the waterfront and one at Rothschild Francis Square.
Note that paid curbside parking and the shuttle system must be implemented simultaneously.
Want to add water ferries? Fine, but safe pedestrian passage across the waterfront highway must be assured, which means enforcing the 20 mph speed limit.
The dangerous safari buses favored by legal taxi owners and tour companies must be phased out; the size of taxis, private vehicles and transport vehicles limited.
VITRAN must be revitalized. The public transportation system must have sufficient vehicles, spare parts and maintenance personnel so that those dependent on it are assured of reliable scheduling. Only then can we reasonably demand the outlawing of "gypsy" cabs.
What is the cause of the delay in the implementation of PARCARD, Park and Ride and VITRAN recovery? Ask Public Works and your senators.
What else?
1) Implement the One-Way Double Loop traffic flow plan. This would eliminate nearly all traffic signals and right turns from Tolbad Gade to the foot of Raphune Hill. Its benefits could be accompanied by the construction of a third lane on Raphune Hill. Better yet, implement the Triple Loop plan, which would add a new two-lane eastbound road behind the hospital and over the gap to the park-and-ride lot near Cost-U-Less so that the existing Raphune Hill to Wheatley Center road would be one way down.
2) Mesh inter-government agency on-island travel needs with the public shuttle system.
3) Establish a cultural and recreational park (with some revenue-generating activities) on the filled land at Long Bay. This would be the first step in the realization of a harborside promenade all the way from the West Indian Co. cruise ship dock to Frenchtown.
4) Implement the mall concept on Main Street, from Educators Square to Rothschild Francis Square, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
5) A more futuristic dream envisions a Government Center at the top of Raphune Hill, so that there would be less need for workers from the more populated east to travel into or across town in order to get to work. If Public Works is to remain at its present location, then we suggest earlier hours in order to further relieve peak hour traffic.
Understandably, St. Thomians are getting more and more irritated with the situation. Who goes into town unless absolutely necessary? And next year, it will be worse. We are told that we can expect another half million cruise ship passengers. Already, cruise ship company executives are expressing concern about the delays caused by the traffic jams between the WICO docks and town.
This is serious!! And it is not just a Charlotte Amalie problem. Cruz Bay and Christiansted have their parking and traffic problems as well, although not as severe.
Governor, Senators, is it not time to make transportation improvements, with less reliance on private vehicles, a top priority?
None of the recommendations offered here are radical. They are all used successfully by cities and towns all across the United States and in other parts of the world. The idea of a highway that would use super-highway design features that are no longer considered suitable even for large cities, one that would further separate a beautiful harbor from the potentially handsome town of Charlotte Amalie — now that is radical.
Editor's note: Helen W. Gjessing of St. Thomas is a board member of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands.

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