A proposed new road linking Żabbar to Smart City is incredulous in a time of simultaneous climate and biodiversity crises, a major environmental NGO said on Tuesday.
Friends of the Earth Malta strongly objected to the proposal at a time when farmers are protesting about the loss of agricultural land and food security remains a national challenge.
The agreement with Smart City on the relocation of the American University of Malta campus from Żonqor, includes an obligation on government to construct a new connection road linking Bieb is-Sultan in Żabbar, to the Capuchin’s convent in Kalkara.
The proposed road is set to take up a massive 80,000m2 area of land, from Notre Dame Gate in Żabbar, along the Cottonera Lines, passing by the Capuchin Convent in Kalkara, on to Smart City.
The road and pathway are currently lined by pine and carob trees and agricultural fields, along the walls of the Cottonera lines.
Friends of the Earth Malta’s climate campaign coordinator, Suzanne Maas, who did her PhD research on the topic of sustainable mobility, criticised the proposal.
She said the proposed road would take up precious agricultural land and open spaces along the historic fortifications, while inducing further private car demand, increasing traffic in the area around Żabbar and Fgura, contributing to even more air and noise pollution, and higher carbon emissions from transport.
While pointing out that connections to Smart City already exist, she said efforts to provide enhanced connectivity to the area should instead focus on promoting public and active transport.
"Greenwashing the proposed new road by including a cycle lane in the design is adding insult to injury, as the area today is a quiet road where people can safely walk, cycle and enjoy the open space."
Friends of the Earth Malta is proposing a list of solutions that can increase connectivity between Smart City and Malta’s main urban areas and the airport, instead of building yet another new road.
It proposed introducing a shuttle service between the ferry landing site in Cospicua and Smart City, which was just upgraded and is just five minutes away from Smart City.
The supposedly multimodal ferry landing site could also include connections to other sustainable modes of transport, such as shared bikes and scooters to cover the final 2.5km stretch to Smart City.
FoE proposed the introduction of a shuttle service between Paola - with buses passing every few minutes from Valletta and the airport - to Smart City.
Malta Public Transport has proposed a Bus Rapid Transit on its southern corridor, the busiest bus route on the island, which could connect onwards to Smart City if implemented.
A new ferry connection could be introduced between Valletta and Kalkara, with a landing site serving Esplora, Villa Bighi and Kalkara, and a connecting shuttle service to Smart City.
Why are we spending public funds on these services if we do not encourage people to actually use them?
"Buses and the harbour ferry services are offered for free for anyone with a Tallinja card. Why are we spending public funds on these services if we do not encourage people to actually use them? The above-proposed alternatives would make this area more attractive and accessible by public transport."
The site of the proposed road should be enhanced as an open space and active mobility route, connecting the newly upgraded Ġark ta’ San Klement and Vjal Kottoner with its new pavement and cycle lane on one side, and Kalkara and Smart City on the other.
"Rather than making the same old mistakes again, this should be an opportunity to start doing things differently. To plan for sustainable mobility connections instead of inviting and creating more traffic."