The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

We believe in designing roads for all users, not just bicycles

Saturday, 6 August 2022, 08:04 Last update: about 5 days ago

Daniel Vella

Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia states (Efficiency for cars comes first, then bicycle lanes will be included if there is space - Transport Mininister, TMI, 4 August) without shame that his primary aim for roads is to accommodate cars.

Living in 2022, this feels like a quote from a dystopian novel. He goes on to say that he doesn’t agree with cycling NGO Rota, on the basis that they want to accommodate cyclists over cars on the roads. It is important to note that since his appointment, no meeting or communication regarding infrastructure has been held with Rota, which raises questions on how he prematurely goes to the media to say he does not agree with us.

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How can you not agree with us if you have never discussed anything with us? His comment that we want to accommodate cyclists over cars on the road shows how he has not understood a single thing in relation to what we are trying to say. If you don’t understand what an NGO that advocates for safer cycling on the roads is trying to say, maybe you should try speaking to us first.

As Rota, we believe in designing roads for all users, not just bicycles. This is not rocket science, it’s a tried and tested model that has been successfully implemented in European cities and which can be applied to Malta. Unfortunately, our Transport Minister cares more about seeking approval from the vast majority who drive cars and tries to perpetuate the narrative that the car is king.

Our fight is not against cars, and it has never been for the simple reason that not everyone can ride a bicycle to commute. However, a big number of people can do so, but still opt to use their car because no safe alternative is provided for cycling. Infrastructure for walking and cycling must be prioritised in Malta, especially since this is sorely lacking. His comment that we must prioritise safety for cars is also an insult towards all the road accidents and deaths affecting pedestrians and bicycle users that have happened over the past years.

The crux of the argument lies not with the small size of our country, but is an issue of prioritisation. Walking and cycling are two solutions for mobility challenges that are easily accessible to everyone and which help ease congestion, improve health, and contribute to better air quality. Again, this is very easy to understand by everyone, except for our Transport Minister, the person who should be leading the change to prioritise walking and cycling. We do not expect to have bicycle lanes everywhere. We live on a small island which does have narrow streets and limited space in certain places. However, we expect segregated bicycle lanes in high speed areas such as bypasses which connect one village to another and which must be accessed to commute from one place to another. In narrower roads close to residential areas, roads are inherently safer because of the lower car speed.

Our proposal for the Mgarr bypass shows a render of how roads can be planned in a more sustainable manner, rendering it safer for cars, bicycle users and pedestrians. Infrastructure Malta, before Aaron Farrugia’s appointment had also liked this idea, but for some unknown reason, opted for the subpar solution we have today. They even went to the media saying that they had to take up agricultural land to accommodate bicycles lanes, however, our render shows that this is just an excuse to cover up a flop project

In The Malta Independent video (on www.independent.com.mt), he states that the National Cycling Policy is good, but we have to be realistic. This makes absolutely no sense because Malta to this day does not have a national cycling policy. How is it possible that our Transport Minister is not aware of this? What Transport Malta has done a few years back is to issue a draft national cycling strategy, but the aim of a National Cycling Policy would be to set a standard for all new road projects depending on the road itself. A policy is a tailormade document for a specific country, taking into consideration the streets we have. We have been waiting for a National Cycling Policy for years. This not only has not been created, but our Transport Minister is completely oblivious about it.

Incidentally, just a few months ago, Malta presented one of the greenest recovery and resilience plans in the EU, with 53.8% of the 316 million fund supposedly supporting climate objectives. Within this rationale, EU Funds used for road infrastructure should provide us with roads for all users, in an attempt to reduce car-dependency and reach European climate targets for 2030. Such targets were discussed in the COP26 conference, which Aaron Farrugia himself attended when he was in charge of the environment portfolio.

Aaron Farrugia, it is your responsibility to rethink what a sustainable future for our island means. Recently, newsrooms are bombarding us with articles about increased air pollution, congestion, public health issues and an all-time high alert about climate change. Pointing fingers and shifting the blame will not counter the trajectory we’re currently on. We need tangible steps that prioritise sustainable transport. You have the power and responsibility to drive this change, and we are expecting you to fulfil the obligation you are entrusted with.

 

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