During our three years living as retirees here, we note that traffic problems and solutions, and all thoughts on the subject, have been woven into the fabric of the Times of Malta on a daily basis.
Without let-up, everyone has an opinion why buses can’t work for Malta or are the solution for Malta; while car owners believe there is no better solution for Malta than cars. Road are too narrow, too full of cars parking on every possible street.
The PL came up with a solution for a metro, both on ground level, and underground. It would cost an exorbitant amount of money, while taking forever. But, with developers in mind, all the recovered ground can make for new land to develop even more buildings. Not to be left out of the equation, the PN came up with their own solution. Build a trackless light rail. It was derided for taking up precious space for cars.
As someone who has eschewed driving for buses, I save a significant amount of money on fuel, maintenance and insurance. Not to mention avoiding the oft occurring road accidents on a daily basis. Yes, but drivers tell me that bus travel takes too long compared to their cars. When I see statistics that it takes 30-45 minutes to travel five kilometres by car, I wonder if they don’t see the folly in their logic.
My epiphany came last week when we spent four days in Paris.
We travelled on foot and metro. Quite obviously, riding the metro beats all the traffic. As does the RER, the regional lines to Paris. Strategically located stops made using it practical. And walking is a great way to get from point A to point B. Pavements are plentiful, well-constructed and maintained, and do not come into contact with cars. Pedestrians do not fear for their lives, as we do on a daily basis in Malta.
While we were enjoying the scenery, we noticed something very amazing. An incredibly high number of bicyclists use their bikes to go to work. Even the riders wearing their suits and dresses. And they, too, were safe.
The City of Paris created separate lanes exclusively for riders. Yes, they took a lane here and there away from cars. As a result, more people ride their bikes to work than ever before.
And while Paris is noted for its wide boulevards, they also have a very large number of narrow streets, à la Malta. Some streets were completely closed to cars. And the only motor vehicle on them are buses, along with bikes. And they keep adding more streets for such travel. And, on many boulevards famous for five or six lanes for cars, they changed them to one lane in each direction for cars, with the remainder for buses and bikes. Things have changed dramatically since we were last in Paris in 2009.
There truly is no magic bullet for curing traffic in Malta- Alan Zelt
And the best part is that Parisians are not complaining about the loss of lanes here and there. And the reasons are substantial. The air is significantly cleaner than before. Parisians are feeling healthier than before. The costs of operating a motor vehicle in Paris are getting higher, especially fuel expenses.
The Maltese do not realise that they are going to get hit by a sledgehammer as soon as the government can no longer afford to subsidise our car culture. Fuel costs are rising 20, 30 and 40 per cent and more in Europe. The Maltese are already feeling high inflation when they shop. Imagine what will happen when we can no longer also subsidise electricity and bread.
What Paris has accomplished is compelling. Without a major road expansion programme, they have used paint, signage, and a few extra kerbs, to create an improved traffic flow, making people feel healthier, safer while saving money.
As a retiree, I get access to a free bus service. Even if it weren’t free, I would still use it. The government wants us to use the bus so they will offer everyone free service, commencing October. Even as a non-driver, I can see the drivers’ logic that a free bus ride does not improve the service.
If Malta really cares about improving traffic flow, safety and air quality, then dedicated bus lanes are mandatory, where feasible.
And, in some streets, parking should be banned on one or both sides.
There truly is no magic bullet for curing traffic in Malta. A metro may be a long-term advantage, after we have taken the easier and cost-effective steps first. Without taking these first few baby steps, we will price ourselves into poverty.
Alan Zelt, former entrepreneur, expat living in Malta, writes a photo blog for friends around the world extolling the beauty of Malta (https://MaltabyZelt.home.blog).