The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

Widening roads, narrowing minds

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 18 June 2019, 10:02 Last update: about 7 months ago

Ian Borg is the minister with the most influential portfolio when it comes to the shaping of Malta's built environment, being responsible for transport, infrastructure and capital projects. This places a number of authorities and government bodies, such as the Planning Authority, Infrastructure Malta and Transport Malta, under the responsibility of his ministry.

Decisions and actions administered by these authorities are guided by a number of policies that outline Malta's strategic plan on issues such as transport and planning. Among them are the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Planning (2016), the Transport Master Plan 2025 (2016), and the National Transport Strategy 2050 (2016), which may be considered the pillars of Malta's transport strategy.

The direction dictated by these documents is clear: Malta must end its dependency on cars and move towards alternative modes of transport, such as public transport and cycling. Such a shift towards sustainable transport is necessary in order to reduce Malta's carbon emissions, improve air quality, increase road safety and reduce the take-up of open space by vehicles. The aim is to prioritise people over cars. By reducing our dependency on cars, we would be able to create more public spaces for the community, safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of all, but most especially of vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, allowing for a more inclusive built environment.

Last week, Bicycle Advocacy Group (BAG) shared a short clip on social media taken from a parliamentary sitting in April 2019 where Minister Ian Borg was addressing children as part of an Ekoskola initiative. It seems that on this occasion the minister completely forgot the direction of Malta's transport strategy when he passed the following remark:

"I think many of you hear want to buy a car when you turn 18. [Addressing a child in the audience] Would you like a car? You want a car, don't you? Everybody wants a car but many people try to say otherwise". (Translated from Maltese)

Perhaps the minister's comments may seem harmless. Isn't it true that we all want a car? Well, perhaps the majority might, but what we want is not necessarily good for us.

Whilst addressing these children, the minister gave minimal importance to alternative transport solutions, and implied that a metro system is a nice but unrealistic and unviable dream. He then chose to glorify the electric car as the solution to our transport related problems, effectively throwing all our national strategies out of the window by openly encouraging the continuation of private car-use.

The minister's focus on electric cars completely misses the point. The fact remains that although a shift towards electric cars may have some benefits, as a transport solution it does not even come close to addressing the real concerns that our car-flooded island is facing. Any car, be it one running on clean or dirty energy, still requires space. With roughly 30 new cars introduced on the roads daily, how much more virgin land can we expect to be gobbled up for further road widenings? How many more piazzas and open spaces will we see carpeted over with parked cars? How many more hours will we lose stuck in traffic until we accept that private car-use as the focal mode of transport is not a viable solution.

With such an overarching influence, Minister Ian Borg has the power to truly change Malta's built landscape and steer the island towards a more sustainable transport infrastructure. Therefore it is shameful that instead of implementing this change laid out in the transport strategy, we find the Minister using his position to justify our car-dependency to the generations who will suffer from it the most, and simply show contempt towards the people advocating for a truly sustainable Malta.

Tara Cassar is an architect focusing on planning policies and environmental issues related to land-use, active with a number of local eNGOs and sits as NGO representative on the Users’ Committee

[email protected]

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