Gearing up for disaster
Time for something different – as in, something that is unrelated to Mintoff, because I don't know about you but I'm finding myself thoroughly bored with everyone flogging the same dead (sorry) horse.
There is a cyclist every 90 seconds during rush hour traffic, we were proudly informed today by the Bicycling Advocacy Group. And apparently this is something we should all be rejoicing about.
It's not. Go on, hate away. Anyone with an iota of common sense will tell you that cycling on Maltese roads during rush hour is the worst idea ever.
Well, unless you happen to think that road rage, unpunctuality at work, high blood pressure and the occasional accident add a certain something to the day. In which case you're right, hurrah to rush hour cycling.
Before you start hating, remember one thing: the majority of roads in Malta have no bicycle lanes. Which means that whether our intrepid rush hour cyclist is using the main thoroughfare leading to Valletta, or one of the narrow side roads in the village, the end result is the same. The cyclist is creating a potential hazard both for him/herself and for drivers who get caught behind.
Because I know that misquoting is a national pastime, I will spell this out: drivers need to respect cyclists and their safety. At all times. No exceptions. No matter how late you will be to the office and no matter how tempted you are to open the window and scream out some choice epithets at the cyclist happily veering in front of your car.
But this doesn't stop me from pointing out the obvious. Given that bicycle lanes remain a far-off nirvana, is it really such a wise idea for the Bicycling Advocacy Group to advocate rush-hour cycling?
It is not enough to back up these calls for cycling with a safety awareness campaign – although, of course this is a laudable endeavour. What's really needed, however, is strict enforcement of traffic regulations even vis-a-vis cyclists. After all, if while driving I switch lane without putting on the indicator, I get fined. If I overtake from the inside, guess what? I get fined. If I don't observe all traffic regulations (including give way signs, roundabout etiquette etc) I also get fined. Enforcing these rules on vehicle drivers while exempting cyclists creates chaos and encourages poor regard to safety regulations.
I should add that I've encountered many cyclists who practice prudence on the road. Unfortunately, I've also encountered many more who don't. These are the ones who don't keep to the very inside of the driving lane; the ones who veer dangerously from side to side while a gazillion cars are trying to overtake; the ones who cycle in parallel with their buddy, effectively blocking the whole lane... you get the picture.
Then there's the other breed of cyclists who choose to block the pavement rather than the road. The Bicycling Advocacy Group actually encouraged this (I like to think, unwittingly) by marking out the "cyclist-friendly promenade" in Sliema.
Guess what. The promenade is not "cyclist-friendly", as you call it. It is pedestrian-friendly and was created with the specific purpose of offering people somewhere where they can enjoy the fresh(ish) air without worrying whether they're going to be run over by, say, a cyclist.
The only solution to the impasse is obvious: well-planned bicycle lanes across Malta. Until this happens, please excuse me if I don't rejoice whenever I see a cyclist ahead of me during rush hour.
Call me paranoid, but the first thing my mind's eye sees in these situations are not freed up parking spaces, but accidents waiting to happen.