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The village core myth - Steve Pace

Malta, car population 380,000 and with just 3,096 kilometres of road, sees 122.73 cars per kilometre of road.

Germany with a total road length of 644,480km of road and with 45,071,209 cars has just 69.93 cars per kilometre of road.

In Malta the average number of cars per 1,000 people stands at 3rd place with the highest number of cars per inhabitants among 28 EU states.

Putting all the above into a perspective of available land space, we get a shocking reality that with just 316 square kilometres of land, we have 1,202 cars per square kilometre.

Germany has just 122 vehicles per square kilometre.

With 47 new vehicles per day being launched, one can anticipate with ease, the effect this rising figure will have on the static figure of available land.

The above statistics speak for themselves, and reveal the true reality Malta is facing when it comes to traffic management.

As the current controversy over adding more roads is heating up, we should all by now realise what a futile exercise the whole strategy of the existing traffic management is and acknowledge that unless the number of cars on the roads is decreased, there is no way any village core residents in any town or village will see a decrease in the volume of traffic.

The current village or town core under the spotlight is Attard, but what about Sliema, Ħamrun, San Ġwann, Birkirkara, Balzan, Lija, Naxxar, Gżira (Rue D’Argens area), Msida, Mosta, Żebbuġ, Qormi, Paola and so many other areas which see thousands upon thousands of cars passing through them on a daily basis.

Why not Valletta? Simple, because the city has been rendered one of the most car unfriendly places in Malta, with most prominent roads used in the past as main roads, converted into pedestrianised zones. Merchants Street and even Republic Street come to mind. Parking is a nightmare, with CVA fees, and residents’ parking slots on the increase while parking slots for non-residents are on the decrease. Park and ride and electric cabs contribute to removing as many cars from the core as possible.

What is stopping the government to start working on such a system?

So, while noise and exhaust pollution levels increase, exposing thousands of people to diseases, hundreds of trees uprooted, stretches of agricultural land destroyed, residents exposed to an alarming level of stress caused by the infrastructural works and construction industry,  one asks: what will happen when the dust settles?

The short answer is nothing. There is no way the dust can settle in the foreseeable future for as long as the traffic management issue  is not dealt with in a holistic manner.

The government needs to take the bull by its horns now, not tomorrow. It must seek to reduce the number of cars on the roads and actively work to create the right atmosphere for public transport to be in full working order over the next three to four years at maximum.

As things stand today, there is absolutely no incentive to use alternative means of transport between point A and point B. There is no perceived need to do it simply because the public transport system is entangled in the same cobweb of traffic it is trying to compete with.

An efficient transport system needs its own infrastructure as can be seen adopted by the rest of the world. No express train shares the same roads, and no underground city transport passes on the surface.

Technology is there, resources are there and the manpower to do it exists. Yet what is stopping the government from starting to work on such a system?

Some claim that the system cannot work in Malta, because the volume of people using the system would not justify the cost. This could be true in the scenario we live in, however as more people place their faith in a system which is efficient, punctual and regular, the numbers will rise.

 Let’s think about how pollution will start to decrease, how roads and village cores, truly become car free and how people’s level of road rage would decrease.  Fatal accidents on the decrease and how mobility of our senior citizens can be increased. Students travelling by the hundreds to University and schools using multi-modal transport systems which remove the need for children to wake up at five in the morning.

In the end , a healthier nation is a happier nation and the benefits of such strategy surely overcomes any petty excuse not to work on making this goal achievable over the next few years.

Steve Pace is a strategic thinker.

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