How many times do you find yourself stuck in traffic on your way to work? Or stuck in traffic on your way back home, when all you are thinking about is a hot shower and some hot food? And then when it is pouring heavily, isn’t it a nightmare? Traffic on rainy days seems to duplicate, as things get slower and everything seems to come to a halt. I think the above is the story of each one of us every single day, trying to keep calm hoping to arrive in time for work, appointments, classes, meetings, University etc. School starts in September and it’s a mess; a lot of cars on the streets, honking horns, impatient drivers, and cars parked wherever, continue to add on to the hustle and bustle on our streets. Have you tried leaving home at different times on different days just to pick up the best time to leave the house to avoid traffic? I did! And even tried different routes; it helps but it’s still frustrating to take more time than actually necessary to travel in Malta.
Then I heard someone say that he cycles his way to Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) every day. A few days later, the issue of local traffic was mentioned at the gym I attend; Sky Spirit Fitness Lounge – Malta, and our training and fitness instructor Emanuel Mangion mentioned the fact that he uses his e-bike daily to travel to work, gym, visiting his mum, shopping; practically everywhere. He told me that he knows a few other people who do so as well. I was curious and had a good conversation about this subject with Manuel who explained further about the use of a bike on a daily basis.
Manuel’s main reason for opting to use a bike as means of travelling has been that of avoiding traffic and parking problems. Apart from overcoming these issues, it served as a good way to keep fit and increase cardiovascular activity, as there is no impact on the knees when cycling compared to running. This choice has led Manuel to buy an electric bike (Pedelec) which can assist you when cycling long distances or steep slopes. It makes cycling easier in our sweaty summer conditions, ensuring he arrives for work presentable. Manuel confessed that the bike has become “addictive” and is now part of his daily lifestyle. He doesn’t simply go to work with the bike, but he also uses it to take his dog Luna for a 3km walk every evening. Indeed, he bought a carrier for his dog to attach to the bike, bright in colour to attract attention and be visible on the road.
But what does Manuel do for a living that enables him to cycle to work? It must be within close proximity to his hometown. Actually, his full-time job is that of a peripatetic teacher where he has sessions in 3 different local schools each day, aiding students with hearing impairment in their subject weaknesses. Manuel’s example of a typical day starts with him leaving his home in Siggiewi to travel to his first school in Kirkop; from Kirkop to Sliema, the last session from Sliema to Pembroke; and finally, either he pedals to do the errands, gym, or back home in Siggiewi. Approximately, Manuel takes 25-30 minutes by motorcycle to travel from Pembroke to Siggiewi (i.e. the longest route he has), and about 43 minutes by his e-bike. He chooses to take a slightly longer distance with the bike (in order to avoid some dangerous tunnels), which is more or less just 15 minutes more. Despite opting for a bike, Manuel clearly states that traffic rules still need to be followed, with extra attention when it comes to traffic lights and clear hand signals to other drivers.
Most probably, locals’ main concern would be winter and rainy days. Fair enough! Manuel mentioned that it’s kind of added fun in the rain with an over-all waterproof suit i.e. practically a big boiler suit that covers all. This prevents the individual from getting all wet, but more important to have are the safety garments. It is crucial to wear a helmet, proper shoes, a high-vis vest, and the best anti-pollution cycling mask one can find. At night it becomes even more difficult for cyclists to be perceived by cars, and so having good lights added to your bicycle and anything that helps visibility is a big must. However, my main concern was that of safety; are Maltese roads safe enough? What about cycle lanes in Malta? Manuel stated that the safest riding comes during peak traffic hours when cars are slow and drivers more cautious. Otherwise, roundabouts, tunnels and by-passes are a complete nightmare. Manuel pointed out how cycle lanes suddenly discontinue making it impossible to follow. Unfortunately, when new roads are planned, flyovers built, and other infrastructure takes place, we do not cater enough for cyclists. Thankfully, it seems that Transport Malta have started acknowledging cyclists, as meetings with the Bicycling Advocacy Group have been taking place to allow cyclists to voice their concerns, aiming at improving cycling infrastructure. Hopefully some form of action takes place.
I asked Manuel about what can be done to improve the traffic situation in Malta and encourage the use of a bike and car-pooling locally. He recommended the increase of bicycle racks in schools and educational sessions that encourage fitness, sports, and the use of such mode of transport as a lifestyle. In promoting walking or cycling short distances, we could maybe contribute to a change in the current horrible statistics of obesity Malta is sinking in. Some catchy publicity towards cyclists on local television during prime-time might also help in bringing some change in mentality. The implementation of showers in local entities can further encourage the use of a bike, as employees would have the possibility to refresh themselves with a shower after a ride and before starting their day of work. Manuel also suggested the investment in safer infrastructure that can reduce the fear of injury on the streets. Moreover, investing in efficient and trustworthy public transport would most probably increase the threshold of people using it, minimizing the number of cars on the streets. Manuel mentioned the grants given by the government in buying a bike (up to 85 Euro in buying a normal bike and up to 250 Euro in buying an e-bike) which is a brilliant incentive, but maybe not enough of an incentive for most? He suggested that at least the government could perhaps refund the full VAT back, mentioning that in other countries, government schemes for those who pedal to work are more attractive.
Finally, both Manuel and I acknowledge the fact that it is not easy to ride a bike and upkeep it for travelling, but when there is a will there is way; the biggest barrier is a mental one. This is equally possible for everyone no matter of whether you are fit or not. Manuel suggests trying some routes during the weekend or free time to get used to the bike and get comfortable on the streets; find roads that are not so busy to get used to the feel, and maybe check out how much it takes to arrive to your workplace on a bike. You would be surprised. However, one must build it up gradually, calculating the time you take to move from Destination A to Destination B to slowly implement it as part of your lifestyle. Who knows? It may even end up on your list of hobbies in the long run.
“Riding a bike helps you to remain young and active; it helps reduce the problem of obesity/costs of government healthcare; it reduces traffic and the number of cars on the streets; minimizes parking problems; helps cutting down on fuel costs; and favours the environment as exhaust is reduced big time. However, the most important factor out of all is – FUN; the feel good vibe on a bike is what will keep you hooked.” – Emanuel Mangion.