Roads are popular promises. But the PLPN is just postponing the problem

Do residential roads need fixing and in some cases rebuilding completely? Of course, they do. The real issue, however, is making residential roads safer and people-friendly

Transport and mobility are still discussed superficially and only as far as policies (or lack of them) affect parking spaces or a government minister who proudly announces a spanking new road. Government is in a road-building frenzy at the moment. Not to mention the crazy waste of billions of Euros for an underwater tunnel between Malta and Gozo. All this has the PLPN stamp of approval, of course. In the meantime, while pursuing the popular myth that road building will in some way improve mobility, they ignore completely whole chunks of the reports paid for by public money, such as the 2025 Transport Master Plan.

Do residential roads need fixing and in some cases rebuilding completely? Of course, they do. This was always the responsibility of central government. The real issue, however, is making residential roads safer and people-friendly. The real need is to identify more and more zones which can be pedestrianised and others which can become ‘home zones’. ‘Home zones’ are roads which are designed or redesigned to meet, first and foremost, the needs of pedestrians, commuting cyclists, children and residents and where the speed and dominance of cars is reduced drastically. It’s a hard sell to make to local communities, and there is a huge lack of support from Transport Malta and the new ‘roads agency’.

These two government organisations have morphed into ‘car promotion agencies’. The popular thing to promise is more and more parking spaces. I know some people who moan continuously when zones close to village schools are closed to cars during the half-hour before school starts and after school finishes. Some people are so addicted to their car that they insist on driving their little darlings, if possible to within a millimetre of the classroom. They take to Facebook to whinge about the ‘huge inconveniences’ they have to endure, poor souls. The understandable exceptions and particular cases are used as examples to thwart any local initiatives to make streets more people-friendly and safer.

As for arterial roads; the arterial road widening and flyover frenzy is self-defeating. Take the fancily named ‘Central Link’ joining Buqana, slicing through Attard and going on to Mriehel road building frenzy as an example. All this will do is increase traffic, car use, congestion and pollution. In a few years congestion will be much worse than today. At least certain parts of the project will turn existing roads into wide racetracks through residential areas. Not to mention the total lack of facilities for alternative means of transport such as bicycles and electric bicycles.

Here again Malta is as backwards as one can get when compared to cities in continental Europe. Traffic congestion is the effect and not the cause of the lack of sustainable mobility: it is the effect of negligence. Negligence in a transport policy accumulated over years and years of PLPN governments that had no vision and no idea of long-term planning. All they care about is their party-club faithful who do not give two hoots about policy to clap and cheer them on every Sunday. The real issue is that we have created a society totally dependent on the private car. Building more roads for cars on limited land will not resolve anything. It will just postpone the problem, which will be passed on to future generations.

Government prefers populist rhetoric to real action. Action which is also proposed in the Transport Master Plan 2025. It is negligent and politically irresponsible for government to ignore its own strategy. The strategy states clearly that their needs to be a ‘sustainable urban mobility plan’ in place, that the aim of the strategy is ‘reducing the role of the car’, public transport quality corridors, and low emission zones. More specifically the strategy requires segregated busways between the most densely populated areas, that is stretches of roads reserved for buses. It proposes public transport servicing five new park-and-ride schemes designed to keep traffic out of urban centres. Segregated busways would enable the use of bendy-buses.

This government was right when it decided to abandon old, diesel bendy-buses on urban narrow roads. This was the work of incompetent political appointees and a transport system planned by a law firm. But there may be a place for a badly needed Bus Rapid Transit system along arterial roads. We should look at countries like Sweden where the latest technology is being trialled by using electric buses which can literally transport hundreds of people at one go.

All that PLPN are interested in are more and more roads. It is the popular thing to promise. Instead of leading the way, the great and glorious ‘people’s party’ and ‘pro-business party’ are happy to pass on the buck to future generations.

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