How can we decrease car dependency?

Let’s start with a warning. It is so DANGEROUS to use a bicycle here that any other excuse pales into insignificance. It is a DEADLY hazard. Cyclists have died. Been run over by cars, trucks, whatever… cyclists have been warned to keep away from roads, they have been threatened, and assaulted… it’s a dangerous past-time.

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So before we start accusing people that they are car dependent, we must ask ourselves…

WHY do people have this love affair with their car, so to speak. It’s a difficult proposition to come up with a single answer.

Taking Malta’s position, it is quite easy to come up with a few answers… One of the first, and to me, the most important, is… we live in a very hilly place where every street reflects every village, town, hill, and eventually, country. We live in a country of highs and lows.

Not too long while in England I borrowed a bicycle and despite being very unfit, managed to bike around 50 miles in a day, so much that I had to ask the help of a policeman who remarked ”you’ve biked off the map of Southend”.  But this was all on very flat land.

It is only TWO kilometres to Marsa from where I live… I can do it easily going there… but coming back, I face an elevation of 200 metres… or nearly 70 storeys… that is like cycling up a skyscraper. Perhaps the image below can show the difference easily.

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To this I would need to add that during my ride in the uk, I was mostly ensconced on a safe cycling lane. On our little island, we have precious little cycle lanes, and what there are, are simply too dangerous with car owners making a biker’s commute a purely hellish experience.

Let’s not forget the simply awful summer weather which is hot, and very humid. Returning home from work is a three kilometre uphill climb all the way. If you’ve been on your feet from six in the morning, it is not something one looks forward to with a smile on his face.

So there, three simple reasons why, before embarking on a cycling use push, our leaders must make it into a positive experience. And it must be made to be such that it makes more sense or fun to take a bike. Who wants to live with bad experiences?

Granted, this is not a take to remove cars out of our life completely, as obviously, there will be events or happenings which simply require the use of a vehicle. Before we go on, I am going to pass my quick judgment on the recent road-widening processes all over our tiny country.

Yeah, I know, I will be crucified, but here goes.

I actually think they are a good thing. Has it been approached well? NO!

Whether road-widening or not goes on, youths will still buy cars. So while everybody and his uncle comes up with scientific reports and shit, one has to ask our youth… ”Do you plan on buying a car?”.. The answer is invariably yes.

It’s no secret. The bus transport system is a shambles. A university student cannot go to school at 6am in the hope of getting to school by 8.30… It’s barely eight kilometres for fuck’s sake. It would make more sense to walk or cycle there, but the infrastructure simply isn’t there.

So let me re-state it. YOUTHS IN THIS COUNTRY WILL STILL BUY CARS. People love having their independence, their own wheels.. No longer fettered by time constraints or bus nuances.

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Or even, for a quick snog and a little nookie, it’s far easier in your car than on a bus. Less chance of being arrested.

SO… What can be done? It goes without saying that while increasing Public Transport quality will help, the buses cannot be everywhere.

In my opinion, more personal transport is required. Better than a car, better than a bus, cheaper than both, while taking less footprint.

Of course, it’s cycling. Or scooting. As anyone who really knows me, knows me, I have a passion for cycling beyond the ordinary.

(Follow this link for my cycling article :  https://chrisgrillo.wordpress.com/bicycling/ )

What the hell? First you fill us up with cycling problems, and then state that bikes are the answer? That’s what probably one might ask…

Why not switch to pedelecs? Electric?

I’ll tell you why. A good ebike is still out of most people’s pocket. And for those who, like me, have a very short ride to work, the effort and fuel saved is simply not worth the cost of adding a couple of thousand of euros pain to my already half-dead wallet. And at current licensing costs, it makes sense that you get your ‘bang for buck’ on an astonishingly expensive outlay… (Yes, I know the government gives a pay-back and vat return on ebikes… but you still have to fork these out beforehand! Why not register with the seller and these are removed immediately at purchase?)

So if the government really wants to reduce car use, and in the process helping the population get fitter and of course, reduce emissions, the end-user needs to be helped to distance himself from the car.

I have an idea how to do that. Incentive the cyclist with cash-back on a bike giveaway.

Let’s say the government reaches a deal to provide a bike to a buyer at the price, of say 1440 euros. The buyer is contracted to pay the government back at 60 euros per month.

No deposits, no inflated paper work, quick and simple applications with a promise and a gadget to keep that promise.

For every day that the car is unused, the government awards you two euros off that 60 euro payback… simple gps devices much like those used on youths insurance limiters. So easy it is beyond belief.

You might ask…but why the heck should the government help you? Well, that’s a good question. Cycling promotes health, with less visits to doctors or hospitals, and of course, less cars and smog in the streets…

Eventually, a better infrastructure still needs to be built… In Seville, in 2006, barely 0.2% of the population cycled in the city… By 2010, a huge undertaking had been completed, and cycling paths introduced everywhere. The percentage of the cycling population rose to 6.6%.

Give people the will, the hope, the facilities and the capability, and they WILL increase use of the bike.

