Who cares about the residents? Let’s just close another road

You simply cannot trap people in their own homes by undertaking simultaneous roadworks at various points of entry/exit from a town or village

Photo: Facebook, Mosta Residents
Photo: Facebook, Mosta Residents

While roadworks and traffic diversions are to be found all over the island, like most people I am affected the most by the community where I live.  My neighbourhood in Mosta has been the site of ongoing roadworks for a while now, which have caused continuous mayhem and traffic chaos. I have reduced my car use during the day, but when I do drive, getting home has become a continuous obstacle course and a matter of luck. 

What is known as the Mosta bridge has, for the last week, been the theme of a Facebook guessing game called: is it open or not?  The deadline of Monday 27 March was missed, and we were then informed it would open between Tuesday/Wednesday - it then opened only for it to be closed again because the road markings were not ready. The sound of collective swearing reverberated and echoed so loudly it could probably be heard all the way down to the Rotunda, which is not conducive to the devotion we are supposed to be feeling as we enter the sombre religious festivities of Holy Week.  

Prior to the closing of the bridge we had been subjected to even more road closures of Triq Difiza Civili (or as it is colloquially known “Tal-Lidl”). Those who live around here or have to pass by on a daily basis know the frustration and exasperation caused by these never-ending roadworks which have been going on for months (or is it years?). It is a mystery to most of us what they have been doing in this small stretch of road and why it should have taken them so long. All we know is that the traffic signs kept changing: one time you could only pass from one side, and then only from the other, and then only to/from Lidl, and then there was a detour from a very narrow side road, and then a diversion through the next residential street, Triq il-Fortizza, which went from one way coming out to one way coming in, to opening it to two way traffic, and now back to one way coming out, much to the ire of the residents, the confusion caused to drivers, not to mention the many potential head-on crashes.  

When the whole stretch of Triq Difiza Civili was finally opened to traffic on both sides, it was with trepidation that I tried it out, half expecting to be met by trench works, orange cones, a big fat red no entry sign and a stern warden telling me to “turn around Sinjura, you cannot pass from here”.  But, unbelievably, I reached the main road without a hitch and it felt like a minor miracle - unfortunately, that’s how conditioned we have become to the constant mess.  

What has been happening at one end of Mosta has been further compounded by ongoing works at the square which has been completely pulled up, with heavy machinery doing some fancy project which we have been assured will make the whole area look much better…again, why it should take so long is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that everyone’s nerves are frayed, residents have nowhere to park their cars, the constant dust is a hazard to anyone with asthma, and the spillover of traffic which has nowhere else to go has meant that the entire town is one relentless, snarling traffic jam at all times of the day.

Obviously, these scenes are not unique to Mosta - I have read countless accounts of other areas such as Swieqi, where the road closures illustrate a complete lack of traffic management and a dearth of just plain logic. You simply cannot trap people in their own homes by undertaking simultaneous roadworks at various points of entry/exit from a town or village. I do not even know why this has to be pointed out. As we say in Maltese “mhux ovvja?” (Isn’t it obvious?) and yet here we are day in, day out, reading posts of this situation repeating itself all over the island.  One project should be completely finished before another one is embarked upon - it’s as simple as that. 

Of course, the incessant roadworks are not the only reason for the nightmare traffic. 

According to data recently released by the National Statistics Office, there are 13,700 passenger cars for each square kilometre of road, while the country has 1,517 motor vehicles for every 1,000 licensed drivers. Meanwhile, just over 9,500 people passed their driving test and received a driving licence in 2021. 

No surprises, there, huh?  We only need to look out our windows if we live on a main road to see the winding queue of back to back traffic at a standstill. It is a paradox and a vicious circle that the worse the traffic gets, which invariably make everyone late, the more people are opting for a private car as their means of transport. Everyone keeps demanding answers about how we can “solve” the traffic problem when in reality, we all know the answers but no one wants to bite the bullet.  

And just in case some think the solution is to build more flyovers or widen more roads, nope… wrong answer. The only way to address it is to either offer real attractive incentives to leave one's car at home or force people to reduce car use by imposing charges. This can only work, however, if it is in conjunction with better, more frequent connectivity of public transport between neighbouring villages/towns rather than having to go miles out of your way to reach a village next door.  Failing this, people will always prefer to use their private car even though they are stuck in traffic for many lost, unproductive, exasperating hours. 

I know this will be met with outrage because “it’s not fair”, “it’s unfeasible”, “people need their cars every day” etc. But just look at the BCRS deposit scheme which was also met with outrage, and yet, the charge of 10 cents on each plastic bottle (and the hassle to get your money back from the machines) has forced people to take real action on cutting down on their consumption of plastic. Many have now invested in a Reverse Osmosis or other water filtering system, but if things had been left as they were before, we all know that no one would have bothered. That's just human nature.  The same has happened with waste separation -  streamlining the days when the different types of waste is collected means that it is actually in your interest to ensure you deposit organic waste correctly because the white bag is collected three times a week, whereas by dumping everything into the black bag, which is now down to twice a week, it is your own home which will reek of bad smells.   

Rather than leaving solutions to traffic in the abstract, I will quote from a study (Kuss and Nicholas, 2022, Case Studies on Transport Policy) which ranks the 12 most effective car reducing measures that European cities have introduced in recent decades. They are a mixture of the carrot (incentives) and stick (penalty) methods and the most successful cities combine both, implementing a few different policy measures. The name of the respective city where the measure worked is in brackets.

1. Congestion charge (London) - drivers pay to enter city centre > revenue goes to city’s sustainable transport scheme 

2. Parking & traffic control (Oslo)- Remove parking spaces, alter traffic routes > Replace parking spaces with bike lanes and walkways, add car-free streets

3. Limited traffic zone (Rome)- Exclude cars from part of the city (except residents) > Violation fines fund public transport

4. Mobility service for commuters (Utrecht) > Workers given free public transport pass, then private shuttles to workplace 

5. Workplace parking (Rotterdam) - Drivers pay to park at work > Cash-out scheme for employees to use public transport; parking revenues fund public transport

6. Workplace travel planning (UK, 20 cities) - Parking management and removal of spaces > Discounts for public transport; improved bike infrastructure; advice to help commuters use public transport/walk/cycle

7. University travel planning (Bristol) - Reduced parking on campus > Discounts for public transport: improved bike infrastructure; advice and promotion to students and staff of car alternatives

8. Mobility services for university (Catania) >  Free public transport pass and shuttle connections for students

9. Car sharing (Bremen) > Car sharing access integrated to work and neighbourhoods 

10. School travel planning (Norwich) > Advice and events to help students and parents walk, cycle or carpool to school 

11. Personalised travel planning (Marseille, Munich, Maastricht) > Discounted public transport; advice to help city residents walk and cycle

12. App for sustainable mobility (Bologna) > Rewards for achieving targets for walking, cycling or using public transport

In a country where public transport has already been made free, it is clear that only the more radical measures mentioned above will actually work.   Will there be an uproar? Yes, definitely. Will it make us re-think how often we use our private car? Yes, indubitably. 

However, if we don’t do something drastic and just expect the traffic to magically resolve itself, we are being utterly delusional.