Spanish geographer Carlos Cañas wants to make the streets in Malta safer and more pleasant for pedestrians.

Nearly two-thirds of pedestrians feel unsafe and most blame the absence of pavements, according to new research by a Spanish academic who is intent of making Malta more walkable.

And the litter, he found, is another of those local features which contribute to making the mere act of going for a stroll unpleasant for many.

The research is part of a project undertaken by Spanish geographer Carlos Cañas, called Walking Malta.

His aim is to engage the voices of pedestrians in a bid to influence policy towards creating a more “walkable” environment.

“Having more pedestrian-friendly places and more people walking would have an enormous positive impact in Malta,” he told Times of Malta.

“It would improve the environment and public health, ease traffic congestion, boost the local economy and promote social justice.”

Cañas moved to Malta in 2013 and has been working as a researcher at the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta, where he is also an assistant lecturer in the Department of Geography.

His project is part of his doctoral research.

“Encouraged by the small size of these islands, I decided to try a car-free lifestyle based on the use of public transport and walking,” he said.

“My personal experience as a pedestrian in a car-centric country grew into a curiosity-driven career on walkability. This is the study of pedestrian mobility and activities in the public space.”

He started a part-time PhD in walkability in 2016 and opted for a ‘citizen science’ approach.

Hence his project Walking Malta, through which he expands his research from the academic sphere into the pedestrian community and attempts to influence policy.

What are pedestrians concerned about? 

Pedestrians were mainly concerned with safety (34 per cent), pleasantness (27 per cent) and comfort (22 per cent) during their walking experience, according to preliminary results the study based on over 300 experiences shared by pedestrians.

When it comes to safety, the experience was more negative than positive: those who felt unsafe amounted to 70 per cent of the pedestrians who took part in the research, compared to 30 per cent who felt safe.

The main concern is the absence of pavements... walking is deemed unpleasant mostly due to littering

The main concern among those 70 per cent is the absence of pavements. Their walking was deemed unpleasant mostly due to littering.

Temporary barriers (such as the presence of rubbish bags, cars parked on pavements and hurdles posed by construction works), traffic and a lack of pedestrian crossings and streetlights were also listed as issues in the most negative experiences.

On the other hand, wide pavements, open spaces, urban green areas and less traffic were found to be the most relevant elements that people said would encourage them to walk more.

“Cities like London, Paris or Barcelona are well aware of these benefits and walkability plays an important role in their agendas,” Cañas noted.

“One example is the 15-minute city, a principle for urban development where daily urban necessities, such as work, retail, entertainment, education and healthcare, are within a 15-minute reach on foot or by bike.

“Imagine the potential of a small island like Malta or Gozo adopting a similar approach, improving both living conditions and the environment.”

However, despite the short distances, most people in Malta do not choose to walk.

“Although part of this could be explained by cultural factors and personal preferences, most walkability studies highlight the importance of certain elements and characteristics of the public space.

“This is a central aspect of my research: to identify what makes a place more or less pedestrian-friendly in the Maltese context, to then improve it and encourage more walking,” he said.

Pedestrians are invited to share their walking experiences through social media and messaging platforms. To find out more visit walkingmalta.com, find them on Facebook or send feedback on WhatsApp number 7938 9305.

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