There’s something of the ‘prodigal son’ in Cape Town’s planning for utility cycling: the impacts of climate change, declining urban quality, and a high regard for international best practice, have seen the city begin to beckon drivers from their vehicles with alternative infrastructure.
But the cyclist who has kept the pedals turning all along is left behind.
Take Muizenberg/Kalk Bay main road, for example. One of Cape Town’s most popular and scenic roads, it has been in continual use for more than 200 years, and was by 2006 in need of major repairs due to the weight of 19 000 vehicles travelling it daily.
The road is also one of the most popular with recreational and utility cyclists – it is one of only three routes connecting the south peninsula to the southern suburbs. The other two are the steep mountain passes of Ou Kaapse Weg and Boyes Drive (both with gradients of 7% in places).
It is a vital commuter route, albeit narrow and heavily congested with on-street parking on either side of the road. It was earmarked for bicycle infrastructure as part of the City’s Velo-Mondial award-winning (2007) Bicycle Master Plan. Transport engineers prepared a concept plan for the road upgrade, including ‘excess land’ from the rail reserve (owned by state entity Transnet) to widen the road and include a narrow (1.3m) bicycle lane. However, bicycle lanes were not included on the final plans, and have as a result not been implemented.
The local authority cited lack of road space, no evident need nor sufficient request for bicycle lanes, and a budget for upgrade only (not capacity improvement) as the reason. However, cycling is now safer, says the City, as the road camber is flatter, and the drainage channel is less steep, so ‘cyclists can now ride almost on the channel edge [ie, the gutter].’
Public participation meetings were advertised in the local and neighbourhood press and radio, as well as with mail drops and posters. Interested and affected residents also commented on the plans by email. But Cape Town’s Pedal Power Association (South Africa’s largest recreational and racing cycling club with 15 000 members), among the 400 interested and affected parties on the City’s, says that it did not have an opportunity to comment.
Weekday mornings and evenings see approximately 30-40 utility cyclists travel this narrow stretch of road, a number which the City of Cape Town regards as “very few’. Interviews with these commuters points to perhaps 10% of them living within the public participation ‘catchment’ area; most live some 12-20 km beyond the area in question, and traverse this route on their way to work. When questioned, they were not aware of public participation opportunities, and are not listed as interested and affected parties.
AJ, 50, who works as a gardener and has been commuting by bicycle for four years along this road. He said the road was not safe for cycling, but ‘I save money when I travel on my bicycle.” He said he had narrowly escaped being knocked over by a car twice last year alone. ‘With bicycle lanes it could have been much better,” said January. ‘Sometimes I get so frustrated I just turn back for home. They are fixing the pipes and parking but they don’t provide for bicycles. Why must we come short,’ he asked. Harbour worker
HS, 67, who had been cycling on and off for eight years, said that once the roadworks were finished it was going to be “OK” for motorists, although it was still going to be difficult for cyclists. ‘Sometimes you just have to put up with things,’ he said.
To date [May 2011], the road upgrade has cost ZAR 100-million in public funds.
Extract (c) Gail Jennings: SOUTH AFRICAN CITY STUDIES CONFERENCE: 7-9 SEPTEMBER 2011 Cities for two wheels: rethinking bicycle planning for the rapidly urbanising context