“What is really frustrating is that we are in a situation where the congestion is getting increasingly bad. The Tom Tom Traffic Index finds that between 6am and 9am, and 3pm and 6pm at peak times Cape Town motorists spend an average of 67% of their commute in congestion. These conditions [should] push people out of cars,” said Roger Behrens, UCT Associate Professor and Director at the Centre of Transport Studies.
But they don’t; not in Cape Town or elsewhere in South Africa.
Instead of providing South Africans with an alternate attractive, low-carbon, cost-effective commute, the passenger train network is mostly dysfunctional, running at an ever-diminishing capacity. In a city like Cape Town, daily passenger trips have halved from 600 000 to 300 000 in the past decade.
And while South African city design forces low-income households to rely solely on public transport, regardless of their irregularity or condition, these are not the main reasons commutes buy a car and sit in traffic for hours every day at their soonest opportunity.
Crime is understood to be the main inhibitor to people who would otherwise walk between their homes, the public transport interchange, and work.
More important than whether a transport mode is reliable, predictable and affordable, it needs to be safe, according to sector consultant Gail Jennings. “Ultimately, the challenge is that public modes of transport [nationally] are inflexible and dangerous. Motorists have no compelling reason to stop driving. Everyone who owns a car has decided that rather than using public transport, spending staggeringly more to sit in traffic is the best option.”
Bicycling parking and showers are now common features in Green Star-rated buildings, and its use is encouraged by the trend towards healthier lifestyles. Frequent cycle-commuter and land economist Robert McGaffen, says that convenient facilities like showers at either end of the journey help, but the main hindrance is the cycling experience during the journey.
A cycle network that is not continuously linked leaves cyclists perilously exposed to motorists, and where the network is closed, crime needs to be considered. For example, the cycling route linking the West Coast suburbs to the Cape Town CBD funnels cyclists under the N2 flyover where large surface parking areas, quiet streets, short sight-lines allow criminals to confront cyclists who find themselves alone with nowhere to turn.
GBCSA 2016 Annual Convention speaker Jeff Speck works to understand what makes cities thrive, and in 2019 published Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places. He points out that public transport depends on the ability to walk the last mile to your destination, and increasing the comfort through a canopy of trees, which line many of the streets in Gauteng’s urban nodes is one of the simplest and most effective ways to do that. Besides for protecting pedestrians from cars they provide natural cooling, filter out emissions, rejuvenate the soil, enhance ecosystems and reduce stormwater run-off.
Newer sustainable urban precincts such as Sandton Gate in Sandton and Oxford Parks in Dunkeld ensure that there are many activities on street level to keep pedestrians engaged. Retail stores, coffee shops not only provide something to look at while walking by, but provide eyes on the street, and help people to behave as if everyone is watching. “Pedestrians need to feel safe and comfortable, but they also need to be entertained,” Speck said during an interview with CityLab.
Walkable urban centres and neighbourhoods that facilitate non-motorised transport (NMT) are often far more enjoyable to experience, however crime and driver behaviour are factors that cannot be solved by one single government department. Building NMT infrastructure does not mean people will use it. It is clear a more coordinated and effective approach is needed to help our cities transition out of being so dependent on cars.
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