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Cycling…have we overlooked anything in mobility?

Prof. Adrian Muscat

Cycling is a transport mode that we have certainly overlooked. We know that 30% of car trips in European urban areas cover less than 3km. We know that bicycles are much more efficient than cars in urban areas and can be very effective in reducing congestion. In addition, cycling comes with a bonus of health benefits and is much more efficient when compared to walking.

Many people enjoy cycling when a minimum of favourable conditions are met[1]. Most often we discount cycling on grounds of hot weather and on the road vulnerability, but increasingly on inhaling foul air. As we will see these three discouraging factor are interlinked. So what can we do to promote cycling?

Local councils play a huge role in promoting cycling within the locality, where roads are typically safer and a good percentage of streets are sheltered from the sun, especially in old towns. Redistribution of open space and priority crossings on through roads will go a long way to promote local cycling. Local councils can also help in improving driver behavior with appropriately located signs. Such action will probably have a positive effect on inter-town commuting, where it is more difficult and costly to deal with air-borne pollution, extreme weather and road vulnerability.

Cyclists are physically challenged on inter-town road, mostly due to unruly driver behavior taking the form of over-speeding and/or careless driving mostly due to distraction, leading us to speed control and driver monitoring, which is a topic on its own. Briefly, its not only about having more effective speed control but also the consideration of deploying technology that on one hand monitors driver behavior and on the other hand alerts drivers when cyclists are spotted on the road. Nonetheless, the danger remains there although reduced. Instead, the provision of segregated paths for inter-town commuting provides a much higher degree of protection for the cyclists. Of course, it costs more to build.

Lets imagine roads full of electric cars. This eliminates foul air and would definitely encourage more cyclists on the road. But we can’t see this happening soon. In any case physical safety on the roads is still an issue. So the solution is to build segregated inter town path links away from the busy roads.

So what can we do?

Given that small and large polluting vehicles will be present on the roads for quite a while we can consider the following:

  • Local councils should do their best in promoting cycling for local mobility by considering a redistribution of public space, installing cycling infrastructure and discouraging the use of local streets for through traffic.
  • Local councils can team up to open corridors for cyclists through the less polluted residential streets that link neighbouring towns. Some work has been done in this respect by the local cycling NGOs.
  • The ultimate measure that will really promote nation-wide cycling is the building of inter-town covered cycling paths that will protect the cyclist from both sun and rain. A good example is a link in between Lija/Balzan and University. Such a corridor would see an exponential rise in cycling among university student and staff population.

And, if we are troubled with sweating our way to work we can always invest in an electric version…it still leaves us with some space for a healthy exercise.

Have we overlooked anything? Oh yes… please do not ride a petrol driven bicycle where people walk and live. Instead invest in an electric drive.

 

[1] cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/cycling/cycling_en.pdf

  • Jim Wightman

    A bit twee but nearly there. Actually protected cycle lanes cost far less that you would imagine and the health benefits can bear social cost savings far in excess of the expense of building them. By far the biggest barriers are peoples fear of cars when cycling, so there need to be cycling protection measures and the curse of two way streets with parking on one side, made into one ways to double the parking space. We need to make cycling safe but also efficient. Most cycle commuting trips in Malta average 5,6Km each way and our distances are really doable. The secret re. pollution is to provision quieter routes as you say, but we are actually finding that car drivers and residents next to main roads are far more likely to expose themselves to more pollution. This is because of the fact that cyclists pass through congested polluted roads more quickly, while getting just 50m away (diving down back roads) can really drive down that exposure level. Oh and the good news is cycling accidents are falling, while levels of riders are rising. Be part of the change.