SMART CITIES: THE ANSWER TO JAMAICA’S URBAN WOES?

Drive around any of Jamaica’s major population centers (Kingston, Montego Bay, Portmore, etc) you see the effects of urban sprawl; namely traffic congestion, improper disposal of waste, crime infested communities and poor planning. It would seem there’s this free for all where everybody does their own thing without regard to laws or regulation.

These problems are not unique to Jamaica as more than half the world’s population lives in cities and this is expected to increase; this will only exacerbate the above-mentioned problems. One of the major negatives of increased urbanization is traffic congestion; commuters in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) can attest to this. Even our more sophisticated neighbours to the North in United States (U.S.) have been grappling with it effects.

According to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, congestion in the eighty-three largest urban areas in the U.S. caused more than 2200 premature deaths in 2010 and added more than eighteen billion dollars (US$18,000,000,000) to public health cost.

Drivers in the 10 most congested cities in the U.S. sit around for 42 hours annually in traffic jams wasting more than US$121 billion in time and fuel.

Wouldn’t building more roads be an obvious solution to this problem? Well not so; as according to a 1997 study found that new additional traffic will fill up to 90% of any increase in highway capacity within just 5 years.

So what are some solutions that can be applied to this seemingly never ending problem?  Cities across the world have used a variety of strategies such as road pricing, designated bus lanes and smart parking /metering systems to help alleviate congestion. Road pricing simply put is the charging of money to use roads that are normally heavily congested, it can be a narrow geographical area such as a city center, financial or shopping district to major roadways. Although not popular with citizens it has been used effectively in Singapore, London and Stockholm to reduce congestion. It must be emphasized that for this strategy to work there must be high quality public transportation something which we are struggling with in Jamaica despite the best efforts of the JUTC.

Smart metering/ parking systems have been utilized in a number of major cities worldwide. For example San Francisco and Los Angeles have used a system developed by ACS which utilizes smart parking sensors to enable drivers to identify parking. Moscow now uses a system developed by Worldsensing a smart parking provider which operates over 20,000 parking spaces. Moscow has the largest smart parking development in the world.

Bus lanes have been around in Jamaica for awhile in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR); but driver indiscipline and poor monitoring has rendered them ineffective for the most part. It should be noted that bus lanes have been used effectively in other jurisdictions. While there’s currently a designated bus lane on the Mandela highway for JUTC this has generated much public resentment and is currently the subject of a lawsuit by transport operators.

One wonders if the public wouldn’t have found it more palatable if implemented as part of an integrated traffic and city management system (ITCMS) in KMA. The re-introduction of the ferry service would be an integral part of this system to serve areas such as Port Royal, Harbour View, Bull Bay, Portmore (including Hellshire) and possibly Old Harbour with shuttle buses playing an important role. Road pricing could also be employed as a means of combatting congestion

The ITCMS would be managed from a high tech city management centre staffed with employees of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), National Works Agency (NWA), the Police, the army, the Office Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and other relevant government agencies. This would ensure proper response co-ordination.

Some of the tools at the disposal of the ITCMS would be drones, sensors, closed circuit television (CCTV), and hotspot technology.  How would all this work? Garbage skips would be fitted with sensors to indicate when they’re full ensuring timely collection. Gullies and bridges could also be fitted with sensors to detect rising flood waters ensuring swift evacuation or road closures. Street sensors and CCTV would detect crowded bus stops and shopping districts which would enable the JUTC to reroute buses and the police to deploy additional personnel at a moment’s notice. The NSWMA could dispatch work crews in a timely manner to ensure speedier clean up.

The use of hotspot technology (which the commissioner has talked about) would detect gunfire and drones could be deployed to monitor these areas and provide electronic intelligence to the security forces leading to a reduction in collateral damage to civilians, less injury to security personnel and efficient apprehension of criminals. Drones could also detect illegal building construction and zoning violations.  A smart travelling app for mobile phones could be developed in concert with the University of Technology providing real time traffic updates for motorist and commuters.

The above-mentioned are not flights of fancy as there are cities worldwide that currently utilize such systems to better serve their urban population. IBM has partnered with countries such as Singapore, Australia and the Ivory Coast to better manage traffic congestion and make public transportation more efficient. The Ivory Coast example is most instructive as transport planners reroute buses based on the amount of cell phone traffic in a particular area.

The JUTC needs to be smarter in its operation as well; according to a Gleaner report (April 14, 2013) the company’s fuel bill was $30,000,000 per week, the company has since switch to Ultra low sulphur diesel to ensure greater fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. One would have thought that the company would be a partner in the joint venture between the UWI and the Youth Crime Watch Jamaica to convert used cooking oil to biodiesel for fuel with regards to its feasibility for the JUTC. If this has happened I stand corrected as I’ve heard no public pronouncements on the matter

To implement the smart cities concept in Jamaica would require political will and foresight plus billions of dollars all of which we lack in Jamaica. There would be many detractors notwithstanding the long term benefits to the country such as reduced congestion, crime, carbon emissions, man hours lost and savings garnered through more efficient resource allocation and less public health expenditure.IMG_20150923_070924

Photo credit- Hilary F. Smith. 2015.

Eastbound traffic on the Mandela Highway – Morning peak period

20150923_070135Photo credit- Hilary F. Smith. 2015.

Traffic diversion to create additional bus lane in the peak hours on the Mandela Highway

20150923_070517Photo credit- Hilary F. Smith. 2015.

Contrasting peak hour traffic flow- indicating the dormitory nature of the westward areas.

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