Questions and answers
There exist many misconceptions and half truths about cycling in Malta.
1. What does BAG stand for?
The Bicycle Advocacy Group is an advocacy group for people who use bicycles in Malta. The group servers as a platform for cyclists to air their views on cycling improvements, discuss common problems and difficulties. The group also provides training for new cyclists, carries out advocacy work, political lobbying and networking with other organisations.
2. Why should I cycle?
First and foremost, it's a brilliant form of exercise. Cycling is not just for sports enthusiasts and athletes, it's a way to get to work, it's an efficient way to get errands done and most of all it's a way of life!
This is a simple way to integrate health and fitness as part of your daily routine. Taking into consideration the ever increasing rate of new cars on Maltese roads, cycling might be the only sustainable way to get to work on time without creating a negative burden on traffic and the environment.
3. Is it safe to cycle in Malta?
Cycling is not an intrinsically dangerous mode of transport.
Danger comes mostly in the form of motor vehicles, particularly those travelling at higher speeds, and those of larger mass. That is why it is essential that good road design separates cycling from faster motor traffic, and also from heavier vehicles like buses and HGVs. Where encounters do have to occur, they should be as limited as possible, and at slow speeds.
Even in countries with poor cycling conditions, the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks, but well-designed streets and roads also make cycling feel like a safe activity, as many studies have found that sharing space with motor vehicles on busy roads is an intimidating and scary experience for most people. Malta offers a number of possibilities when it comes to routes, especially through secondary roads, and as you get used to these routes, you might even make new friends.
More journeys made by cycling would benefit everyone in society, through reduced pollution and an improvement in public health.
4. People cycle in flat countries. Malta is too hilly!
The effect of topography on cycling rates is often inflated. While we would reasonably expect fewer people to cycle in very hilly areas, in most places the topography isn't as large a factor as many would believe. For example, even cities in Switzerland – not a country renowned for its flat plains – have much higher cycling rates than cities in many much flatter parts of the world.
Although the Netherlands is a comparatively flat country, this is not a reason why levels of cycling there are so high. If it were, other flat parts of the world would have similarly high levels of cycling. The Netherlands does have hilly cities, such as Nijmegen, which has levels of cycling just as high as flatter parts of the country. The real reason why people cycle in large numbers in the Netherlands is because of high-quality cycling infrastructure that makes those journeys comfortable and enjoyable.
Also, bicycles with electric assistance are increasingly popular, especially with older people, and these can help ‘smooth out’ hills. The Government even offers grants!
So hills aren't an obstacle to cycling much more than they are to walking, and certainly not a reason to fail to design safe and attractive streets for cycling.
“bicycles with electric assistance are increasingly popular, especially with older people, and these can help ‘smooth out’ hills. The Government even offers grants!”
— Bicycle Advocacy Group
5. Cyclists are slow and cause congestion.
In general, congestion is nothing to do with cycling, but is a direct function of the volume of motor traffic on the roads. Congestion on roads is due to motor traffic, and in particular, queues at junctions. While driving behind someone cycling is going to slow you down if you're in a car or on a bus, it is unlikely this is going to add any overall delay to your journey. You will arrive at the tail end of that queue in exactly the same position – driving behind someone cycling has not cost you any extra time.
Reallocating space on roads for cycling will actually make roads more efficient at moving people – a typical motor vehicle lane can carry around 2,000 people per hour, but the same space allocated for cycling infrastructure could carry around 10,000 people per hour. One less car on the road implies that everyone benefits and gets to work faster.
6. Cyclists should pay license just like other road users.
This statement proposes that some type of registration should be required before people are permitted to cycle, and that this would make cycling safer by making people take responsibility for their actions and respect the rules of the road.
There is no country that has managed to make registration of cyclists or their cycles a workable proposition. Aside from any concerns about how to register children, whether the registration is for the vehicle or the person, or what rules one would have to follow in order to acquire such a licence, we know that registration schemes have no real value.
— Donec Consectetur
If it were true that being registered made people safer, then it would be possible to link the levels of driver or vehicle registration to the safety of the roads. But as almost every car crash involves registered drivers in licenced vehicles, it is clear that registration does not appear to offer any meaningful disincentive to those who drive – or cycle – badly.
Furthermore, as cycling is a mode of transport which is widely acknowledged should be encouraged – as it is safe, efficient and doesn't pollute – adding bureaucratic hurdles would only serve to discourage usage.