Beijing’s bicycles

A comment in the Times online relative to my article published yesterday reminded me of the following article which I published in 2007.


published in the Times August 11, 2007

by Carmel Cacopardo


A popular song points out that “there are nine million bicycles in Beijing”. Unfortunately, the advent of “progress” in Beijing is also affecting their use as cars are taking over. Ten to 15 years ago Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was still quite a sight with interminable rows of bicycles in their racks awaiting their users’ return close to the same spots which had seen military tanks squash the students’ revolt in June 1989.

Locally, we can easily do away with the use of a car when travelling short distances. Yet, notwithstanding, bicycle use in Malta is surprisingly limited. It is unfortunately not part of our way of life.

The bicycle’s benefits are multifold: physical fitness, cleaner air to breath , quieter and safer roads and a healthier balance of payments through the use of less fossil fuels and cars! It is a sustainable means of transport.

According to ADT (the Transport Authority), only 0.3 per cent of all trips in Malta are carried out through the use of a bicycle. ADT has in the recent past introduced bicycle lanes in a number of localities. In addition, within the context of the Park and Ride Project between Blata-l-Bajda and Valletta, commuters have been given the option of using a bicycle instead of making use of the mini-bus service. The number making use of this option is apparently very small.

ADT’s initiative of introducing bicycle lanes was appropriate and could easily be extended. On its own it is, however, insufficient. It requires a coordinated effort involving the ministries responsible for sports, health, environment and local councils in addition to the ministry responsible for transport. As a first step they should get their heads together to encourage cycling as a sport, simultaneously encouraging us to use bicycles to improve our health, thereby reducing pollution and laying the foundations for a sustainable transport policy even at a local level. It should not involve any substantial expense. Local councils could take the initiative through drafting and implementing a local environmental programme of action within the framework of Local Agenda 21 which 15 years after the Rio Earth Summit is still missing from our local policies. Very little information on cycling in Malta is available on the web. An exception being ADT which has posted an informative feature on its introduction of cycle lanes and also comments on the issue in its 2006 Annual Report.

The National Sustainability Strategy (still in draft form) recognises the need to promote a sustainable transport system. Land-use activities, states the Sustainable Development Strategy should “be located in such a way as to reduce the need for travel or such that travel can be carried out by transport modes with reduced environmental impacts” (paragraph 3.1.9). Cycling is one such transport mode.

Encouraging cycling is a challenge not just for central government but also for local councils. Especially those councils which are within a short distance of each other. They can cooperate and encourage cycling instead of the use of cars when travelling short distances. They have, however, to ensure that cyclists are not exposed to unnecessary dangers when on the road.

Our roads and streets have been designed more for the car and less for the human person. We need to claim them back for our use. More of our roads and streets need to be off limits to cars. Our local councils should claim back on our behalf streets and roads such that together with our children we can walk or cycle without fear and be able to breathe some fresh air in our urban environment. This is an area in which neighbouring local councils can cooperate through developing a common local transport policy.

Improvements in our quality of life will be just one of the results! We will certainly not have nine million bicycles on our roads, but a substantial number just the same.