Special Reports

Two wheels good

Mandi Smallhorne

Tthe rise in deaths on South African roads has outstripped the increase in the vehicle population over the past 50 years

Cyclists and pedestrians are at risk in areas that do not make space for them. (Madelene Cronjé)

Mandi Smallhorne

More than 14 000 people die on South Africa's roads every year, of which about 40% are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists.

One motorcyclist is killed every 12 hours, putting this total at well over 700 a year. Between 250 and 300 cyclists die and 800-odd are injured every year.

Earlier this year the transport minister at the time, Sibusiso Ndebele, launched a 10-year campaign called Think Pedestrian.

The campaign aims to improve the behaviour of all road users — those on foot and those on wheels — to bring down the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Alcohol is involved in more than 60% of pedestrian deaths. Two other important factors determine pedestrian safety: visibility and road conditions.

Pedestrians are killed crossing roads or walking alongside them at dusk and dawn when they are difficult for drivers to see, or in areas where conditions for pedestrians are unsafe. Therefore a lot of the focus of Think Pedestrian is on identifying and fixing dange-rous hot-spots.

For two-wheeler traffic, other solutions are required. Independent non-motorised transport consultant Gail Jennings, publisher of the South African bicycle map series, said Cape Town launched MyCiti Bike Ways (segregated bicycle lanes) early in 2011.

"Durban, Joburg, Polokwane and Tshwane all have non-motorised transport plans and bicycle lanes and pedestrian upgrades planned," said Jennings.

Many of the "bicycle facilities" in Cape Town are lines painted on the road or sidewalks allocated to cyclists, which do not necessarily make cycling safer or more popular.

"It's not only about the quality of the infrastructure and engineering; it's important to focus on the quality of the network, the connectivity. It is about people and behaviour and movement patterns."

The more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer they will be. When cyclists become a feature of traffic, other vehicle users start seeing them as part of the traffic, rather than something getting in the way of the traffic, she said.

Of course, motorcyclists are also often seen as getting in the way of the traffic. Paul Fawkes, who trains motorcyclists at Rotorookies in Gauteng, has vast experience of the potentially fatal mistakes new bikers make. The most common is to "try and ride a motorcycle with bad balance or no balance at all. It is a misconception that a motorcycle can balance itself".

Motorbiking should not be attempted by someone who has not learnt to ride a bicycle and does not know how to lean into a corner.

"A person needs to be relatively fit and be able to bend their knees, turn their heads and swing their legs over the bike to get on. We have had people arriving who can't get their leg over the bike due to hip replacements!"

Motorbikers and cyclists alike would be a lot safer, Jennings said, if motorists recognised that the road space is for all users of the road.

"Motorists don't have the right to the road because they pay road licence fees — the fees are there to mitigate the damage and impact caused by road use, which is why heavier vehicles pay more."

What motorists may perceive as dangerous, inconsiderate behaviour on the part of cyclists and motorbikers — like riding 1.5 metres from the gutter — is in fact behaviour aimed at self-preservation (for example avoiding broken glass or a dangerous camber).

"See the road through the eyes of the biker, cyclist or pedestrian, and we will significantly reduce the death rate," she said.

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