18 August 2022
There is no doubt that changing the side of the road on which we drive – and the consequent shift to right-hand drive vehicles – has had a positive impact. Setting aside the environmental consequences of increased fuel consumption and carbon emissions from an increasing number of cars, the availability of cheaper and more modern vehicles has improved the livelihood and lifestyle of many Samoan families.
A by-product of changing the side of the road Samoa drives on is that we now have more vehicles on the road, more drivers, more road usage and increased petrol sales. Vehicles continue to outnumber existing parking spaces in the central business district, where the demand for more public car parks is an issue still confronting our environmental agencies.
With the establishment of new infrastructure, we continue to see deficient public car parking, no loading docks and grossly deficient access and traffic management arrangements. The need for better control and management is critical, along with the need for more parking meters (to increase the turnover of public car spaces) and perhaps even a centralised parking station for long-term parkers.
Such is the discussion for another day!
I want to make some comments regarding pedestrians in Samoa, in particular, in Apia. While some of us are drivers and more of us may be passengers in vehicles, we are ALL pedestrians at some stage during the day.
In the outskirts of town, primarily villages, pedestrians are forced to walk on the side of the road because there are no footpaths built along the road to facilitate easy movement of pedestrians, keep safe from the moving traffic, and avoid an accident.
Many roads are barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, let alone have regard for unsuspecting walkers—ditto for cyclists.
On some major roads, such as the Cross Island Road, the carriageway is further narrowed by the deep and open drainage channels that parallel the road. The potential danger for school children making their way to and from various schools persists daily. These drainage channels frequently claim the unsuspecting motorist as well.
All future road upgrades should include a dedicated footpath for the convenience and safety of pedestrians.
The situation in the town area is not much better. While there may be kerbs and gutters, their depth varies. Access by wheelchairs or with push strollers is next to impossible.
Then there is the pavement, commonly of concrete structure, but in other places, it is tiled, or brick paved. A quick shower of rain and the tiled pavements become a skating rink for the unsuspecting jandal wearer. Think here the Lotemau Centre and ACC Building.
The footpaths are also littered with many obstacles. The obvious ones are obvious: street signs, parking meters, light poles, trash bins, concrete planters, and traffic signals. But add to these the sandwich board signs, open gutters, sewage pits, grease traps, and utility pits.
It is a miracle that our special needs community, the blind and impaired, can make their way around the town without injury.
Then there is the pedestrian space as a whole. One thing about the tropics is that you can be guaranteed either hot sun or heavy rain; often both! Regretfully there is minimal shelter from either. Many people carry their parasol for the sun and umbrella for the rain (same thing, really). But fellow pedestrians need to be wary of a quick poke in the eye by a passing brolly.
What is lacking, and seems to be disappearing, are suitably designed awnings. A quick survey around town reveals that the older buildings cater to passing pedestrians more than their modern counterparts in many cases. Perhaps this reflects the priority of our forefathers before the car became king.
Even Carruthers, the Macdonald Building (Savalalo, not the family restaurant), and even the SLAC Building provide suitable shelter from rain and sun. Simple and effective.
The new-ish NPF Plaza complex provides an awning, but it is within its property, not over the public footpath.
Most of the awning which has been provided has been commandeered as an alfresco extension of the adjoining shops further denying the public any amenity for passersby.
Across the road, the Development Bank Building has prioritised cars over any form of consideration of pedestrians. The Beach Road frontage has been realigned to provide angled car spaces on public land, which tenants of the building have commandeered. The footpath has been diverted around the car spaces and narrowed considerably. The pedestrian space is further robbed by tenants who display their goods outside the shop on what is effectively the footpath. Again, the pedestrian is worse off. The situation here is further compounded by the location of a major pedestrian crossing across Beach Road.
The also relatively-new TATTE Building is set well back from the street to provide an awning. However, it does not accommodate pedestrians at all. While there are separate entry and exit gates for vehicles, there is no dedicated pedestrian entry or pathway. Staff and members of the public wishing to use the various government services are forced to walk on the roadway. Even the grand forecourt provides no safe haven and has become a dedicated car park. It would appear that the designers assumed that only people in vehicles would access the building.
The most recent example is the renovation of the ANZ Bank headquarters. While the previous fabric awning may not have won any architectural awards, its removal and substitution with a box about a meter wide provides zero protection from the sun or storms and has dubious merit. Pedestrians are left exposed to the elements at all times. An adequately designed awning could have provided respite for pedestrians along its 2 street frontages, defined its entries, and provided a signage opportunity.
My favourite pedestrian space is next door along the Beach Road frontage of the former Chan Mow supermarket (now wholesale). Technically this is a colonnade with the arched supports creating a well-protected space for pedestrians. This also supports the building above which is effectively built up almost to the kerbline. It appears that this colonnade previously turned the corner into Vaea Street but the arches have been filled in and claimed as private space.
Next time you need you walk around town have a look at the safety, protection and amenity of the footpaths. You will probably be disappointed. Better still, try to maneuver a pram or wheelchair throughout the town area and become aware of the difficulties that parents, the elderly and the disabled have to deal with every day.
The government should require new buildings or major renovations to provide a suitably designed awning over the public footpath, provide guttering to redirect roof and stormwater, to link up with existing adjacent footpaths/awnings and basically contribute something to the amenity of the public domain.
Further, footpaths need to be realigned, provide shelter and lighting (night safety) and importantly ensure the mobility and safety of disabled persons by eliminating steps, obstacles and uneven changes in level.
These public spaces contribute to our well-being and to the businesses within the town area.
Not just for us but for our future tourists as well.