Malta
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Msida mayor apologises over Ta’ Xbiex traffic chaos

Msida mayor Margaret Baldacchino Cefai has apologised on behalf of the local council after a planned road closure ended up causing major gridlock in Ta’ Xbiex last week.

Last Friday, the Msida local council held a social event for residents in the evening as part of European Mobility, for which part of Triq ix-Xatt in Ta’ Xbiex was closed off.

However, the resulting traffic jam caused chaos and pandemonium for motorists, who reported being trapped in their vehicles for hours on end, as traffic refused to budge.

Baldacchino Cefai said that the council had all the necessary plans and permits to hold the event and that the plan was to close part of the road for a few hours so that the street could remain car-free, and games and activities could be held there instead.

Traffic management for the event was planned in the same way as is done for the feast, she continued, when the street is also closed to accommodate activities.

“We never had a situation like this unfold,” she said.

“When council members realised that traffic was not flowing as it was planned, in consultation with officials present, the decision was made to dismantle the structures and reopen the road.”

“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience that was caused.”

Baldacchino Cefai said that the council is seeking answers from the authorities to understand how the situation developed as traffic management is not within its remit. Transport Malta has not answered questions sent by Times of Malta.

Suzanne Maas, a sustainable mobility researcher and climate campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Malta, said that the incident exposed the underlying truth that Malta’s road network is completely overloaded.

“We are so close to the tipping point that if even one thing goes wrong, one road is closed by an accident or an event, then it can immediately push the system over the edge,” she said.

People’s frustration at being trapped in the gridlock is understandable, Maas said, especially if they’ve had disappointing experiences with public transport and alternative green mobility options. But in order to push a transition to better modes of transport, it does mean taking away some of the space currently being occupied by cars to facilitate and prioritise public transport and active mobility, she continued.

“We are staring down a one-way street because we cannot see a way forward with the alternatives but neither can we continue to rely on the car,” Maas said.

The country sorely needs a comprehensive network analysis that lays out how space can be better utilised and encourages more people to ditch their cars and provide a robust infrastructure for active mobility and priority lanes for buses and shared mobility.

“I think it should be possible for the council to close off a road for a one-off event and it’s a bit ridiculous that so much public space cannot be used for anything else but cars,” she continued.

“But people are frustrated every time such a closure impacts them, which we can all relate to.”

“We saw from the last household travel survey in 2021 that the percentage of trips by private car has increased by a staggering amount, to 84 per cent of all trips. Despite the fact that parts of the network have been improved, new bottlenecks will always emerge.”