Traffic: back to square one

One can scientifically and safely predict that road widening projects will not solve Malta’s traffic problems – or be the cure for the Maltese addiction to motor cars. We will soon be back to square one

Road-widening works on Regional Road
Road-widening works on Regional Road

I was intrigued to read that while appearing in the current affairs television programme Xtra Sajf, Frederick Azzopardi, Infrastructure Malta CEO, admitted that the widening of roads alone can’t solve Malta’s traffic problem, albeit claiming that it was necessary for the country to address the situation it currently finds itself in.

While pointing out that there were certain bottlenecks and certain problematic areas that needed to be addressed, he also insisted that a long-term plan that includes alternative modes of transport is needed.

He was speaking as opposition to the Central Link project kept on mounting mainly because of the loss of a substantial number of mature trees. The project consists of the erection of two additional lanes built along the stretch of road from Saqqajja to Mrieħel.

Interestingly, he explained that: “The problem we have is that if you are coming from the direction of Mrieħel you are passing through a road with four lanes. Once you leave the Saqqajja roundabout, where the project is going to end, you have a road with four lanes. But the whole stretch of road in between has two lanes. So, we’re either going to say that these two lanes are missing, or else the lanes on the other roads are extra. It’s a classic bottleneck.”

One can scientifically and safely predict that road widening projects will not solve Malta’s traffic problems – or be the cure for the Maltese addiction to motor cars. We will soon be back to square one

Infrastructure Malta hopes to solve this problem by bypassing Attard.

Azzopardi seems to have failed to realise that the now widened San Gwann - Naxxar road will be leading to a bottle-neck at each end, depending on the direction of the traffic – a situation that has hardly solved anything, except the possibility of speeding between two bottlenecks.

I was intrigued by what Azzopardi said because I think that, in the long run, all this road-widening will not solve anything.

One must, however, not discredit all that Infrastructure Malta is doing. While widening roads does not solve anything, multi-level intersections do. The improvement in traffic flow resulting from the Kappara flyover is tangible and I am all for this sort of solution. Currently this is being done in Marsa and in Santa Lucia while the Msida bay area has also been touted as being next in line for this treatment. Multi-level intersections avoid opposing lanes having to cross each other and therefore reduce the time drivers would spend in the intersection when it is at one level.

To my mind, concentrating on such bottlenecks should be a priority.

There is, of course, the classic conundrum on whether widening of roads is a way of luring more cars to pass through the widened roads rather than a response to the increase in cars.

Another report about this issue, that has unfortunately been mostly ignored is that written by economist Marie Briguglio, author of the book, ‘No Man’s Land – People, Place & Pollution’. She analysed statistics for the number of vehicles registered in Malta and their rates of increase over the past three years, and concluded that no amount of road widening can ever keep up with the current vehicle increase rate.

Quoting official statistics, Briguglio said that between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2019, there had been an increase of 8% in private vehicles. There are 388,000 vehicles on the road in 312sq.m of Malta, of which the largest category is private cars (75%). The increase of cars in three years was 38,389 new vehicles. As Briguglio put it: ‘if you were to line them up, you would need 172 kilometres minimum. That is almost as much as the distance between Malta and the city of Catania in Sicily, which is 188 kilometres. No amount of road widening could ever cope.’

NSO figures show that 387,775 vehicles were registered in the first quarter of 2019. Of these 77.8% were passenger cars and 13.6% were commercial vehicles. Using the same NSO figures for the last three years, a simple calculation finds that the rate of increase in licensed vehicles of all types is some 32 vehicles a day.

In other words, one can scientifically and safely predict that road widening projects will not solve Malta’s traffic problems – or be the cure for the Maltese addiction to motor cars.

We will soon be back to square one.

Meanwhile the plans and proposals for the much-needed mass transit system, that would make most car trips redundant, are nowhere to be seen.

All quiet on the PN front

Except for some initial comments on the social media, all seems to be quiet on the PN front after the party leader, Adrian Delia, obtained the approval of just a bit over two thirds of the members of the PN general council.

These initial comments confirmed that there are some people who have still not understood why droves of voters abandoned the PN and switched to Labour and how this phenomenon led to Delia’s election as party leader. Saying that the vote indicates that the councillors are cut off from the electorate – as one declared on Facebook – reveals that there are still some who refuse to go out of the bubble that they have been caught in.

Call it the Daphne bubble, if you want. It is a bubble that ignores how the big majority of the people of Malta think. Dismissing them as ignoramuses, as Daphne used to do, just distances the people who do so from the ordinary citizen.

Daphne was not the voice of a political party and she had the privilege and right of being able to look down on most people – something that no political party can afford to do, if it wants to gain votes rather than losing them.

The problem is that her followers started living in a bubble in which everybody thinks on her lines and ignores the many worlds that make up all of the Maltese electorate. This is quite a different proposition from the elite few living in that bubble.

Unfortunately, these people are still living in a bubble.

Meanwhile Adrian Delia must show the gravitas that one expects from a party leader and he must see beyond his intimate group. Trying to control everything within the party, as some of his subordinates have tried to do, suffocates the free space that all PN activists should be allowed to enjoy. In the end, it will only serve to deepen the chasm between the PN supporters.

Delia seems sincere in his efforts to gather everybody under one cause, but is it the case for all those who back him?

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