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No commitment to upgrade cycle lanes

The authorities were uncommital on whether they will overhaul bicycle lanes even though existing ones have come in for a barrage of criticism from keen cyclists following a tragedy on the roads last week.

Asked specifically whether there were any plans to establish more adequate cycle lanes, which would be clearly demarcated from roads by something more than a painted line and which would not stop abruptly, a Transport Ministry spokesman did not give a precise answer.

"Certainly one can consider walling up the separation between bicycles and cars but there are inevitable physical constraints on our roads. Cyclists are aware of this," she said.

She also defended the fact that bicycle lanes were separated from the road by a painted white line, saying similar lines were used to separate lanes for cars driving in opposite directions.

Following the tragedy last week, in which cyclist Cliff Micallef died after being hit by a car on the Coast Road, The Times received several letters to the editor about the hazards of badly designed and maintained cycle lanes.

On Wednesday, George Debono, the author of a report on energy conservation who regularly uses his bicycle as a means of transport, said badly designed lanes were more dangerous than none at all.

He said it was not enough to have a pail of paint and use it to create lanes, adding many lanes around the island were not maintained and were full of shards of glass and other rubble.

Anthony Taliana, 21, from ─Žamrun, who was allegedly driving while drunk, has been charged in court with the manslaughter of Mr Micallef.

The ministry spokesman went to lengths to point out no bicycle lane design anywhere in the world could have prevented last week's tragedy. She said motorists had to be responsible and everyone was aware that driving while under the influence was dangerous.

"If everyone followed directions we would have no accidents on our roads, ever. That would be ideal, but it is an ideal we have not yet reached," she said.

She said while lanes went some way to keep cyclists safe, they were not enough to ensure their safety, and motorists' responsibility was crucial since irresponsible driving would harm them whether on or off cycling lanes.

Dr Debono, a retired clinical researcher, had also called for an urgent change in mentality among motorists, who he says disrespect cyclists.

"This does not suggest we have the finest cycle lanes in the world," the spokesman said, adding such lanes were introduced around four years ago in an effort to equip wider roads with dedicated cycling lanes and Mr Micallef had actually been one of the people who advised them on the design.

"There is dangerous overtaking on our roads, drink-driving and cars often brazenly break the law by driving over unbroken white lines, either by driving into another lane or a bicycle lane," the ministry spokesman said. It is illegal to drive over a white line into a bike lane.

The spokesman said bicycle lanes were introduced as one of a number of initiatives to improve road safety, including speed cameras and narrowing of roads, which were not popular. She added more could be done to improve safety and "much will continue to be done".

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