Why is The Bahamas Building Sidewalks Now?

A report by Brian Major for Travel Pulse.

I’m a native New Yorker, so I know sidewalks. One thing I’ve noticed after strolling around countless Caribbean cities, towns and villages is that most streets and roads lack proper sidewalks. Pedestrians in Caribbean urban and residential districts are frequently forced to decamp to the side of the road should they opt to travel by foot.

In many instances, the roads are too narrow and walking is nearly impossible. Luckily, Caribbean drivers are aware of this phenomenon and through circumstance effectively trained to watch for people walking along roadsides.

In fairness, I’ve encountered a similar situation in several U.S. suburbs. So when I noticed a Bahamas Tribune article on a sidewalk-building project, it cheered my inner-city heart. True, the Bahamas is technically not in the Caribbean, but the territory has the same traditions and culture. And the same sidewalk issues.

To me, there’s a lot to like about the $20 million project that is currently installing sidewalks across Nassau’s Paradise Island tourist district and includes upgrades to community parks, drainage systems and docks around the archipelago.

Yet the project’s very existence brings a profound reality to light: the human cost of the COVID-19 travel decline.

Desmond Bannister, the Bahamas’ minister of public works, plainly stated the sidewalk program is a “stimulus initiative” to provide jobs. Tourism-reliant Bahamians are struggling to feed their families as approximately 40,000 residents, nearly 10 percent of the population, have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic according to the Bahamas Tribune report.

The Atlantis mega-resort alone employs 8,000 workers and remains idled along with the Bahamas’ other mega-property, Baha Mar. Together the resorts represent the territory’s largest employers.

Additionally, the CDC’s “No Sail” order has shut down the Bahamas’ cruise piers, which last year hosted 5.4 million visitors, the most among global cruise ports. Since that time, revenues for local tour operators, retailers, craft vendors, and suppliers of cruise goods and services, and the jobs they provide, have effectively been scuttled.

Clearly any method that will bring some economic relief to thousands of Bahamians as many await tourism’s return is worthwhile. And if those efforts contribute to a project that, in Bannister’s words, “play[s] a vital role in providing a safe pathway for pedestrians to walk along the street separated from motorized traffic,” so much the better.

I’m hoping to see a few more Caribbean sidewalks in the coming years, along with a return to the tourism activity that maintains livelihoods across the region.

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