Red to amber to green, I put the car in gear and drive past the Fossos and the MITP car park. Green, amber, red, I stop the car, barely driving 20 metres… another set of traffic lights placed in front of the Il-Mall.
I open the window and tap my fingers on the steering wheel to Paolo Conte singing “Gelato al limon, gelato al limon…”
“Sir, Sir…” a voice shouts. I look through the passenger window: a petite warden, her pretty face jarring with that loathsome green uniform, her hair tucked under an over-sized hat and her hands resting on her side above her utility belt. Confused by the unusual sight of a slender warden, I try to understand why she is gesturing me to move my car forward, light still red.
“Move forward a bit, sir,” she says in a thick Maltese accent. Still confused I comply, inching my car forward towards the crossing pedestrians. Seeing this, the pedestrians quicken their step, thinking I have been instructed to drive through a red light, when the green man is still showing their right of way.
I look back and realise the new set of lights has created a line of cars behind me, ending at the previous lights, blocking off the junction.
That’s Transport Malta for you. Logic is not their strong suit. Countless reports, articles and first-hand experiences can support that statement.
Mobility in Malta is shit. Starting from our road habits to our bus stops. Better words could be used to describe it, stronger ones, but I fear my editor would refuse to send the article to print.
Take the recent resurfacing of Valletta’s ring road. Not executed for the benefit of the local population or the embellishment of Valletta. It has been resurfaced to provide an illusion to visiting dignitaries. The tarmac is already coming off, clumping in random areas and bumping where it meets an older strip.
Driving down any road seems like a bad version of Crash Bandicoot Karting; stripped sections of tarmac suddenly appear, plastic red bollards popping up from nowhere, red and white plastic barriers placed willy-nilly, slipping and sliding with any gust of wind or drop of rain. Missing markings or an exaggerated use of signings. Pot holes, super massive black holes, slippery tarmac, Maltese drivers. It is harder than ever to manoeuvre your vehicle, especially when drunk.
Drink driving – just one of the many colourful prerequisites of living on this island. Like most, by the age of 18 I had to learn to operate a car under the influence. I have been lucky, a lot haven’t, and the older I get I fear my luck will run out.
The government says it wants this to stop, and I agree with them. But merely announcing an increase in roadblocks, threat of breathalyser tests and exorbitant fines will not cut it or come close to solving the problem.
Elsewhere in Europe you wouldn’t dream of driving after a night of revelry. You order a taxi, hop onto one of the various public transport systems, or you walk, mount your bicycle or skate. Here, options are limited. Taxis are expensive and the public transport service is incomprehensible during the day and non-existent at night.
Too long have we been complaining about this situation, yet why is nothing done? All we get are resurfaced roads, bypasses bypassing bypasses, and threats of island-connecting bridges.
I am fed up of using a money-guzzling, polluting machine for mobility. Fed up of administrations that shirk their responsibility to provide a healthier and up-to-date, living, national infrastructure. Fed up of having to pen this article after reading so many on the same topic. All of us want a change. Some in their own way are trying to effect it.
More people are using bicycles to commute, even though adequate bicycle lanes are non-existent, risking their lives and lungs to get from A to B.
All we get are resurfaced roads, bypasses bypassing bypasses, and threats of island-connecting bridges
A new bicycle-sharing initiative, Nextbike, has been launched, something akin to Boris-Bikes in London. Yet I fear that although this is a nod in the right direction, the bicycles may be inadequate for the Maltese situation.
Most cities have had bicycle sharing for a while, some more advanced than others, and tailored to the city’s needs. Madrid has pedal-assist bicycles that help with the city’s hills, and in Copenhagen you can rent a Bycyklen, one of the first smart bicycle sharing systems. In Malta, bicycles may need to be equipped with airbags and warning systems, as countless feckless drivers surround riders.
A bicycle courier service has only recently been launched: Fetchit, delivering items and food, servicing (for now) a select number of localities. Divorce, gay marriage and now bicycle couriers… what next? Medical marijuana?
This is good news for young people looking for a flexible job, and for those stuck behind their desks wanting their midday fix without having to get behind the wheel.
So addicted to our cars are we as a nation that anything related to bicycles seems to be a wholly new concept in 21st-century Malta.
These are sparkling, young and private initiatives. While at a government level things seem to be dim. Minister for Transport Joey Mizzi has the lowest public approval rating, nothing surprising there, but within the current corrupt Cabinet that is saying something.
Shadow minister Marthese Portelli would not do any better. She embodies the uselessness of the Nationalist Party.
Having said that, Transport Malta has been busy compiling the National Transport Master Plan 2025 and the National Transport Strategy 2050. We are told that this is the first time a master plan of this nature has been put together. So everything that I am about to write has probably been considered or rejected by people who are far more competent (?) than I. I am only an observer, and what I see is utter chaos.
You could say it’s about time, but the work is there, so thank you Transport Malta for that. We will wait and see when and how our politicians will engage with your work.
If these documents are too much for one to read (which they are), then I suggest looking up the 2016 published study, Sustainable mobility, liveability and public space in historic village cores – a case study of Lija, Malta, by Prof. Maria Attard, Perit Jacques Borg Barthet and Perit Alberto Miceli Farrugia. There are some good pwieret out there.
We need to be innovative and bold. Turn village core streets into bicycle priority lanes. Create pedestrian-friendly routes that connect neighbouring localities. Invest in an innovative transport infrastructure alongside the one we already have. Increase ferry services from harbour towns. Create a new express ferry service from Gozo to Pietà. Connect Pietà to Valletta, St Luke’s Hospital, Mater Dei Hospital, University of Malta, etc., with an independent bicycle-lane infrastructure. Provide the public with bicycle silos. Have a park-and-ride-monorail system, whisking you to Smart Shity and back. Incorporate taxis into a public transport system by partly subsidising them and regulating them.
We need a green, healthy, safe and logical mobility infrastructure. We need to use our size to our advantage and not let it choke us.
More trees less tarmac.
Any cardiologist will tell you that a heart can only undergo so many bypasses, stents and pacemakers before it stops beating. The only way to ensure the continual beating is to change your lifestyle. We are all on the same roads together, even though individually separate in our own car.
P.S. The drawing is obviously not to scale.