I’d be lying if I said that my decision to leave Malta and move to Gozo was traffic- or stress-related. But, having moved there nine months ago, I can safely say traffic and stress will be huge determining factors in any future decision (not) to move back to Malta.  

In fact, I have absolutely no idea how I survived Malta. But I suppose that’s the beauty of the human body – its ability to adapt. They say it takes about two months to break a habit and the same amount of time to build one.  

I remember very well those first two months in Gozo. I was homesick for Malta, especially Sliema and Valletta. I simply couldn’t understand how a day in Gozo felt like 72 hours while Malta was immediate and immersive. There the day would just whizz past. 

I suppose, having lived in Sliema most of my life, I was accustomed to sensory overload. There was always noise – even chickens from across the road (which made you feel that little bit closer to nature).

Now I am the first who will tell you that Sliema is, in many ways, a wonderful place. It ‘has it all’: designer shops, some of the best restaurants and cafés on the island and free and unrestricted access to some beautiful rocky (and relatively uncrowded) beaches, to say nothing of its long coastline and promenade, amazing open sea and stunning views. It also offers quick and easy access to Valletta and is within walking distance of other towns.  

So, when you live in Sliema, you don’t really need a car. Catch the ferry to Valletta instead, and, at other times, walk to St Julian’s, Gżira and the university. Even head out as far as San Ġwann. Perhaps subconsciously, I had adjusted to working around traffic, saving the odd supermarket shop for Sunday morning and using my car only when strictly necessary. 

Which was when I realised that the reason I was rarely stuck in traffic was because I had become very selective about using my car. My world, though, had become smaller and I wasn’t really venturing much beyond Sliema and Valletta. Where once I’d have thought nothing of driving to Golden Sands or St Peter’s Pool for a swim, that was no longer an option.

And it occurred to me that going for a ‘drive’, which used to be an outing I enjoyed, was something I hadn’t really contemplated in over 10 years. Needless to say, the thought of using my car mid-week to run an errand after 3pm was an absolute no-no. 

It wasn’t just the absolute horror of being stuck in traffic. It was everything. If you were lucky enough to leave your garage (traffic permitting), the journey itself meant navigating road works and road closures, not to mention heavy vehicles and buses head-to-head on narrow roads (naturally with parking allowed, usually on both sides).

And there’d be the certain knowledge that, once you arrived at your destination, you wouldn’t be able to park. Which makes me think that, perhaps, the time has come to take action.

Please Gozo, do not go down the same ‘road’ that Malta has- Michela Spiteri

Parking meters, parking permits, congestion charges, bus lanes? There are lessons to be learned from many other European countries.

In short, traffic had made life in Malta prohibitive. The island felt much smaller than it already was. And, yet, it was all I had ever known. 

A survey commissioned by The Sunday Times of Malta in 2017 revealed that 50 per cent of road users were stuck in traffic for up to 40 minutes a day while 60 per cent said they had to plan ahead because of it and four out of 10 experienced anger or frustration.

Seven years later, those 40 minutes sound like a joyride.  Were a survey carried out today, I reckon the average daily commute would be closer to two hours. And I’m sure that if you were to live in the north of Malta and had to cross over to the south (or vice versa), you’d be looking at much longer. And you could be looking at even more if you were to rely on buses: crowded and every bit as much snarled up in traffic. 

Nobody likes sitting in traffic. It’s frustrating, very bad for your health and a monumental waste of time. It also makes you angry and irritable, which, in turn, can cause road rage and speeding, to say nothing of high blood pressure. Studies have found that extreme traffic increases the incidence of domestic violence, which is shocking but unsurprising.  

It was only when I moved to Gozo that I realised how dire the situation had become.  And, nowadays, on the very rare occasions when I have no choice but to use my car to cross over to Malta (I am in awe of how the Gozitans managed for all those years without a fast ferry), it is always with great trepidation. By the time the day is over, I’m wound up like a coiled spring and it takes me about three hours to unwind.  

And that is the greatest thing about living in Gozo.  It’s like COVID all over again, without the masks. You can drive everywhere and it takes you five to 15 minutes max. Even central Victoria (which is congested during peak hours) is still relatively manageable.   

In many ways, Gozo was like a long overdue massage. So please Gozo, do not go down the same ‘road’ that Malta has. And do not destroy beautiful trees to widen traffic-free roads which have for years stood the test of time. I am referring now to the stretch of trees that line the middle of the road from Victoria to Marsalforn (PA/03000/19, approved by ERA in February).

Those trees have been there for as long as I can remember. It’s the trees which make that road so unusual and beautiful. They also have an instantly calming effect.

Drivers do not underestimate the therapeutic power of trees and shade – they’re instantly calming and provide a sense of tranquillity, which we all do desperately need. 


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