5 ways the City of Cape Town wants to get us all on our bikes


With a wealth of MTB routes crisscrossing the mountain ranges of the Western Cape and the prestigious Cape Town Cycle Tour being a highlight on the Mother City’s social calendar, it hardly comes as a surprise that recreational and sports cycling is currently at an all-time high throughout the city, the province and the country.

In sharp contrast, however, commuter cycling in Cape Town has decreased dramatically since the 1980s, with a notable drop in the number of kids who cycle to-and-from school on a daily basis.

While there are, of course, many reasons for this disparity between recreational and utility cycling, there’s no doubt that the 1960s-era transport strategy’s focus on the mobility needs of private motor vehicle users made the city’s road network ever-more hostile to non-motorised transportation.

With other global cities currently experiencing a renaissance in commuter cycling, resulting in a vital contribution toward both liveability and sustainability, the City of Cape Town’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) has identified cycling as an increasingly important part of the overall transport solution for the city.

It believes that real potential exists in growing the number of local commuter trips (10-15km) by bicycle across all income groupings, as well as ‘last/first mile’ commutes via bike share and the like to public transport.

On Monday,  23 January 2017, TDA published its draft Cycling Strategy for public comment in which it stipulates the desired outcome: to see an increase in commuter cycling from the current 1% of all trips to 8% by 2030. However, for this to happen, there are a few key focus areas that require attention.

We take a quick look at each below:

Make bikes more accessible

Let’s just be honest here – bicycles are by no means affordable. Especially not for those who may benefit most from cycling, what with low-income households spending up to 43% of their earnings on transport to and from work when the acceptable norm is between 5% and 10%.

Naturally, the TDA has identified increased access to bicycles as one of the central factors in upping the percentage of commuter cyclists in the city. But how, exactly, does it plan on doing this?

The draft strategy outlines five actions that could improve accessibility. Among financial assistance from employers, low-income bike shares/lease schemes, donations and distribution programmes, the prospect of manufacturing bicycles locally is perhaps the most interesting, as it offers the added benefit of job creation.

According to the draft document, TDA has prioritised collaborative investigations into and feasibility studies around the establishment of a bicycle manufacturing plant in the metropolitan area of Cape Town to take place within the next one to three years.

Improve safety and security

Possibly the biggest challenge facing the TDA, is creating a cycling environment in Cape Town that is both safe and secure.

In the draft document, ‘safety’ is defined as being primarily related to the risk of collision, while ‘security’ relates to the dangers of crime or harassment.

More than appropriate infrastructure, cyclist safety requires responsible road user behaviour, which in turn requires a large-scale campaign, communicating the rights of all road users and the importance of sticking to traffic rule. While this may seem like a somewhat blunted approach, the City has undoubtedly made huge headway over the past few years employing similar tactics to curb drunken driving.

Security, on the other hand, spans a wide range of factors – from violent attacks on cyclists route to secure storage of bicycles, especially for low-income households. The draft strategy has prioritised the development of efficient reporting systems, observation methods and law enforcement operations.

Maintain infrastructure and build even more

Since 2008, the City of Cape Town has initiated various infrastructure programmes aimed at the provision of cycling, pedestrian and universal access to the network and facilities. While the presence of these networks has, unfortunately, proven not to necessarily encourage a wider uptake of commuter cycling, improving and maintaining them still plays a central role in getting more people out of their cars and onto bikes.

In order for cycling networks and routes to be considered pleasant and useful for cyclists, the TDA has identified six requirements that each needs to fulfil:

  • Safe – cycle routes should limit conflict between cyclists and other road users
  • Secure – cycle routes should offer a high level of personal security, which means they should preferably go through well-populated areas, be well-lit and offer some form of patrol
  • Direct – excessive detours and delays should be avoided, eg instead of taking the route through a busy traffic intersection, it should be diverted through a quieter area
  • Coherent – cycle routes should be continuous, recognisable and link all major origins and destinations
  • Comfortable – this comes down to layout and maintenance and ensuring that all cycle routes have pleasant riding surfaces that are non-slip and, where possible, have gentle curves and flat gradients
  • Attractive – routes and networks should complement their environment and look attractive, which in turn, could boost public safety

Apart from the improvement and maintenance of routes and networks, the TDA is also looking at providing start- and end-of-trip facilities, such as sufficient bicycle parking, lockers, changing areas and showers, as well as secure storage in low-income neighbourhoods.

Encourage stakeholder collaboration

For the vision of increasing cycling to 8% of all commuter trips undertaken in Cape Town by 2030, the TDA has recognised that collaboration between various city departments, as well as external stakeholders, is of the utmost importance.

In the draft strategy, the TDA identifies NGOs such as The Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN), Pedal Power Association (PPA) and Bicycle Cape Town as crucial partners in bicycle distribution programmes, raising awareness and establishing maintenance centres in low-income communities.

However, in order to avoid any duplication of efforts, the TDA is planning to establish a Sustainable Mobility Sub-committee under the Inter-modal Planning Committee (IPC) to monitor the implementation of the Sustainable Mobility Charter. Ideally, it will be a platform where cycling is represented, information is shared, activities coordinated and progress monitored to encourage commuter cycling.

Get a school cycling programme going

Travelling to and from schools and other education institutions is a huge opportunity to grow cycling.

However, establishing cycling programmes would require major support from schools themselves, government departments, private sector businesses, NGOs and the like. Because of this, it’s considered one of the TDA’s longer term goals and will probably kick off with awareness campaigns.

The Draft Cycling Strategy is available for public comment until 21 February 2017, so be sure to go and have your say!

Illustration: Quasiem Gamiet

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