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Dangerous to cycle in fast traffic

Timmy Alden of the Democratic Party referred to my opinion piece of July 10 and considers that I should have taken a more studied approach, one more aware of European transport policies.

I took his advice seriously and re-checked my facts, yet again. Generally speaking, in the EU there are no cycle lanes on major highways and cyclists are separated from fast traffic by design. The Cyclist Union in the Netherlands insists on separating motor traffic from cyclists and advocates wearing a helmet when cycling. Thus my statement “bicycles have no place on major roads” is a very European reality. It is not simply an opinion.

According to Eurostat, Malta ranks third lowest in the EU in terms of transport investment and has the second worst roads. Malta also has some of the lowest national speed limits in the world – worldwide, only Vietnam imposes a similar national 80kph speed limit on dual carriageways. Malta has better- than-average road safety statistics when compared to other EU countries. Again, my argument in favour of a decent Maltese road network is very European. I am advocating improving our roads, at least to European standards. How can one argue against that?

Mr Alden must understand that Malta has been overtaxing car owners for decades and has failed to invest that money in its roads. It is a fact that such under-investment has not impacted negatively on car use. As such, his argument that fewer roads will mean fewer cars has been disproved locally, time and time again, in fact and not on paper. However, may I say that I sympathise with his challenge when facing reality? It must be difficult selling his party’s anti-development message when his lead parliamentary representative is, in fact, a property developer.

Mr Alden shares the belief that we can completely replace cars with bicycles and all live better lives. Allow me to review the facts, again. The Netherlands has the highest bicycle use in the world, with 1.3 bicycles per capita, and where 27 per cent of all trips are made by bicycle.

In 2011 the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research reported that “on average, per travelled kilometre, cycling in the Netherlands is about 4.7 times more dangerous than driving a car. It was then calculated that, if 10 per cent of all car drivers replaced their short car trips with bicycle trips, an annual extra four to eight road fatalities and around 500 serious injuries were to be expected.”

This prediction is now a reality. In 2017, the number of road deaths associated with bicycle use surpassed those associated with cars. Let us not forget that bicycles only contribute 27 per cent of the trips made, and that in the Netherlands, bicycle lanes separate cyclists from other traffic. I ask Mr Alden, are you still defending cycling in fast traffic, if cycling is so dangerous even in protected cycle lanes?

I personally favour and would gladly lobby for purpose-built cycle routes which facilitate the use of bicycles for short trips in and between villages and towns. That would be a great step forward and would encourage people to use bicycles for short trips.

May I conclude by encouraging cyclists to wear a helmet? The benefits in preventing fatal head injuries are clearly illustrated widely across the medical literature. Take care.

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