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Opinion & Analysis

#ThinkingAllowed: Overcrowded roads need community response

Statistics, statistics, statistics. Useful as they are, they sometimes only serve to confirm what we already know – that we have too many cars on our roads.

Statistics released last month in the UK showed serious overcrowding in trains. Some Southern rail services are carrying more than twice as many passengers as they were designed for making them the most congested in the country last year.

This is what happens when demand exceeds capacity. Again, I can tell you without the need for graphs or pie charts how squashed London trains and tubes are – I see it every day. The same has been happening on our roads for a long time – they are overcrowded with vehicles.

The Government is working hard to address the issue and recently launched the Sustainable Traffic, Transport and Parking Plan (STTPP). It says there are around 19,000 cars and 11,000 motorbikes in Gibraltar. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out numbers for Gibraltar’s adult population.

It’s a comprehensive document but no amount of glossy pictures or information is going to convince people to just leave their cars and motorbikes and walk instead.

As GBC reported this week Gibraltar is the country with the greatest number of vehicles, per KM of road, in the world. We double that of Monaco, ranked second.

Perhaps it’s no surprise given our size and the fact that as a community generally we are not great walkers.

The new Airport access tunnel, scheduled for completion by the end of 2018 will alleviate traffic congestion but with cross border traffic having increased by 75% in 10 years from 2000 even the plan acknowledges that extensive delays from the frontier to the town centre can be expected after the new road has opened.

So, can there really be a solution? I don't think providing more parking spaces is one.

It’s refreshing to see the plan promises a strategy serving “the next 10 years and beyond”. This is exactly the approach Gibraltar needs - solutions that outlive a current term of government. Sometimes politicians may be more focused on what’s going to get them re-elected rather than on what may be a radical, unpopular solution.

The Minister for Transport has a tough task ahead. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes because no matter the decisions taken groups of people will be upset - if it's not one it will be another.

The full extent of measures and decisions this government will make on the matter remain to be seen – if we need them to be drastic, will they be?

Look at Dubrovnik. One of Europe’s top summer travel destinations has announced plans to drastically limit the number of tourists visiting its historic city centre. It’s a controversial move which will also have financial implications but one its new Mayor feels is necessary.

It’s a measure to tackle tourist overflow and will affect cruise passengers calling there.

Mayor Mato Frankovic said: “I’m not here to make people happy but to make the quality of life [in the city] better”.

Governments are elected to govern not to be popular and sometimes brave and unpopular decisions are needed.

If we want solutions to our traffic problem a similar policy like a cap on the number of cars may need to be seriously considered.

An improved public transport network with more constant bus flow also needs to be considered.

But the changes don’t only need to come from an official level. We also need to focus on this as a community. When I’m in London I forget how lazy I become in Gibraltar. When I’m away from Gibraltar it’s quite easy for me to do my daily 10,000 steps (as measured by my Fitbit). When I’m in Gibraltar I’m more happy to not even think about it. Almost like the diet that we plan to start tomorrow.

It means I'm happy to jump on my motorbike to pop to the store just round the corner to buy some bread or to meet friends at Casemates, despite the fact that the walk there from my Gib flat is less than the time it takes me to walk from my London home to the nearest tube station!

We all do it and let’s face it many of us have joked about the fact that parents would drive their children into the classroom if they could or that we ourselves would want to park just outside our living room door. This is if it's not raining because once the first few drops fall you know the traffic jam is inevitable.

I really do hope we can make major changes but I'm realistic and feel it may be somewhat of a fantasy. I'm currently visiting home and have emailed this column in - had I needed to hand it in in person at the office of the Gibraltar Chronicle I would probably have taken the car or motorbike!

Our mindset needs to change before any transport plan stands the remotest chance of heading towards the road to success.

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