Defend Truth


Banning cycling on Sea Point Promenade is outrageous and smacks of a bygone era


Rashiq Fataar is an urban practitioner and is the founding director of Our Future Cities (OFC) — an urbanism consultancy and think tank based in Cape Town. For more than a decade Fataar has worked collaboratively with government, business and citizens on projects to shape cities, communities and spaces to become more future-focused, innovative and inclusive.

The proposal that the City of Cape Town bans cycling on the Sea Point Promenade should be withdrawn immediately. No further time or resources should be wasted entertaining this debate

Our Future Cities opposes the proposal by the City of Cape Town to change the recreational use of the Sea Point Promenade and ban cycling — and all the elements contained within it — and we call for the withdrawal of the entire process.

We are appalled that scarce public resources (time, salaries and so on)  are even being applied to this non-issue by the city, in a country and world striving for recovery from the pandemic.

In a time when Cape Town and the Western Cape should be forward-looking and embracing innovation and policies that promote inclusivity, we are left with this proposal which seems to be a remnant of past administrations and a bygone era.

It is disappointing that the city, the relevant councillors, officials and its appointed consultants have so blatantly failed to understand how the multimodality of the promenade lies at the heart of its vibrant and diverse nature. We urge the city to redirect its effort to creating more multimodal and inclusive spaces for Cape Town and its people to flourish, together.

The recent and highly successful temporary road closures of major streets in the city centre of Cape Town, for example, Bree and Long Streets, which celebrate shared spaces and community, have set forth a very positive and progressive vision for what our city can become. In this short period, this new administration has shown an appetite for bold ideas, and this proposal — seemingly laid by previous administrations — contradicts this entirely.

This action aligns the City of Cape Town with a typically siloed approach to mobility and the public realm prevalent in South African cities, both at a departmental and sectoral level. The Promenade is a multi-faceted space and one of the most loved and democratic in the city, which requires a multi-dimensional collaborative approach.

The city’s feeble defence of the proposal as “a proposal only” is a very public and obvious example of this style of management-by-petition as if the city lacked the budget, powers, or skill (instead of just the will) to shape the city’s mobility system.

We caution the city on the dangers of pandering to Nimbyism and setting harmful precedents for the future of non-motorised transport. The problem here lies in giving airtime to these processes (and people) which change organisational culture, and inevitably seep into all facets of government and governance.

Governments worldwide are investing significantly in the promotion of non-motorised transport (NMT).

In contrast, the city’s 2017 cycling strategy is insubstantial and continues to gather dust, not effectively implemented or monitored at all. At best, the past two decades of NMT investment have been incoherent, unimpactful, and uneventful.

If there are, in 2022, so few high-quality places to walk, cycle, use a wheelchair or ride a skateboard in our city, then it is not from a lack of scenery or opportunity, but from an astonishing failure to develop more of these spaces, leaving places like the Promenade over-subscribed.

The prohibition of cyclists on the Promenade could become the city’s de-facto “voice on non-motorised transport” in 2022. It is outrageous that the city could consider allocating public resources to this matter in this isolated fashion before addressing more pertinent threats to walkers, such as a lack of safe pedestrian crossings, including in the Sea Point area. Further, it is important to note that the city’s report states:

“A demarcated cycle lane/shared facility on the sidewalk will compromise pedestrian safety (put the pedestrian at risk of crash and injury) and is not supported from a transport planning and traffic engineering point of view.”

If this process was the city’s way to show genuine concern for pedestrians or those walking, it would turn its attention to our road system. In 2018 the World Health Organization ranked South Africa at number 136 of 175 participating countries on road safety. This ranking implies that South Africa falls within 30% of the poorest-performing countries in terms of the relative risk associated with dying due to a road traffic crash.

According to research conducted for the period 2015-2017, the Western Cape saw 19 fatalities per 100,000 of the population, with almost one in two road fatalities being that of a pedestrian (44.3%). This process is looking in all the wrong places.

Another notable issue is that the maximum time a pedestrian has to cross 34m outside Cape Town Station, the city’s busiest and main transport hub, is 38 seconds.

The allocation of space to cars in Cape Town is never put to a vote, nor are motorists compelled to organise public input on urban freeway upgrades and expansions. The city has historically persisted in carefully delimiting the debate surrounding this proposal so that the removal of parking spaces or motor vehicle lanes from Beach Road is simply out of the frame of debate.

It is our view that the city’s stated aim “to make it (the Promenade) safer and more enjoyable for everyone” — if at all successful — will have a negligible impact.

The city, in a consistent, deliberate and very transparent manner, guides the discourse around public space up to and including the point at which the entitlements and negative externalities of private motorists are rendered invisible, and then steps back, allowing various marginalised and vulnerable groups of road users to struggle over the margins of public space. The latest Promenade proposal is, in this sense, a perfect encapsulation of the past 20 years of NMT, public space and motor car governance in Cape Town.

We can provide numerous academic and non-academic resources on effective NMT policymaking and will happily avail ourselves to work with the city to develop proper responses to NMT and better walking and cycling routes.

Electric two-wheelers are currently considered the most feasible vehicle segment for adoption in sub-Saharan Africa, according to McKinsey and Company’s research report “Power to move: Accelerating the electric transport transition in sub-Saharan Africa”. Further, a recent report by the International Energy Agency has reiterated the importance of NMT and micro mobility in decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and improving cities’ resilience to international political-economic instability.

