Three kinds of transport challenges
We love to share transport stories. They range from pure horror to pure farce, with a rich helping of comedy-horror, irony and absurdity in between. Such stories provide some relief and entertainment, of course, but they also highlight different kinds of challenges, which shouldn’t be conflated.
Consider these three images, each a vivid parable about our current transport predicament.
(1) The wide open ground beside the Floriana football field:
Once a space associated with physical sport and activity, now a huge car park. What better image of the private car’s stealthy takeover of our public spaces? (Private car use accounts for 84 per cent of all traffic on the roads and 75 per cent of all ‘mobility movements’, including walking.)
It doesn’t just occupy valuable space. It expects precedence, even while we deplore physical inactivity and an epidemic of obesity.
The popular, bottom-up pressure for ever greater provision of parking spaces is enormous. You can’t entirely blame the authorities for caving in. Malta has the fifth-highest proportion of vehicles per capita in the world.
The Floriana ground is just one example of how public demands – reasonable in themselves – end up being short-term solutions contrary to our long-term interests.
(2) In Nadur, a state-of-the-art charging point for electric cars:
Alas, it’s in the pedestrianised part of the piazza.
That’s just one example of the lack of joined-up thinking, so that one good thing cancels another. It indicates something seriously wrong in the strategic planning process.
(3) A road sign intended to get car drivers to respect cyclists and leave enough space by the kerb:
It’s a standard sign you can find in mainland Europe – and there’s the rub.
The sign was designed for roads where the kerb is on the right. Transplanted to Malta, without adaptation to our left-side driving, the sign actually conveys the message that cars should hug the kerb while cyclists should steer for the middle of the road… Apparently, it’s the cyclist who’s expected to overtake the cars.
We all could mention other favourite nonsensical road signs but the point here is not to establish another Only in Malta collection.
A mistake like this – sloppy standards or a glitch in the supervision system – doesn’t necessarily arise because the people at the top don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a managerial not a strategic issue.
Public recognition of, and support for, long-term interests, the authorities’ strategic vision, and administrative managerial competence are all important factors. They are of course interrelated. But they also need to be kept separate so that we are able to address each factor and not neglect it. Otherwise, a sustainable transport system will remain elusive.