Sammut Legal Partner Karl Sammut on Wednesday proposed the idea that dedicated bicycle lanes are contributing to Malta’s growing traffic issues, rather than reducing them.
Traffic congestion has been a persistent issue across Malta for a number of years, with motorists having to endure slow-moving, and in some cases standstill traffic in multiple areas. This is especially the case in the most frequented roads and most densely populated areas in the country. Aside from the environmental issues that this presents, congestion is also prompting significant delays in going from one place to another, even if it is just a couple of kilometres away.
This has led to proposals from various business leaders in a bid to reduce the problem, with some suggesting the setting up of a dedicated land transport authority, while others brought forward the idea of underground pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.
To Dr Sammut, one primary, and often overlooked reason for traffic congestion is the amount of bicycle lanes being introduced in Malta.
He noted that he has “rarely seen” anyone use the designated bicycle lanes, and personally does not know anyone who commutes to work by cycling.
He clarified that his comments are not directed towards people who are passionate about cycling, as there are “substantial advantages associated with both the utilisation and promotion of bicycles”.
“However, since it is evident that bike lanes are not being actively used, it is logical to raise questions about their real use and purpose,” Dr Sammut explained.
To highlight his argument, he made reference to Triq id-Difiża Ċivili (Civil Defence Street) in Mosta, which similar to various other roads in Malta, has undergone significant works recently. However, these changes have transformed a two-lane road into a single-lane one, “seemingly to accommodate bicycle lanes”.
“The outcome? What used to be a quick two-minute commute has now extended to 20 minutes,” he said.
Dr Sammut acknowledged that there is a pressing need to reduce the number of cars on the roads, and noted that “at least in theory, bike lanes are actually intended to contribute towards this objective”.
However, he countered it by saying that “recent statistics indicate a significant increase in new vehicle registrations”, thus resulting in the question of whether bicycle lanes are “inadvertently adding to the rise in traffic congestion and bottlenecks”.
The National Statistics Office (NSO) reported last month that as at the end of June 2023, there were 432,039 licensed motor vehicles in Malta, 74.2 per cent of which were cars.
“Should we come to terms with the harsh reality that, given the rapid population growth and the absence of a feasible public transportation system, the necessity of relying on cars has become inevitable, at least in the short term,” he questioned.
Dr Sammut added that traffic used to only be a “slight annoyance”, yet is now a “genuine economic challenge”. Despite this, he said that there is a “lack of clear vision of how to effectively tackle this issue”.
“While we often reference Dubai as a model, our approach seems to lean more towards the congestion of Mumbai,” he concluded.
Dr Sammut is a qualified Commercial Lawyer who specialises in business, technology, and intellectual property, and has worked at Sammut Legal, a law firm operating in the digital economy, for almost seven years.
The newly introduced bicycle lane at the Mosta Bridge
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