I just got back from a 40-minute drive. I did not go up to Mellieħa. Nor did I go down to Birżebbuġa. I simply went down the road from Lija to next to the church of St Theresa, in Birkirkara.
If I had fast-walked there, it would have taken me 20 minutes max. If I had cycled, it would have taken me less than seven minutes. But, then, I would have triggered an asthma attack from all the fumes or risked being run over or squashed against another car.
This is the state we’re in. Heavy traffic wherever you go, every hour, every day of every week in the year. There’s a billboard somewhere in one of those deviation roundabouts dotting the Central Link insisting that the government is doing all this so “you can all cycle more and walk more”. It’s a gem, straight out of the prime minister’s “Everyone knows we’re always honest with the people” line.
We’re in this state because the whole island is one mega Ian-Borg-infrastructure-project with the sole aim of having more roads to accommodate even more cars (and making greedy Gasan happier).
I’m reading a recently published book called Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in our Lives. It’s about how the Dutch refuse to sacrifice vast amounts of public space to cars and instead use that space for the community.
Perhaps Borg’s ministry could do away with one glass of bubbly the next time they inaugurate a one-metre square bit of new road and budget for this book. And then perhaps the minister can go home, order a snack from his own restaurant in Dingli, dip his feet in his controversial pool and relax with the book in hand. Maybe if we pray hard enough, he’ll be inspired by the case study in the book: Delft, a city in the Netherlands, half the size of Gozo.
Like the rest of the world, Delft had been under pressure to stamp out its countryside and replace it with extensive road networks. But local students and city residents would have none of it and protested vehemently and they succeeded in stamping out any plans for a car-centric city.
Today, streets in Delft are for walking and cycling – inhabitants do not spend half their day behind a windscreen but actually feel the wind on their faces and exercise as they commute. Cars, meanwhile, have been pushed to an outer ring road where the traffic is fast-flowing.
Malta is ideal to take up the Delft blueprint. At the moment, we live in micro residential bubbles, surrounded by main roads which are impossible to navigate if not by car. Our towns and villages cater first and foremost for cars. And we have forgotten how intrusive this is.
I’m not sure how happy Maltese children are but they certainly rank among the highest when it comes to obesity
Robert Weetman – whose brilliant blog, Nicer Cities Liveable Places, is a must read – compares it to living with a cloud of flies constantly swarming around us. “Life’s possible,” he says in one post, “but the flies are just always there.” What if we had to live in a world where the flies are gone, he asks.
Delft is like living without the flies. Their traffic circulation plan is based on the basic idea that every child should be able to walk safely to school or a shop or a friend’s house without crossing a busy and dangerous arterial road.
It is no wonder then that Dutch children and teens – who each cycle 2,000 kilometres per year – rank among the healthiest and the happiest in the world. I’m not sure how happy Maltese children are but they certainly rank among the highest when it comes to obesity. Our children probably spend 2,000 hours on their Playstation.
Surely, it’s not too difficult to implement this road map!
Tut-tut, the naysayers will say, we can’t cycle: Netherlands is flat, Malta is hilly. Ah! Luckily, we no longer live in the stone age and bicycle technology has improved quite a bit and there’s such a thing as electric bikes.
Of course, if millions of euros from our taxes were not being siphoned into the corrupt pockets of individuals with power to wield and of their friends, our government could actually bulk buy us all a pedelec.
Also, instead of throwing millions on new roads and big parties to cut the ribbons, we could invest in a proper metro. (It is very doable – extensive expert studies and blueprints were carried out by the Nationalist Party in 2017). Efficient and super-fast public transport combined with the priority to pedestrians and cyclists will allow us to wave goodbye to cars, to traffic, to road rage, to pollution and to road deaths.
I fervently believe this would completely overhaul our culture, making us healthy, active participants in our society, something which would change our mindset completely and perhaps would bring about an end to the decadence and rot that has taken over our islands.
Dare we hope for this kind of Malta?
While our third-rate men and women hog their seats in parliament and are paid from our taxes to play power games and take selfies of their dimple chins, the young generation has been trying to make some sort of a future.
Because of COVID, 16-year-olds have had their O levels pushed back to July this year – bang in the middle of a heatwave. Wearing masks, and sitting on socially distanced desks in hot, stuffy and sunny classrooms, fainting students were a common sight.
Here’s one other thing our taxes could have gone to, instead of in the pockets of all those crooks in government: air conditioners in all state schools.
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