The city’s approach to the Promenade illustrates that “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Given the wealth of technical skills within the city’s own NMT department, the simple and transformative investment proposals outlined and reiterated in a generation of the city’s own NMT policies, and the remarkable professional and academic consensus in favour of expanding NMT provision, the city is not, in fact, short of tools, except historically perhaps the essential one: political will.

A wise city would tap into the groundwork laid by our organisation and several others across the city. The city must recognise and capitalise on the bank of knowledge and innovative efforts of inspiring initiatives, such as Langa Bicycle Hub, UpCycles and Open Streets, which arguably have done more for the promotion of cycling than any city department. We call on the city to “walk the walk” in pursuing collaborations with community groups, business and specialists — leveraging their energy for the public good.

On urban agenda-setting

The city does indeed have resources to invest in the public realm and improve the lived experiences of people.

It is profoundly regrettable that resources have been spent on this issue, while the people of Cape Town negotiate the deep spatial and socioeconomic injustices every day.

The items that Our Future Cities believes should be on the agenda, in fact mirror most of the city’s intended agenda for the coming five years. Some of these include:

  • High-quality, safe, and functioning transport nodes, particularly the second node in Bellville CBD and its associated public environment;
  • Leveraging private and public sector resources to unlock affordable housing across the city;
  • Maintenance and upgrading of several urban spaces and environmental resources;
  • The safety of women and girls on public transport and in all areas of public space;
  • Improved service delivery and living conditions for those in informal settlements;
  • Long-term planning and sustainability; and
  • Creative approaches to drive Cape Town and the Western Cape’s post-pandemic recovery.

Looking at the international community, we see that great cities understand well that banning as a strategy is not a route to success.

Our concern is that this process and proposal portrays Cape Town as backwards, myopic and out of touch in the international viewpoint — going against international best practice. Every message the city puts out there matters to our already fragile economy.

We can refer the city to many examples of flourishing cities like Milan, Paris, and Medellín which showcase the global move towards promoting NMT by expanding cycle lanes and promoting diverse, multimodal routes and spaces. Many cities have in fact done this under immense pressure and as part of a response to the pandemic.

We strongly advise that the city take inspiration from these examples and consider the concurrent recommendations of C40, NACTO, Global Street Design Guide, UN Habitat, PPS and the likes.

In addition to concerns regarding resource mismanagement, we question the viability of the engineers’ report. The recommendation is based on an inadequate and inconclusive report — two hours of observation is insufficient grounds for this extreme proposition.

Our Future Cities calls for the city’s leadership to sever ties with this particular proposal and all the factions, officials and other enabling elements responsible for pursuing this public comment process.

We vehemently oppose every element of it, as it contradicts the city’s stated mandate and demonstrates regressive thinking not fit for the modern world.

The city must acknowledge the cultural significance of the Sea Point Promenade as a site for social symbiosis and inclusion, as well as a critical case study in the city’s approach to mobility and facilitation of the public realm.

The proposal should be withdrawn immediately and no further time or resources should be wasted entertaining this debate.

It is more important now than ever that we foster solidarity between the government, business, community, and social sectors to avoid such tedious distractions and get on with the business of making our city and province a great place for all people. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Doble says:

    A rather one sided argument for the cyclist (especially the notoriously dangerous electric version)? Surely the meaning of a promenade is just that – a walking area. But then I would be tempted to include scooters, skateboards and joggers with headphones.
    Now if we were seriously looking at the future of our cities, let’s start by removing the private motor vehicle.

  • James Miller says:

    Vehement indeed, and needlessly repetitious. One wonders if the author has a personal stake in the issue. Chalk me up as in favor of removing bicycles and scooters etc. from the promenade. The fact is that many of these, especially the electric variety, are being operated by inexperienced teenagers and children, and are traveling at (relatively) high speeds. There is no competency test required to operate an electric scooter. The pedestrians come in all shapes and sizes, from small children to fragile old people, and having these motorized bikes and scooters whizzing amongst them is a recipe for disaster.

    • Aysha Salie Salie says:

      I agree, a very one-sided discourse, as if its a fait accompli that the author’s view is the correct one. It has also been my observation that youngsters and children on their electric scooters and bicycles are not considerate of other users of the space and their speed presents a hazard to others. Cyclists, in general, are travelling too fast for comfort when they wizz past people walking and jogging.

  • Michael Farah says:

    Cyclists, as a rule, are rude, self-centered, entitled and aggressive. Promenades are no place for cyclists. I have nearly been run into by cyclists on the Durban promenade. I hope the Ethekwini municipality do the same

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    You have a simplistic view that cycles = good, no cyclist= bad. One thing or another. But cycling ( including electric bikes and scooters) on the promenade, zig zagging in between walkers causes accidents every week. Older people and people with kids cannot relax with machines buzzing by both ways. The council messed up with the vision of shared space which has proved dangerous because of recklessness and lack of discipline. There are plenty examples elsewhere where cycles have their own lanes in pedestrian areas ( eg Tel Aviv) which should have been the policy.

  • John Cartwright says:

    There should be space for and encouragement of cyclists, but in a visibly separate lane. The author is right to point out that an overall strategy for cycling and pedestrians in the city is urgently needed, so that there’s a consistent context for decisions like this. Regrettably, rudeness is endemic among South African cyclists and motorists, but clearer guidelines and implementation will help in educating us all in the practical benefits of common courtesy.

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