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Watch: University cannot have any more parking spaces

2006 Local Plan bans it from exceeding 1,500 places

Prof. Maria Attard. Video: Jonathan Borg

The University of Malta cannot add any more parking spaces, as it is banned from doing so by the 2006 Local Plan – which is why it is focusing on getting people to use other means of transport, at least some of the time.

Times have changed, and we have to accept that the situation is not the same as for universities in remote areas. Here, it is all too easy for people to go home during a break between lectures, or to the gym or to visit their families

“The restriction in the Local Plan was there to deter the creation of more traffic, as the university lies at the junction of the Regional Road and Birkirkara Bypass, both of which are already very congested,” said Maria Attard, a professor at the Institute for Climate Change at the University of Malta.

This means that the university cannot add parking spaces, even if they are underground.

In fact, a building behind the chapel will have a few levels of underground parking, which will be used to replace parking spaces on one side of the campus ring road, making it much safer for pedestrians.

But the approach is very pragmatic: Prof. Attard, who also chairs a green travel committee at the university, is hoping to encourage students to use alternative means of transport, at least on some days.

“Times have changed, and we have to accept that the situation is not the same as for universities in remote areas. Here, it is all too easy for people to go home during a break between lectures, or to the gym or to visit their families.

“A number of people come in and out two or three times a day! And we have also lost some of the university community spirit, as technology means they no longer need to hang around here to go to the library and so on.

“And a large majority of the 15,000 students and staff who use the university every day own cars, which is not the case for many urban universities,” she explained, referring to information from a project the university is enrolled in involving seven international campuses.

Read: Three of every four use car to get to University

She admitted that charging for parking would not be popular but said that it might help to use telemetrics to show how much parking is still available on campus, noting the university population was much more fluid than in a business area – where everyone started and ended at more or less the same time.

The approach is to make it as easy as possible for students and staff to use other means of transport when they can.

The bus frequency has increased significantly, and Malta Public Transport confirmed that there are 35 routes passing through the university, with 57 buses per hour reaching the campus every day.

However, that is only part of the issue when it comes to public transport, as congestion often holds up the buses, she admitted.

“Unless buses have priority lanes, their timing is not reliable. Believe me, many students and staff would gladly not use their cars unless they had to – not only because of the trouble parking but also the time it takes to get here!”

The majority of students and staff live “relatively close to the campus”, and an increasing number walk there. Temporary bridges over Wied Għollieqa means it only takes seven minutes to walk across the valley.

The institute recently distributed a leaflet advising of walking times – and many students took up the challenge to show they could get to school even faster, she smiled.

Even cyclist numbers are increasing, albeit more slowly.

The university has done what it can within the campus, with more bicycle lanes, racks and even showers, but until there are cycle lanes beyond the confines of the campus, things will not improve dramatically, Prof. Attard believes.

She is also waiting to see whether the new Kappara junction will make it any easier for walkers and cyclists to get to the campus; new traffic lights and a pavement near the National Pool should make a positive difference.

“If we manage to reduce car trips by 10 per cent on any particular day, imagine what a difference it would make,” she mused.

Survey results

73% use a car as driver or passenger
41% use the bus
20% walk

(Respondents were allowed to tick more than one option) Source: CAMP-sUmp Project

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