Archive post: On Your Bicycle – Cape Town Central City Partners Forum, 19 April

“If you are on a bicycle, you understand your city so much better.”

There’s no doubt about it – the use of bicycles is vital to creating more liveable cities for all citizens. It is one of the key points made in the “Our Cities Ourselves Exhibition: The Future of Transportation in Urban Life”, organized by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and displayed recently at the Freeworld Coating Design Centre. It’s a point which the Cape Town Partnership and the Central City Improvement District support wholeheartedly. The reasons are obvious – if you’re on a bike, you take up less space, use fewer resources and contribute to a far healthier environment and to your own health. Just as importantly, if you are on a bicycle, you understand your city so much better.

Paris on a bike

“Three years ago, I was ignored by everyone in Paris. I was on a bicycle, riding through the city, on no infrastructure. Nobody hooted, cursed or swore at me. In fact, nobody paid me any attention at all!”

These were the words of Gail Jennings, urban cyclist and editor of Mobility Magazine, when she addressed the Central City Partners Forum on 19 April.

“There I was, on a bike, and perfectly safe, despite the lack of infrastructure for bicycles. That, for me, is a crucial point,” said Jennings.

“It demonstrates that there are ways other than infrastructure to promote cycling in a city.”

The theme of the Forum, tying up with the theme of the ITDP exhibition, was “Liveable Cities”.

“It’s crucial to integrate transport modes”

Jennings said the creation of cycling infrastructure is time-consuming and can be controversial. “Infrastructure and partitioning of lanes is not the panacea. Policy-makers sometimes fail to take into account the other crucial issues.”

In Jennings’ view, these include integrating the various transport modes to accommodate bicycles, for instance by allowing bicycles on trains.

“In Cape Town, if you start out on your bike in the morning, you have no option but to go home on your bike. We don’t have that crucial integration with the other modes of transport.”

Jennings added: “We don’t have safe bike parking. We do have some parking, but it is not all safe. Secondly, it is so much safer to cycle where road speeds are much lower. Decreasing road speeds is another non-structural intervention which would make a big difference to cyclists in Cape Town.”

Send a clear message: “Bikes are legitimate”

Turning to her experience in Paris, Jennings said: “Paris is not big on bike lanes. Bicycles were made legitimate because a clear message was sent to all citizens that they were legitimate. In South Africa, we don’t have that clear message. We don’t have legislation to create a bike-friendly environment. That needs to be looked at.”

Theuns Kok, senior officer in the Universal Access and Non-Motorised Section of the City’s Transport Department said there is, without doubt, a role for pedestrians and cyclists in Cape Town in the future.

He described how the face of the City is changing in the way it functions, citing the impact the World Cup Soccer experience and the Fan Walk had had on pedestrianising the City.

Kok said non-motorised transport is an important part in the City’s travel chain. The fact that pedestrians are still vulnerable road users remains a concern.

He said Non-Motorised Transport has been highlighted in the national government strategy, with the Department of Transport’s draft NMT policy of 2009 highlighting its importance.

Turning to the City’s NMT programme, Kok said the project’s focus is to develop a comprehensive City-wide pedestrian and cycle network that aims to provide linkages between residential areas and public transport, employment areas, public facilities and amenities.

“Cape Town leads the NMT agenda”

Kok said Cape Town is leading the NMT agenda in South Africa, with metropolitan councils from key cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban visiting the City to learn.

Cape Town Partnership CE Andrew Boraine said in Copenhagen, Denmark, 37 percent of all citizens cycle to work, while 50 percent use bikes every day.

He said the concept of a liveable city should extend to the poorest neighbourhoods of a city. A key component of a liveable city is its alternative modes of transport.

The ITDP exhibition provides a menu for cities to learn from in terms of creating liveable cities, he added.



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  1. Interesting Danish statistics from Andrew Boraine. However, one has surely to take the location into consideration. I’m sure that the 37% cyclists don’t have far to go and – I might be wrong – don’t have to contend as often with winds as hostile as ours. I can’t imagine that many of them have to cycle a distance equivalent, let’s say, to Khayelitsha to Mowbray. And back again. At present workers have to contend with expensive public transport (relative to their salaries at least). Cycling presents an attractive alternative, until one factors in time and effort spent getting to work and back. Very early starts and returns might make it less viable for many.

    • Hi Martin – absolutely (and I’ve seldom seen the challenge so elegantly explained!) We get so overcome by wanting to replicate international best practice, but our context is so overwhelmingly different! We need honesty and local solutions, not just ‘let’s copy the Dutch or the Danish’…

  2. Here’s our experiment in cycling from the outer reaches of the Cape Metropolitan area, Philadelphia (up the N7 on the way to Malmesbury) to Cape Town: Country back roads and then the new cycle route from where it begins in Big Bay.

    Long distance and foul weather on the day make it an irrational commute but just to leave the car at home and have done the trip does make you feel a bit less dependent on internal combustion.

  3. I am born i Denmark used to live, work and cycle in Copenhagen, am now living in Cape Town and trying to do the same. I used to cycle about 15 km to work and 15 km home every day, no there are not very strong winds as we get in Cape Town, but i Copenhagen we get a lot of rain, it is very cold for many months af the year. Where there is a will there is a way.
    I will be blogging about cycling in Cape Town, from the view of a Dane, used to the Danish facilities.

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