Cape Town needs better bicycle lanes, network

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Local government has thrown its support behind World Car Free Day but researchers working on alternatives to motorised transport find inadequate infrastructure to enable a car-free Cape Town.

World Car Free Day was scheduled to run from midnight on September 22 to midnight September 23. Councillor Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, roads and stormwater, said in a statement this week that Capetonians should park their cars and use this “opportunity to use public transport”.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for car owners to explore the city on our public transport network. Together trains, buses and mini-buses reach many corners of the city, so whether you want to go to the beach, a shopping centre, or the CBD, you have the chance this Saturday,” said Herron.

“Travel on public transport, by bike or on foot keeps us and our environment healthy, giving us a taste of what life would be like without the noise, stress and pollution of cars.”

Lobbyists for a city that enables locals to get on a bike to commute say that there are a number of obstacles. So while in theory a car free city sounds like a plan, the city’s infrastructure is far from ready for this.

Cyclists in Cape Town need better bicylce lanes. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

The Cape Times recently went on an inner-city bicycle ride. A bicycle lane running on Adderley Street starts at the Golden Acre but hits a dead-end at Wale Street. Bicycle lanes are generally disconnected and inconsistent.

Routes leading down Somerset Road towards the Cape Town Stadium are meanwhile obscured with trees and dust bins. Signage is not always visible to indicate where a bicycle lane starts or ends. The result was a hazardous ride through the city with cars screeching not far behind.

Herron told the Cape Times that “cycle lanes and sidewalks that stop at a ‘dead end’ (would be) expanded through new projects as funding becomes available.”

“The vision is for an improved and completed network in the future,” says Herron.

“The strategy of implementing cycle lanes city-wide is fairly new and their implementation therefore constitutes a learning experience for the City.

“While some cycle lanes and sidewalks do have trees, signage and possibly trees located in them, there are a great number of cycle lanes which are unobstructed, such as the cycle lane along the R27.”

Khalied Jacobs and Sarah Patterson, the brains at Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers, are working on plans to create nodes in parts of the city that enable non-motorised transport. They also intend to connect bicycle commuters with public transport networks.

Patterson says that a lack of a “continuity of networks” is problematic and that the City would have to “design a cycling network with a few alternatives” as “not all roads need to have designated cycle lanes.”

“Safety is the main issue. We need proper signage and instructions relating to approaching intersections. We also need appropriate surfacing (for bicycle lanes), safe drop off zones, stopping zones and secure bike storage options,” says Patterson.

“We need safe passage from one intersection to another so that cyclists don’t feel vulnerable.”

Patterson says that public transport infrastructure projects will impact on whether locals use bicycles. She says that these transport hubs should connect with bicycle routes within the metropolis.

“The inherited structure of our city is about segregation and inequality where people are moved in large volumes from what is essentially a dormitory town to place of work, via large motorways that divide and isolate areas,” she says.

“Traditionally, public transport projects are addressed simply as engineering problems where solutions are devised on the basis of origin and destination calculations. We have to move beyond this reductive way of thinking.

“People are most mobile on foot and therefore, the streets, sidewalks and the public spaces flanking mobility corridors must facilitate and support pedestrian movement.”

Gail Jennings, an independent mobility researcher and cyclist, says the City’s “bicycle network is illegible”.

“There are some bike lanes which are bizarre. You come to an end and face four lanes of traffic and you have no place to go. There isn’t a coherent network,” she says.

Jennings says that best practise from other cities shows that City planning gets it wrong by placing cyclists on pavements next to pedestrians. Jennings says that bicycle lanes should be between pavements and parking spaces and not directly next to traffic lanes.

“Bike lanes should be on the road and not on the pavement. We also need advanced stop lines ahead of cars so that bicycles can move off first instead of being stuck in the gutter,” she says.

Jennings also urges the City to focus not only on the central business district when rolling out bicycle lanes.

“Most people who cycle in Cape Town don’t live near the central business district. Most people who cycle live in townships yet most of the bicycle planning if focused on the CBD is limiting it to people who have access to the CBD. These are generally wealthy people or those who have a car,” she says.

The City estimates that 350,000 people travel into central Cape Town each day and 210,000 of those travel in cars. Herron says the City wants to “convince ever-increasing numbers of car owners to use public transport.”

“Current private car usage trends are unsustainable from both an environmental and urban development perspectives,” he says.

Herron says the City will next week launch its ‘Share the Road’ campaign which “aims to create awareness that all (road) users need to be aware of each other, act responsibly and treat other road users with respect.”

“The City will engage further with the public through media releases that highlight the cycle facilities provided and the benefit of cycling. The City’s Travel SMART Programme also focuses on creating awareness and supporting cycling,” he says.

Cape Town’s citizens lay claim to pedal power

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Citizen-led initiatives are creating awareness about commuters who prefer not to use cars or other forms of motorised transport to get around.

Gail Jennings is the founder and publisher the Cape Town Bicycle Map. It maps a “network of safer, connected routes; locating bicycle lanes and parking; educating cyclists about their rights and responsibilities; and informing cyclists about bicycle signage.” Jennings also blogs about biking activities at

Bicycle Cape Town is a “community generated campaign to promote bicycle culture and advocate changes to transform the city into a truly bicycle-friendly city for all.”

Its website serves as a “crowd-sourcing platform where people can share ideas and stories about Cape Town’s emerging bicycle culture and suggest ideas to transform the city into a truly cycling-friendly place for all to enjoy.”

It also campaigns for a city with paths, parking, office facilities, signage and links to public transport for those who commute with a bicycle. This “coalition of local cycling and social initiatives” includes “bicycle enthusiasts, educators and activists”.

The Bicycle Empowerment Network, established in Cape Town in 2002, aims to “address poverty and mobility through the promotion of the bicycle.”

“It imports used bicycles from overseas and distributes them to low income areas, trains recipients of the bikes in safety and maintenance,” says the network.

“The bicycle is a large part of the solution to mobility and poverty alleviation. Our training programs are ensuring that bike recipients are safe and in control of their bikes, mechanically and otherwise.”

Open Streets Cape Town encourages visibility of bicycles in the city.

“It enables citizens to reclaim public urban spaces by creating a temporary network of car-free areas and routes throughout the city. It’s a healthy space for recreational activities that link communities and foster social integration,” say its pioneers.

Councillor Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, roads and stormwater, said this week that the City would support the first Open Streets event in October which is also Transport Month. Herron said this would “involve closing certain streets to motorised transport.”

“Our goal will be to integrate communities through promoting the use of non-motorised transport, or what has become known as ‘active mobility’,” he said.

This article was published in the Cape Times regional newspaper in the Western Cape, South Africa, on September 21 2012.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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