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Where biking is as natural as walking

The letter by Frans Said (‘Are cyclists saints?’, January 27) is a sad reflection of Malta’s old-fashioned obsession with the primacy of motor traffic on our roads, when the modern approach to overcoming impending gridlock and reduction of street pollution through the re-design of streets to discourage motor traffic and improve the quality of urban street life.

The aim is now to nudge people towards ‘active transport’ on foot, bicycle, public transport or a combination of all three, depending on distance. This has been achieved by imposing urban speed limits of 25 km/h, introducing traffic calming measures, creation of pedestrianised areas and traffic-free streets – all aimed at making walking and cycling safer.

This process started decades ago in Holland and Denmark and is now being adopted world-wide in cities as far apart as London and Bogota. These measures resulted in bicycle use becoming as natural as walking even for children and the aged. Paradoxically, this happens most readily in advanced countries with high car ownership rates.

But Said prefers Malta to remain stuck in our 1950s time warp where the only way from A to B is by car, even if it is a short distance; never mind the traffic congestion and pollution.

He insists that anybody wishing to use a bicycle must be tested, registered, insured and made identifiable because the bicycle “is a form of transport” – implying that the bicycle has as much potential for causing death and injury to others as motor vehicles, which is nonsense.

This kind of outdated thinking goes against all modern and healthy approaches to mobility.

Said graciously admits that it is “dangerous for anyone to be on our roads” but avoids defining where the danger comes from. Never mind that a child and two senior citizens were seriously injured by motor vehicles in the past week and that it is accepted as inevitable when over a dozen people are killed by motor vehicles each year.

Surely, it is this mortality and our serious street pollution that needs seeing to in Malta – not Said’s fictitious chatty bicycle mobile users,

Suggested reading for Mr Said: paras 32 - 54 in ‘Health Aspects of Transport and the Urban Environment’ in the Today Public Policy Institute’s latest report.

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