Sport is meant to be fun; the enhancement of one’s fitness, prolonging life and adding value. Occasionally, at the highest levels when the limits are pushed to the nth degree in the cauldron of competition, tragedy occurs. Witness the death of luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, or numerous jockeys or powerboat drivers killed while heading to the finish line. The image of Formula One great Ayrton Senna’s 1994 crash remains fresh in the mind of sports enthusiasts, a reminder of the will to win costing life and limb.
But what happens when simply practising a sport, at any level, puts the devotee in constant danger due to its nature and the area in which the training takes place? A common question to cyclists across the globe is “aren’t you afraid of being knocked down?” It is both logical and realistic, for cyclists have the unique position of training on a strip of road that they have to share with vehicles. Runners engage other runners, footballers face menacing tackles, cricketers face the prospect of a five and a half ounce missile hitting them, but none of these sports call for the dangers of occupying the same space with two ton pieces of metal doing triple your own speed, while you are protected by no more than a helmet and a thin strip of lycra. It’s a water and oil scenario, the two are almost pre-destined to not mix in the same area, each preferring that the other did not exist. It leads to the inevitability of clashes and when that occurs in the car versus cyclist battle, only one side has a clear advantage of survival.
As such, deaths on the road are a morbid element of cycling communities the world over, but does it have to be that way? In today’s modern age, with populations entrenched in social media, the bombardment for the need of best practice by both sets of road users could lead to a difference in thinking by at least one person; if that occurs then it is the life of one more cyclist saved. Therefore, it is certainly worth the effort. Welcome then, to the concept of Share the Road Trinidad & Tobago.
As with many such initiatives, Share the Road TT was borne of tragedy. On Saturday 29th March 2014, Clinton Grant was killed while riding with his trainee on the shoulder of the Audrey Jeffers Highway in north Trinidad. The incident occurred in bright sunshine; the two cyclists were hit from behind on a lane where cars are not supposed to drive. Grant succumbed to his injuries in hospital some three hours later. His protégé, Rosanna Abraham, survived horrific injuries to her leg—she has recently started riding again, emphasising her courage.
Grant was a pillar in Caribbean cycling. As an athlete he was a multiple national champion in sprint events; he attended several Games (including the Commonwealth and Pan Ams), won medals at the CAC (Central American & Caribbean) and went to two World Championships. He retired and became a selfless coach, mentoring his charges to national and regional titles. His deep love for the sport and ebullient personality made him immensely popular; his death sent shockwaves throughout the sporting population.
A group of cyclists decided to act, in memory of Grant as well as to ensure that other cyclists were not the next sad statistic on the road from simply doing the sport they love. The consensus following the brainstorming was that as a minority on the nation’s roads—one that is often seen as a nuisance to drivers—preaching the existing laws which allow cyclists road use and afford them protection, was not the way to go. Rather, the way forward would be to extend the branch of diplomacy to all the relevant stakeholders, use the media to project the message of shared use and most innovatively, create ‘safe zones’ for the riders. The latter will be detailed shortly, but the initial willingness to listen from stakeholders owes much to the Share the Road interim Board striking while Grant’s death was fresh in the mind and the ability to appeal to the wider sense of anxiety that this would happen again. The idea was to combine an appeal based campaign together with closing the parameters by changing factors such as speed limits in cycling ‘hot spots.’ The first of those hot spots targeted was the Chaguaramas area, a mecca for sportspeople amongst the rainforest area of Trinidad’s western peninsula. An eager Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) bought in to the ideas presented, especially as it fitted with their ethos of developing the region as an environmentally friendly, social and sporting area. The CDA wants to be held up as an example of modern living for the rest of Trinidad and Tobago, so ideas and contributions to make it more sport friendly were welcomed with open arms. Their agreements to create the safe zone provided the thrust for Share the Road (StR) to take their initiative to the wider public and a first town hall meeting generated ideas and garnered volunteers for the considerable work ahead. The group registered as a non-profit company, to ensure good governance and create credibility for engaging with government, NGOs and private enterprise. Committees were formed to develop specific aspects of StR, with the idea that if an interim board could make significant strides in the month beforehand, a cadre of people could achieve targets in record time. Within weeks, digital billboards, magazine and newspaper ads prompted drivers to be wary of cyclists. StR stickers now adorn many a car. StR also pledged to keep cyclist’s own house in order, appealing for the riders themselves to obey the road rules; the plan has to be all-encompassing to ensure progress. But adverts and appeals alone would not work, which is where the safe zones will alter thinking.
Regarding the first safe zone, the national electricity company agreed to light the courses used by cyclists within the CDA. Signage will be erected to advise of the beginning of the safe zone, along with cycle friendly speed bumps and the very real possibility of one-way systems and a reduced speed limit within the zone. It mimics the age-old cycle friendly thinking by Europe where the bike is an integral part of society as well as the schemes undertaken by recent cycling powerhouses Australia and Britain. With their populations noting the benefits of cycling (and subsequent ease on the environment and health systems) the knock on effect for a Caribbean with a perfect year round exercise climate, would gain tenfold if the StR ideas gained momentum, saving lives along the way.
Once StR and CDA get everything right in the first safety zone, the template can be used across the nation. The implementation is a first for Caribbean sport, and though road safety is a never-ending battle, the first major result, the safe zone, will be evident very soon.
It is an example of getting the infrastructure working behind the scenes, not awaiting governments to act, allowing an activity to continue and hopefully change the mind-set for benefits beyond the sporting boundaries. It is proof that the passion for sport can be harnessed into positive action of unprecedented levels. The sorrow is that it took the grief from the loss of a fantastic athlete and human being to create the impetus.
Dedicated to the life and memory of Clinton Grant. Ride in Peace my friend.