Durban’s bike lanes punctured by EIA regulations…

November 16 2011 at 12:53pm
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Tony Carnie – copyright The Mercury, txs to Brandon van Eeden for heads-up…

When Fifa executives returned to Switzerland with their bulging swag bag of soccer loot last year, ordinary South Africans could at least take some comfort from the fact that the World Cup turned out to be a memorable month of celebration and distraction.

Several cities also ended up with some very expensive (if now mostly underutilised) soccer stadiums, along with upgrades to several roads, beachfront areas and other amenities.

There were also other less tangible benefits from international media exposure and the earlier-than-planned construction of the new King Shaka International Airport.

But the UN COP17 climate change summit, which kicks off in Durban on November 28, will be a much more sombre affair.

And apart from copious volumes of political hot air, much finger-pointing and procrastination, the host city is unlikely to benefit from major physical legacy projects once the delegates have flown home.
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eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo

INLSA

However, there is one modest city project which could start shifting Durban towards healthier and more climate-friendly transport solutions.

This involves the gradual expansion of the city’s cycling routes and pedestrian paths to encourage people to get out of their private cars and to start pedalling or walking at least part of the way to work.

As part of the Greening COP17 programme, the eThekwini municipality was hoping to complete a new cycling and pedestrian pathway from Blue Lagoon to the Umgeni River Bird Park, but it now seems unlikely that this will be completed before the end of the conference.

Ironically, perhaps, the project has been held up partly by the public consultation requirements of the country’s environmental impact assessment laws.

Carlos Esteves, deputy head of road system management in the eThekwini Transport Authority, says he is not sure whether the new cycle link along the north bank of the Umgeni River can be completed before the end of COP17 and the project might only finish in January or February.

Nevertheless, his department is pressing ahead with several pilot projects as part of a more ambitious Green Circle of cycling and walking routes.

Once the cycling and pedestrian promenade from uShaka to the Umgeni River Bird Park is completed, the idea is to gradually extend the route to link up to Burman Bush, Botanic Gardens and Bulwer Park, and possibly southwards to Umbilo.

Esteves said the authority set up a working group shortly after the World Cup to develop a broad strategy on cycling and walking, and the climate conference was seen as the ideal opportunity to initiate some of these paths.

With financial assistance from the German government, the UN Industrial Development Organisation and the national Department of Environmental Affairs, the city is hoping to procure up to 600 bikes for accredited delegates to explore the city or pedal to the conference from their hotels at no cost.

The city has also mapped out a number of “spines” to link the ICC and Durban beachfront to the Botanic Gardens and Wilson’s Wharf.

All the bikes will be retained by the city at the end of the conference so that they will be available for future events.

Esteves acknowledged that it could be “a challenge” to ensure that all bicycles were returned, especially if the city were to set up a public Bikeshare system similar to those used by several European cities.

To ensure that the bikes come back, some Spanish cities require visitors to pay a suitable deposit or hand in their passports, while local residents have to pre-register by providing their ratepayer/utility bill details.

“I’m not sure that Durban is ready for that kind of system yet because we still have quite a way to go to bring cycling into people’s minds.

“At the moment we are going for some quick wins, mostly where there is space to accommodate these routes next to the existing motorised traffic routes.”

In some areas it might be necessary for cyclists to share a route with motorised traffic if there was no space to accommodate a separate lane for cyclists.

“I’m reluctant to introduce shared lanes until motorists become more aware of the safety of cyclists, but we think we may have found a route from the city to Umhlanga using the existing road networks through residential areas.”

The eThekwini Transport Authority was also examining options for a cycle/pedestrian lane to Durban North via Swapo Avenue (Broadway).

Other possible cycling routes under discussion include a 2km pathway to allow youngsters to cycle from Albert Park to a school in the Addington area. In the longer term, the city hopes to offer commuters more options to walk or pedal to work in the central business district by providing “park and pedal” areas, or via new rail and bus transit points.

However, planners would have to be creative to get around the fact that the city’s inner city road network was built to handle a two-hour motorised traffic peak in the early morning and evening.

And while it is still early days, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo has provided political momentum by pledging to cycle to the city hall once a week from his home in Pinetown.

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