Safe and attractive infrastructure for all: Central Link Project.
The recently announced €55 million project to upgrade the road infrastructure from Saqqajja Hill in Rabat all the way down to Mrieħel bypass fails to provide safe and attractive bicycle infrastructure that would encourage people to seriously consider cycling as an alternative option to their private vehicles.
While it has been noted that extreme effort and attention has been given to alleviate traffic, relying on the provision of more infrastructure for cars does not tackle the problem. The provision of infrastructure for alternative means of transport on the other hand should be given priority in any road design if as a country we are serious about reducing traffic through a modal shift.
The Bicycle Advocacy Group (BAG) has identified shortcomings in the design of safe infrastructure for bicycles as part of such projects. Going through the already approved road designs, one can immediately note that the only two kilometres of bike lanes featured in the project are disconnected and not up to the standards used across Europe.
Furthermore, the already too narrow 2 km bicycle lane that is being proposed will not be physically segregated from 60 km/h-plus traffic. Painted road markings allowing a very
narrow space are a death-sentence for those wishing to commute along the route by bicycle. This is particularly relevant in Malta where the level of awareness by drivers
about cyclists and their safety is still very low. For this to happen in 2018, when so much talk and effort is given to promoting alternative modes of transport for a variety of good reasons, is downright unacceptable.
B.A.G. is also concerned by the fact that no serious consultation with stakeholders has been carried out despite calls from their end for safe bicycle infrastructure to be included at the planning stage of any road project. It is clear in this case that the opportunity to raise official objections has been bypassed. The haste to carry out these interventions, costing millions of euro from taxpayers’ money, is also problematic.
Finally, it is also disconcerting to learn about the overall approach to infrastructural planning that can justify the location of a six-lane main road just outside residential
homes. BAG asserts that this cannot be part of the long-term solution to reduce traffic, car dependence or pollution mitigation, both for the locals and the whole
population using that route. BAG demands the publication of the studies carried out to justify the project, particularly to assess the methods and data used to estimate the proposed reductions in travel times and the reduction in CO2. Studies of past projects demonstrate that these outcomes hardly ever materialise in road widening projects.
The way forward
Whilst BAG welcomes the upgrading of our road infrastructure in general, there must be a holistic approach which integrates the needs of all road users, prioritising
the most vulnerable and those that are using the most efficient modes. After all, having more people choosing sustainable modes of transport, the whole population will
benefit, including car users.
BAG will be presenting a proposal incorporating 30 km of bicycle lanes, paths and bicycle-friendly streets effectively linking the seven towns and villages, potentially encouraging thousands of people to make the shift.
BAG makes a plea to the authorities to design streets for peopl, and not promote and prioritise machines over our social wellbeing, safety and environment for short-term