New strategy proposes safe cycling routes instead of bicycle lanes

A cycling strategy unveiled by Transport Malta proposes bicycle corridors, information totems and a new mobile application for cyclists

Transport Malta has unveiled a cycling strategy to encourage more people to use their bicycle as an alternative mode of transport
Transport Malta has unveiled a cycling strategy to encourage more people to use their bicycle as an alternative mode of transport

A total of 26 kilometres of road will be used as bicycle corridors for a pilot project testing inter-urban safe cycling routes, Transport Malta said today.

The proposal forms part of a cycling strategy unveiled by the regulator as part of the National Transport Strategy. Speed limits in cycle-friendly areas will also be lowered and cyclists would benefit from an app that indiciates the safe routes to reach particular destinations.

There will be two main pilot projects: one from Mosta to Mater Dei and back, and another from Valletta to St Julians and back.

The decision to opt for cycling routes rather than bicycle lanes is conditioned by the island's size limitation.

"Due to the geographical limitations of Malta, however, no new cycling lanes will be built," Peter Paul Barbara, director of the sustainable mobility Unit within Transport Malta, said.

Although bicycle lanes have been added to some of the new main roads being built, they have been removed in others during road-widening works.

The pilot project is underway, with the proposed cycling corridors being tested for a national cycling network.

Barbara explained how Transport Malta looked at best practices of European cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Milan and based the strategy on what it observed in these cities.

He explained how busy and very urbanised localities see the most bicycle accidents in Malta: accidents in Mosta are most prevalent, followed by Birkirkara, St Paul's Bay, Marsa and Luqa.

In 2016, the total number of cyclists injured in road accidents were 38, only one of whom was female. There was one cyclist fatality that year.

A Bicycle Advocacy Group survey revealed how 91% of respondents use evasive manoeuvres two to four times every hour spent cycling to avoid potential motor vehicle accidents. 

"According to WHO European Region estimates of 2008, Malta is in second place for countries with highest prevalence of obesity," he said, adding the national strategy for cycling also aims to combat this issue and promote a healthy lifestyle.

"The aims of the strategy are to increase awareness and improve cycling skills, to ensure a connected and cycle-friendly urban environment, improve safety conditions, develop a cycling culture and establish strong cooperation networks between all respective stakeholders," Barbara said.

A few of the proposals within the strategy are already in place, such as bike renting and the use of Pedelecs. A pedelec is a bicycle where the rider's pedalling is assisted by a small electric motor, a type of low-powered e-bike.

"Development in cargo bikes and Pedelecs is enabling the transport of goods of up to 250kg in weight to be carried out through cycling. It is for this reason that the Maltese government in 2018 introduced a cash grant of €400 for the purchase of a pedelec by private individuals, going up to ten pedelecs per company for commercial companies," Barbara said.

The new strategy ditches bicycle lanes for cycling routes
The new strategy ditches bicycle lanes for cycling routes

Encouraging alternative transport modes

Transport Minister Ian Borg said that he was proud of this strategy and that 50 million people using public transport just this year served as a ray of hope with regards to the use of sustainable means of transportation. Cycling was an alternative mode of commute, he added.

"It's useless trying to blame a minister or the government for transport issues. This is a question of culture. Whoever complains of the many transport issues Malta is facing and stops there will not be part of the success of this strategy plan. The €700 million spent on new roads shows the government's commitment to this sector," Borg said.

Christopher Cutajar, permanent secretary at Transport Ministry said 28% of Maltese commuters used an alternative means of transport to their private cars when travelling to work, a positive statistic. "We need to offer further incentives for the use of this modality, for certain workplaces to make use of green travel plans," he said.

One of the proposed cycling corridors for a pilot project
One of the proposed cycling corridors for a pilot project

The solutions

Intelligent transport systems that will include bike warning systems and new roadmarks and new lights specifically designed for bicycles

• Developing a safe national cycling route network

• Reduce speed limits in cycle-friendly areas and enforcing this with CCTV, allowing cyclists to feel safer

• A new mobile application will show cyclists a network of cycle-friendly roads

• The launch of a national cycling platform entitled Cycling Malta to maximise the potential of integrating cycling networks and services

• E-bike sharing schemes

• Training and education of architects and draughtspersons to design areas that are cyclist-friendly

• Free courses after working hours and paid for by the government to teach bicycle skills to amateurs

• Bicycle parking installations all across the country

• Erect at least 12 new Trixi mirrors every year at signal controlled junctions