Din l-Art Helwa newsletter February 2011

As society evolves, so do concerns about the urban environment. The impact of traffic on both residential and business areas is a chief preoccupation nowadays. Managing the streets is a complicated issue in urban areas all over the world, and likewise here in Malta. Our streets are congested, and our public transport system is still inadequate. We have narrow streets, too many cars, and too few parking facilities. A snarl of traffic lies in wait at every corner.

Following the recent proposals to pedestrianise Bisazza Street in Sliema, a concern that immediately emerged was the impact that the new traffic flow would have on residents and shops in the area. Bisazza street has long been a popular shopping street with pavements that are small and unattractive. Wider pavements would surely be welcome and embellish the street. But people are worried that diverting the traffic might have an adverse effect on neighbouring areas.

The ongoing extension of the school at Tal-Virtu in Rabat has also provoked concerns from the residents, who are worried that increased traffic might change their neighbourhood. Questions of traffic flow and parking facilities are also starting to dominate the eternal controversy over the regeneration of the city gate area. One major concern here is the loss of the important road over the gate itself.

Traffic problems are inextricably linked to issues of parking. If adequate parking is available, it is naturally far more straightforward to pedestrianise streets in key shopping and business areas. However while we hear a lot about traffic flow, we hear relatively little about proposed parking areas besides park and ride facilities. Park and ride is a good solution for certain commuters, however it is also essential to provide car parks within walking distance of the main areas.

Granted, it is not easy to find the right locations, especially in historic or densely populated areas. Proposals for underground car parks at Balluta Bay and in St George’s Square in Valletta were both quickly abandoned last year due to their potential negative impact. However both these proposals were located right in the centre of popular and historic areas, where it is anyway difficult to do anything at all, and the search for suitable locations for car parks should press on.

When new car parks are eventually built, care must be taken to ensure that they do not create an eyesore. Car parks are generally not pretty places. The car park near the bus terminus outside Valletta provides an essential service to the city, however it is hideous to look at. It is a great pity that no attention was paid to the aesthetics of this building when it was constructed in the ‘90s, which has resulted in a poor quality development located just outside the city walls.

Another vital factor is the reform of the public transport system, which is currently underway. If this service improves considerably, it may well ease some congestion on the streets. However it is also essential that the provision of parking spaces must be placed high on the agenda, if the traffic situation is to be improved in the long term.

Dr Petra Bianchi is executive president of Din l-Art Helwa