People who walk, cycle and take public transport can go first

Has our new Minister of Transport already forgotten what he – no doubt? – learned in his mandate as Minister of the Environment in recent years? Climate change is here, now! Carbon emission reductions must be accelerated drastically and immediately, in line with Malta’s obligations under the 2015 global Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal, a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse by 2030 and net carbon neutrality by 2050 in the EU.

The new European framework for urban mobility (2021), which guides the mobility policy of EU Member States, underlines the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to “move away from the current approach to improve the fluidity of traffic, and to move instead to an approach based on moving people and goods in a more sustainable way, with a focus on efficient public transport, the promotion of active mobility and zero-emission urban logistics”.

Today, road transport contributes one third of Malta’s total greenhouse gas emissions. To stop fueling the climate crisis and reduce carbon emissions, as well as the impact of air pollution on public health, road safety issues and shrinking public space for anyone outside of a car, we need to move away from planning just for cars.

But no, our Minister of Transport says that “efficiency for cars comes first”. Over the past few decades, we have seen investments in wider and more distant roads for cars, and it hasn’t worked. Building more roads and parking lots for cars only increases the number of cars.

This is a never-ending vicious circle called “induced demand” and is a simple matter of supply and demand: increasing the capacity of cars on the road increases the number of cars on the road. This phenomenon is well documented in the literature, based on examples from around the world, and can be seen clearly in Malta as well, where the new bypasses and overflights have not solved the traffic jams or parking problems at all.

Precisely because Malta is small and space is limited, we need to invest in cleaner and lighter modes of transport. The car is the least compact mode of transport of all! The average journey in Malta is only 5.5 km, so we need to invest in direct, safe, comfortable, attractive and connected infrastructure for walking and cycling, so that the choice to go by foot or by bike for short trips is easy and obvious. It is not a question of “accommodating cyclists rather than cars on the road”, as the minister said, but of considering, designing and implementing a sustainable mobility policy for the country.

The EU Guidelines on Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP), a plan currently in preparation for Malta’s main urban area, highlight the need to address the transport sector to address the climate crisis, emphasizing public transport, walking and cycling. And yes, such a plan should also seek to regulate and reduce private car use in a city, particularly in its centre(s).

This is happening all over Europe, where (local) governments have become aware of the harm that excessive private car use is causing to their cities and citizens. Cities like Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Seville are reducing access and space for cars and investing instead in public transport, active mobility and green public spaces. Or watch Rimini’s inspiring mobility policy in Italy, which was featured as a case study in Transport Malta’s recent workshop on ‘Enabling a transition to sustainable modes of transport’ as part of their Plan update. transport manager.

Even the government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (2021) identifies active transport (walking, cycling) as a high priority policy area in the short term to reduce carbon emissions in Malta.

From my own doctoral research on the promotion of cycling as a mode of transport in Southern European cities, I found that road safety is the main barrier for cyclists, in Malta and many other similar cities. If the Minister wants to make our roads safer for all, efforts must focus on reducing the large differences in mass and speed of the different modes of transport; reduce travel speed to a maximum of 30 km/h and apply traffic calming where roads are shared between cars and vulnerable road users, and provide safe and separated infrastructure where speed is higher.

There are many things the Minister can do to promote cycling and other forms of sustainable mobility. Here are a few to get you started:

Invest in decent sidewalks to support walking for local travel, with adequate widths, safe crossings and green infrastructure to provide shade and mitigate noise and air pollution.

Apply traffic calming principles in town centers and residential roads, to create safe spaces for walking and cycling, where cars are welcome.

Dedicate space for efficient and reliable public transport and increase connectivity between bus and ferry networks.

Publish the long-announced National Cycling Policy in the 2016 Transport Master Plan. Appoint a Cycling Commissioner/Committee and set up the Cycling Malta platform proposed in the draft National Cycling Strategy, and task them with creation of a comprehensive cycling network and the creation of standards and guidelines for cycling infrastructure.
Reduce speed limits and road widths to discourage speeding; the most effective way to improve road safety!

Stop relying on the switch to electromobility as the only sustainable mobility policy. This will not be enough to meet our carbon reduction targets, and will certainly not solve the other problems linked to too many cars: traffic, parking, occupation of public space and road safety problems.

There are professionals in Malta who can advise the Government and Minister for Transport on effective, effective and efficient sustainable mobility policy and planning, such as the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development, and NGOs such as Rota and Friends of the Earth Malta, alongside many others who have promoted policies for healthy and livable urban areas. Together, we can create a truly sustainable mobility future for Malta, to improve quality of life, public health and public spaces. We are here to help you and make this a reality.

If the minister really doesn’t know what else to do to promote sustainable mobility, maybe he should consider resigning; a minister of transport is not a minister of the automobile.

Suzanne Maas holds a PhD in Sustainable Mobility (Melit.) from the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development, University of Malta. She is the climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Malta and an active member of Rota.

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