It’s not (only) about the bike lanes – CT Mayor ‘inspects’ Khayelitsha NMT facilities

Following Cosatu’s provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich’s recent attack on the DA-led City for building dedicated bicycle lanes in a wealthy area in Table View, Cape Town’s executive mayor Alderman Dan Plato showcased dedicated bicycle lanes built along spine road in Khayelitsha to make a point that bicycle lanes do exist in poor suburbs as well.

Accompanied by Mayoral Committee Member of Road and Transport Elizabeth Thompson and City officials, Plato cycled a stretch of about 4.8-km of dedicated bicycle lanes along Spine Road in Khayelitsha on Friday afternoon (6 May 2011).

“It’s not the case that bicycle lanes are built in affluent suburbs only,” he says. The infrastructure along Khayelitsha’s Spine Road is in no way inferior to that of the Milnerton to Parklands infrastructure, he pointed out. “In fact, the infrastructure here is exceptionally good.”

We do have infrastructure in place …we just need to extend the infrastructure to more parts of Khayelitsha and need to encourage the cyclists of this area to use the lanes,” he said, “ We can create whatever infrastructure we like but unless people use it, it means nothing. People complain that the infrastructure is not used.”

While inspecting the infrastructure, Alderman Plato handed out reflective wristbands to people using the route – none of whom were cyclists… But although the visitors did not encounter any other cyclists on the route, the facilities are enthusiastically used by scholars and other pedestrians. Which is no bad thing, of course. That’s also for whom they are designed.

Elias Tukushe, Head of NMT for the City, explained that Non-Motorised Transport refers to walking, cycling, and animal-drawn transport as well as skateboarding, in fact, any form of transport that doesn’t use an engine. “The term does not refer to cycling alone, and NMT infrastructure is not built for bicycles only,” he said. “This is why we are happy to see how many school learners and others are using the lanes every day to safely get around.”

Cllr Elizabeth Thompson said that similar infrastructure has been built in other disadvantaged communities such as Belhar, Athlone, and Gugulethu, and that the City had spent R300m on NMT infrastructure city wide.

She also said that while the lanes were mostly used by pedestrians and scholars, it could also be that the many cycling residents of Khayelitsha were not aware that bicycles were permitted on the lanes – and that the visit aimed to raise awareness that these are not traditional sidewalks where bicycles are unwelcome, she explained. The high cost of bicycles in South Africa also prevents many would-be cyclists in poorer areas from riding a bicycle as transport, suggested.

The visit formed part of the City’s ongoing, broader strategy to reduce road fatalities and public safety, which includes the restructuring of urban public space to promote a feeling of safety and security in the area.  The public space project was part of the Expanded Public Works Programme, making use of local labour and sub-contractors with accredited training.

“It is not only about better walking and cycling facilities, but about a liveable and vibrant community environment,” says Tukushe. “These public squares are already showing great success – there are bus stops, trading areas, elderly people and young kids mingling, walking, riding, being together in safer spaces. There are traffic calming measures, improved intersections and thriving economic activity. So our work is not about counting the numbers of cyclists, but seeing an improvement in the way people are able to inhabit public space.”

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