Guest post by PAF - Project Aegle Foundation
Air quality has become quite the surprising hot topic since the COVID-19 outbreak. No one would have guessed or hoped for the impressive effect global lock downs would have had on the air we breathe. With 20% of the world in lock down and emission decline of up to 60% recorded in European cities, no more excuses can be made regards the immense impact fuel driven vehicles have on air quality.
We all know that cars pollute, take up public space and do little for social cohesion and community. Yet despite this knowledge, we still hop into our cars with a nonchalant ease as if we are not part of the problem.
Air purity has become a forgotten commodity. Whilst once we could celebrate the blessing of clean sea air flooding our lungs, we slowly submerged into a fog of exhaust without batting an eyelid. Indeed, one of the major side-effects of our traffic congested island is poor air quality. Figures in 2019 show that Malta experiences more air-pollution related deaths than the EU average, translating into 5 deaths a week, plus 5 new cases of asthma a day, not to mention other respiratory afflictions. Pre-COVID, over half a million trips were made daily by private vehicles, causing 34% of local greenhouse emissions, including air pollutants such as fine particulate matter.
All this congestion crams itself onto infrastructure that is around 28 years old. This implies that traffic jams are taking place within our village cores and on roads not built to handle such volume of cars. On top of that, it is when a car constantly accelerates and stops that it uses most fuel, and therefore pumps out most pollutants. Whilst one may assume that pedestrians and cyclists are most affected by this exhaust, studies have revealed that air inside the car is 15 times more polluted than the air outside of it. Sitting in the car means we inhale our own exhaust and that of the cars next to us. This is especially problematic for roads termed “urban canyons” i.e. narrow streets with buildings on either side, where air pollution tends to stay trapped. Such urban canyons describe most of Malta’s present urban infrastructure. It is a vicious cycle taking place around where we live, work and shop, and right next to where our children play and go to school.
Perhaps what is most bleak about this picture is the passive resignation that nothing can be done about the traffic situation because nothing can be done unless one drives a car. We have allowed cars to invade our villages, walkways, squares, country lanes and sea sides, but also our minds. It begs the question – just how far are we willing to go to keep up this myth that the private car is the only solution?
The switch to a multi-modal future is the responsibility of us all. The power for change lies within us and the start of that journey begins with a single step (pun intended). Instead of stepping into your car, rethink your journey. Is there another way to get to where you need to go or obtain the service/product you require? Consider walking, using a scooter or a bicycle, or simply leave the car at home for one trip a week. Explore whether you can work from home instead of the office, use video conferencing, and propose the adoption of a green travel plan or strategies at your workplace.
Familiarise yourself with the mobility services available in your locality. Step up to your local councils and bring their attention to your communities’ mobility needs. Address obstructed walkways, faded pedestrian crossings, or highlight hazardous roads that can use speed management tools and pavements. Let us make our streets liveable again.
Visit PAF at www.paf.mt to learn more on how to make the switch!
Project Aegle Foundation is a Non-Profit Organisation