Cyclists report recent rise in ‘near-misses’
A group advocating more safety for cyclists will finally get its long-requested meeting with public transport operator Arriva, as it reports an increase in “near-miss” incidents involving buses.
The Bicycle Advocacy Group had first asked for the meeting to discuss safety issues, which will be held on Thursday, more than eight months ago.
A major concern for cyclists is when large vehicles, including trucks and tourist buses, get too close by pulling in too soon after overtaking them, trying to beat them to junctions or overtaking just before a bus stop.
James Wightman, a representative of the group, said this behaviour seemed to have become worse, especially with the introduction of bendy buses. The group has kept a log of reported near-miss incidents (see graph below).
Among these was a bus driver who “bullied” a cyclist along the Marsa priority-vehicle lane and a hit-and-run event on the Coast Road, where a young woman was admitted to the emergency department with facial injuries.
When contacted, an Arriva spokesman said the company “does not have anything to say about the alleged near-misses and we do not have any record on our system of such incidents”.
Since October the group has been contacting the bus firm to discuss “remedial training” for drivers that would include how to drive safely around cyclists, as part of a bicycle safety awareness programme.
It also proposed a scheme where cyclists can report bad and good driving behaviour.
Apart from three letters asking the bus operator to discuss these safety issues, Mr Wightman also reported a specific near-miss through an e-mail in mid-May.
He was informed his complaint had been forwarded to the health and safety manager but has not heard from them since.
The Arriva spokesman told The Times the company had systems in place and those who wanted to report bad or good driving could contact their customer care centre or support booths in Valletta, Buġibba, the airport and Sliema.
However, the company was ready to discuss any matter or special issues that arose from time to time.
The pressure group is not targeting only the public transport service but proposes a similar scheme for other heavy vehicles.
Mr Wightman, who has been cycling in Malta for the past 15 years, believes the biggest safety issue is vehicles passing by too closely. Also, some drivers just cut across a cyclist’s path or even open their car doors as they approach.
He added the general state of the road where cyclists were supposed to ride tended to be “poorly maintained and riddled with pot holes, damaged drain covers and glass”.
When it came to official bicycle lanes, these were sometimes designated to just one side of the road.
But Mr Wightman believes Maltese roads are not worse than those in the UK 10 years ago.
“That doesn’t mean they are safe... far from it, but it shouldn’t put anyone off. You just need to be on the ball. However, we can’t compare our roads with the likes of Holland, Germany or even Italy,” he added.
Calling for “safe cycling” is not a new concept. In February, The Times of London launched a campaign called Cities Fit For Cycling after a reporter was seriously injured by a lorry.
The campaign calls for safer cycling, including better training and the appointment of cycling commissioners in every city.