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Beating traffic jams, 21st century style

While Malta continues to bark up the wrong tree, cities elsewhere are inducing a cultural shift from car-led transport to walking and cycling.

While Malta continues to bark up the wrong tree, cities elsewhere are inducing a cultural shift from car-led transport to walking and cycling.

As the editorial of Times of Malta – All Roads Lead To Traffic Jams (October 23) – aptly puts it, traffic congestion has been the talk of the town for some time. And so it will remain if solutions continue to be couched solely in terms of optimising motor traffic flow with much talk of magic-sounding solutions such as ‘intelligent transport systems’, ‘traffic management’ etc. This is utterly futile as long as alternative mobility options continue to be omitted from transport policies.

Every road improvement or added parking space will immediately prompt more people to use their car and fill that space. Flyovers, tunnels and suchlike on major roads will only shift traffic jams to the next bottleneck.

Quite simply, no amount of improvement in provisions for facilitating traffic flow will ever catch with up our insatiable appetite for car travel; every measure aimed at improving traffic will simply ratchet traffic volume up correspondingly.

Suggestions offered in the editorial for alleviating Malta’s traffic woes are valid but they barely scratch the surface of the problem of too many cars competing for too few spaces.

This editorial rightly states that there is a limit to what can be done until ‘we are forced to take extreme measures’. That time has arrived.

This is starting to sound crass but it must be repeated again: the aim of the game must now be to get people out of cars. The writing on the wall is there: Malta has become so densely populated and urbanised that our traffic problems are identical to those being experienced by most continental cities and large towns.

But, while Malta continues to bark up the wrong tree, cities elsewhere are inducing a cultural shift from car-led transport to walking and cycling, with public transport connecting distant parts.

This transformation started decades ago in Copenhagen and Amsterdam; other cities are now quickly catching up.

London, notably, is about to expand its existing successful bicycle hire scheme with an additional electric bicycle-hire scheme funded out of London’s £913-million cycling fund to “take the puff and pant out of cycling” and encourage even more people to get on bikes rather than use cars.

Solutions being applied everywhere else have concentrated on getting people to travel short distances on foot or by bicycle. Streets are being radically re-engineered to be more inviting and people prioritised over cars. Car-free neighbourhoods are becoming a reality.

‘Shared spaces’ are being created – with streets and roads given over to pedestrians and cyclists by giving them priority over motor traffic.

In these modernised cities, it is now possible to arrive safely at one’s destination by walking or cycling along protected, dedicated walkways and tracks.

There are other approaches to easing our traffic problem.

Nearly one quarter of Malta’s population lives around the two harbours and a ferry network would provide them with an agreeable transport option – and take pressure off traffic in the surroundings roads – but the potential of a Sydney-style, comprehensive harbour ferry transport continues to be ignored.

Another approach is to diminish ‘zoning’. This means placing frequently-used places such as schools, supermarkets, libraries etc., within easy local reach on foot or by bicycle – so diminishing car use.

Concentrating most of Malta’s entertainment in one place (Paceville) with the resultant mass motor migration every weekend is an outstanding example of mad zoning on a heroic scale.

Industrial estates and workplaces should be made approachable by bicycle. One shameful example of impenetrability is the maze of highways which engulfs the Marsa industrial estate – no site in this estate can be approached by man or beast except in a motor vehicle.

There must be dozens of workers who live near enough to cycle to work but who have to use motor transport because a bicycle option is impossible.

Finally, might not just one bicycle rack outside Transport Malta offices send the right message?

With some outside-the-box thinking, the range of realistic solutions can be widened.

As long as the problem continues to be approached on the same antiquated, one-track basis of solely attempting to improve motor traffic flow, Malta’s abysmal traffic situation will not only persist, it will get worse.

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