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Intelligent transport future - Timothy Alden

Jean Karl Soler says “bicycles have no place on major roads”. He defends the government’s infrastructure projects and his underlying argument seems to be that bicycles are unsafe and, therefore, we must facilitate car usage and dissuade cyclists in general.

Malta is a country where bad driving is common enough to be a cliché.

We should not be legitimising careless driving, nor should we be making excuses for the death or injury of cyclists. It is not credible or moral to imply that cyclists are responsible for their own deaths because they are cyclists. Cyclists know very well the sort of people they encounter in transit who feel contempt towards them.

Those are the people most likely to disregard their safety on the road.

That takes us right back to the infrastructure projects in question. When the correspondent says our roads are among the worst in the continent he ignores the fact that the trend in Europe is towards pedestrianisation and the encouragement of cycling, walking and alternative modes of transport.

The criticism for projects such as Central Link in Attard stem from two main areas.

The first is that the lives of cyclists and pedestrians are being made more difficult.

The chances of cyclists being injured will increase at this rate, despite the token cycle paths planned. The removal of traffic lights and the attempts to funnel cyclists across a single, small bridge as part of the central link project, coupled with an incomplete cycle path in the plans, promises to sow confusion and danger.

The second area of criticism for such projects is that, whichever way one looks at it, they are short-term solutions to the traffic problem, which come at the great expense of the natural environment and our health.

We should be encouraging a shift in transport methods.

With many new cars on the road each day, by the time these infrastructure projects are complete, we will have to start thinking about what to build over next. The idea that present and future car users can be accommodated is a delusion.

Are we to take Soler’s road or do we favour the European and studied approach, which puts health, safety and well-being first?

The Today Public Policy Institute report ‘Towards a low-carbon society – the nation’s health, energy security and fossil fuels’ painted a picture of a cleaner, more intelligent future for transport. The expertise exists for superior alternatives. Consider the European Commission’s sustainable urban mobility plans, which provide clear and detailed steps on how to implement such visions.

Malta’s problem is that its civil service as well as its priorities are shaped by clientelism. The push to use government resources to help ensure the party in power is re-elected means real expertise is ignored.

The Opposition must work with the government to evolve past this state and both must agree on radical reforms and stop being obsessed with losing votes.

To simply increase capacity for cars is what pro-alternative transport methods advocates like George Debono refers to as a “do nothing”’ approach that will lead us further down the rabbit hole.

It is time to rethink transport and pursue a long-term vision. As it stands, we are going nowhere fast.

Timothy Alden is deputy leader of the Democratic Party.

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