Of course, increasing the public transport is a given. As to why more lasting solutions have not been researched properly, I cannot understand. Why an underground system has not been implemented is beyond reason… We have been talking about this since the 80s… Most of it would have been done by now.

Overhead trains are also a decent answer. I believe there was something around those lines not too long ago. I wonder why those ideas died.

There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees…

Ok, I’ll own up. I stole the title from the opening lyrics to a Rush song (The Trees), which i think, is quite apt at this moment in time.

Following the population’s indignation at the Central Link Project and subsequent protest, a new force has arisen on the island. The people’s ire was demonstrated in a peaceful protest on site some days ago. This alone should have at least brought some people in government to their senses. To at least, hear the plight of those who have no agenda except that of really caring for what it deems to be an important issue in our country.

To my astonishment, the protesters, myself included, were ridiculed and trolled by party stalwarts who will vote for the same party irrespective of what that political faction takes away from them. It’s just the way some people are made… You can’t change them. And what really irks me is… this is not a political statement at all. We GENUINELY care for the greenery in our country, lacking as it already is.

We live on a tiny island. A wind-swept one at that… Thin topsoil, the rest blown away by the incessant winds buffeting us nearly every day.  It is estimated that 200 days per year we have winds of a stronger nature, and only ninety days of precipitation.

To me, it goes without saying that our efforts should go into building green lungs for a country which is hard-hit by lack of water, and hammered by a tropical sun for arguably the majority of the year… yeah, summers drag on late into the year.

So , when decisions to indiscriminately chop trees down to make way for wider roads are taken, it is fairly obvious that the population will reply in kind. And thus, protest.

I will admit to being dismayed by the willy nilly way in which these works are carried out. Trees being chopped down as if there’s no tomorrow are making the headlines and with good reason.

The road from Tarxien to Luqa has already been denuded, and it makes a pitiful sight as there are nothing but slabs of concrete to see. Shade? You’re kidding, right?

And now, Santa Lucija jogging track, a gentle little woodland (and barrier to the nearby ‘Tal Barrani Road’) has been savaged as well… In the photo below (Courtesy Google Maps), every bit of tree, shrubbery and blade of grass in the yellow marked zone has been removed.

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The absolute sadness is immense. I can no longer enjoy this little place… This, is what is left of it… and the other trees are slated for the chop as well…

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Let us compare with a picture of how it was a couple of days ago… You’ll agree it was beautiful… All that shade… Just shuffling under a tree with a book, and you’re set for a relaxed afternoon.

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And to think of all the pomp, jackets and hats the Santa Lucija council came up with to inaugurate the restoration of this little green emerald of ours a few months ago. (when I say restoration, I mean they added lava bricks on the surface… as if jogging knees appreciate hard-rock under their running shoes!)

The crux of the matter, is… I don’t even THINK this was necessary. At all. Let’s rewind back a bit. I will agree that many motorists spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel of their cars waiting for their turn to go over the roundabout at Santa Lucija.

But has any of the so called experts checked to see why it is so? Because I sincerely have my doubts. It only took me two minutes to realize it. Yes. The road downwards to Addolorata is already full of cars, with people having nowhere to go, and traffic being obliged to wait in line. Then we have cars coming out from Tarxien which impede the smooth flow of the cars on the roundabout.

What if… what if cars from Tarxien going to Valletta were to exit from somewhere else?

Why not oblige all cars going to Valletta to NOT use Xintill Street and Luqa Road in the morning rush hour up to 8.30am? With the new Marsa project, it will make cars at a standstill down Santa Lucija avenue practically obsolete. With no cars exiting the side roads, there is nothing to impede the traffic.

I don’t want anyone to get me wrong. I think that the projects WILL help traffic and pollution. I will take it as a fact that it would take a monumental miracle to unglue people from their vehicles so I would rather see how to alleviate the problem. Everyone has a right to a car and not everyone has the same usage.

Who am I to deny a person who has perhaps mobility problems? Sure enough, if usage was to decrease, then it can only help. But I have a poor impression of our public transport system, as my children use it all the time and they chew my ear off every day. It sucks, and little is being done. As for cycling facilities… gimme a break!

So yeah, I think that the Santa Lucija/Tarxien project should have been started after the Marsa link was done. I am pretty sure that a better picture could have emerged. As it is, with the Santa Lucija council keeping close to their party’s skirts and just repeating what it is fed, it will be a tough cookie to swallow.

According to the media, over five hundred trees are gone.

Let me repeat that.

Over FIVE HUNDRED TREES are gone. 

(Saplings are being replanted, sure… but is this not like killing pensioners just because we have kids growing up who can take their place? 

My question is… are these the next to go?

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(( On average, one tree produces nearly 200 kilograms of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four.” An acre (4,000sq.m.) of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year.” Obviously, not all trees produce the same amount of oxygen in the same amount of time. ))

Disclaimer: I have no political affiliation. I do not care for, or follow anyone’s party lines.