/ 16 March 2023

Cape Town Cycling Tour: most successful failure we’ve ever had

Ct Tour
The Active Mobility Forum with support from the Pedal Power Association cycle through Adderley Street to advocate for safe cycling lanes with the new provisional minister for mobility, Ricardo Mackenzie. Photo Credit Max Sillivan.

The dynamics of Cape Town’s roads changed last week Sunday, offering a glimpse of what it and other South African cities could become if road spaces were equitably shared between the minority private transportation user and the rest of us

This is a dream we must keep alive as we head into 2023, surrounded by myriad crises from Eskom, water and sewage to bad governance to our hard-earned democracy being under attack. 

While our young democracy is in big trouble according to experts such as Max du Preez and a recent community dialogue attended by the likes of Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, Professor Christi van der Westhuizen and Lorenzo Davids, we must not lose sight of our individual and collective fight to make South Africa liveable for all. 

This brings us back to the Cape Town Cycling Tour but, before I talk about today’s historical significance and relevance, which was to advocate for safe and connected cycling lanes for everyone, we need to understand the state of transportation in the Mother City.

The fragility of Cape Town’s transportation persists due to successive government failures to break apartheid spatial planning, the destruction of rail by the national government and that it is almost impossible to walk or cycle safely in Cape Town or any other South African city. 

The dire state of our infrastructure has been recognised in the new (incoming) Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan 2023-2028 and also in a recent infrastructure report written by the new Future Planning and Resilience Directorate, which found that the pipeline for urban mobility infrastructure projects is immature. The honest and refreshing report found there is a “notable drop in planned capital expenditure after 2026 owing to the completion of the metro south-east corridor of the MyCiTi BRT”. 

This is very concerning, as the transportation crisis is worsening with most commuters living on the periphery of the city still spending hours, and much of their income, on transport. 

Former provincial transport minister Robin Carlisle penned an opinion piece in the Cape Argus way back in 2010 saying that greater Cape Town would become an urban sprawl, its transport arteries clogged and congested; its atmosphere even more polluted; its economy stagnating and its apartheid configuration forever institutionalised

Carlisle’s words hit hard as you only have to leave your house to see how inhospitable our city has become, whether you are a pedestrian, cyclist or public transport user. 

Even more dire, the big projects we have in store for the oldest city are mostly still around adding more car-road capacity that will not improve congestion but make it worse. Despite this programme being disingenuously labelled as a “congestion relief programme” in the latest integrated development plan, scientists and world-class engineers are very clear on the negative cascade effect of induced demand when it comes to congestion on roads. 

“Induced demand” refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion. This has been scientifically proven since the 1960s and yet we still haven’t recognised this basic concept which undermines the efforts to solve congestion.  

While I recognise Cape Town’s new transportation plans aim to promote walking and cycling and reduce the use of private cars through the R10 million MyCiTi Phase 2A that includes non-motorised transport (NMT), we need a serious urgent plan right now on how we can make existing cycling lanes safe and connect them to a network.     

The City of Cape Town has made some strides in promoting cycling and introducing necessary infrastructure, albeit in a sporadic and ad-hoc manner resulting in a somewhat disconnected and incomplete network.

Further work is required to maintain and improve the system by addressing planning and engineering design standards.

In particular, we cannot use paint as a barrier (class 3 and 4 cycling lanes) and think this will make people feel safe to cycle. We are not even close to the goals of the 2017 Cycling Strategy, which wants to see 8% of us commute by 2030 through cycling

Why? There are no safe cycling lanes and most of our cycling lanes have been transformed into a big car park since the day they were painted

Plus as Jodi Allemeier pointed out after this article was published, urban mobility at the City of Cape Town currently has a mere “performance target of only 9km in the current year for NMT and only 21km in the next year of NMT”.

She added that most of this was to upgrade existing pavements, and not necessarily earmarked for constructing more cycling lanes.

We need to intensify our calls for more budget and key performance indicators when it comes to cycling lanes that will see a radical rollout of safe and connected cycling lanes alongside phasing out the use of class 3 and 4 cycling lanes (paint) on busy roads.

Cape Town Cycling Tour 

Stevan Haywod from Pedal Power Association reminded us on a radio interview with Lester Kiewit, myself and City of Cape Town Mayco Member for Urban Mobility Rob Quintas on safe cycling infrastructure, that the Cape Town Cycling Tour was “the most successful failure” we ever had.

Indeed it was.

In 1977, engineer Bill Mylrea and architect John Stegmann set out to advocate for a safe cycling network that would keep riders safe and allow commuters to get to and from work safely. 

What followed was years of submitting and pleading to the government of the day for a safe cycling network. Even a 3 000-signature petition failed to convince the department of transport to explore possibilities. It became evident that established cyclists needed to take action, leading to the creation of The Big Ride In by Mylrea and Stegmann.

In 1977, The Big Ride In was organised under the auspices of the newly formed Western Province Pedal Power Association (PPA). Its objective was to demonstrate that a large number of people rode bikes, which it achieved by attracting hundreds of cyclists to ride into Cape Town’s city centre, including the City Hall, Grand Parade, Adderley Street and the foreshore. Mayor John Tyers was among the participants, making it an impressive event, except for the relevant authority, which remained unconvinced of the need for bike paths.

Fast forward to today, we are again making a plea. But this time, it is not just to politicians in all spheres of government, but to the many engineers in the government. We are now pleading to the engineers in power to take cycling and pedestrian safety seriously and to make engineering decisions that prioritise cyclists by ensuring any cycling lane we build is safe (separate barrier, especially on class 2 and 3 roads) and ensure they are connected to other cycling paths. 

To those, we are already working with to solve our cycling network, thank you. Dedicated cycling lanes can provide a safe and dignified means of transportation for many where physical barriers such as bollards, planters or curbs can make a world’s difference. 

As such, there is a need to update the current stormwater and roads manual of the City of Cape Town to have more effective and cheaper class 2 (physical barriers) options and ensure that any administration going forward cannot build class 3 and 4 cycling lanes on busy roads with the classification of class 2 and 3.

The urgent path forward after the race

As we celebrate the history of the Cape Town Cycling Tour, it is important to remember what the event is actually for — to advocate for safe cycling lanes for all South Africans. The lack of safe and connected cycling lanes has been a major issue in the country for many years, and it is time for all spheres of government and the engineering industry to take action. 

Cycling, walking and other active mobility make an important contribution to tackling many of the key policy challenges facing Cape Town and South Africa. They address climate change, support healthy lifestyles, improve mental and physical health, reduce the risk of cancer, increase life expectancy, support the economy and also bring about cost-effective, catalytic solutions to the current transportation crisis

We must continue to push for change and advocate for the safety of all cyclists on our roads. 

Because the day when we can allow our child to safely walk or cycle to school, or solve congestion by making cycling a mass viable alternative through safe and connected infrastructure, we are one big step closer to saving our country.

Roland Postma is the coordinator of Young Urbanists and runs the Active Mobility Forum with Sindile Mavundla to advocate on behalf of all non-private motorised users for infrastructure change. He seeks to inspire a new generation of young South Africans to change their cities and towns.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.