Friday, May 14, 2021
During the onset of the pandemic, we were fortunate to live on islands with uncrowded and open public spaces. On Saipan, we turned to the Beach Road Pathway, walking and jogging when indoor exercise facilities were closed. Many hopped on their bikes and navigated the road in Marpi for sightseeing and exercise. Some also biked to work to avoid carpooling. These public spaces gave us a sense of normalcy in the midst of the pandemic – something that crowded cities could only wish for in these challenging times.
The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers (GCEA) believes managing these public places, specifically our road infrastructure, will play a critical role in our efforts to keep our islands safe and revive the pandemic-battered economy. The roads will be better lit, and people can safely walk on the sidewalks at any time of the day, boosting Saipan’s walkability score and moving us toward a more sustainable future. Similarly, from a health and wellness perspective, complete streets with sidewalks and bike lanes will encourage people to move more – improving the longevity and quality of life for all who call the Marianas home.
A couple of months ago, the Office of the Planning and Development and the Garapan Revitalization Task Force worked together with other government agencies and private companies to install one-way street signs in Garapan Core (Hotel Street). Their goal is to improve traffic flow and ensure the safety of residents and visitors. The project would also create more parking spaces in our main commercial hub, which we hope to see thrive again when residents return to work and we welcome tourists back.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios announced that highway renovations will start this year on Route 33 Beach Road from Hopwood Middle School in Chalan Piao down to the American Memorial Park in Garapan. Traffic lights will also be installed in key areas, while another proposed road improvement project will include Route 36 or the 3.5-mile road from the Kingfisher Golf Links in Talafofo to the Bird Island Lookout in Marpi.
GCEA supports the recommendation for both routes to incorporate bike lanes and sufficient sidewalks, as several studies have cited the health, environmental, and economic benefits of complete streets and better road infrastructure.
An article published last year by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an award-winning think tank pushing for sustainable solutions for the world's most pressing problems, noted that people around the globe became more mobile through biking and walking when the pandemic struck. The unparalleled rise in the number of walkers and bikers on the streets persuaded the United Kingdom government to allocate $2.5 billion for the improvement and expansion of its pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
In the Marianas, projects like these are less costly than the money that will be spent in the long run for treating diseases caused by inactive lifestyles and pollution from fuel emissions. Investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure would also support a more economical way to navigate the island either for work or play. With travelers valuing open spaces and experiences in nature post-pandemic, cycling and hiking holidays at Rota, Tinian, and Saipan’s hidden treasures could become more attractive travel packages.
TOGETHER, WE CAN enjoy the beauty of our islands safely, have a healthier community, and come back from the pandemic as a better and stronger Marianas.
For more information, visit the GCEA on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy) or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By MIKE SABLAN
Mike Sablan is the Vice President of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.