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World Car Free Day in Cape Town – hope is on the horizon

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Mikhail Manuel is reading for his PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. His research focuses on the Global South paratransit sector, the political economy of passenger transport in South Africa, Bus-Rapid-Transit, sustainable low-carbon mobility, and government capacity development.

Let’s be real – travelling without a car in Cape Town is cumbersome, unpredictable and sometimes downright dangerous. Despite this, it is part of the everyday life of millions of Capetonians. When our public transport system grinds to a halt, we car-travelling-folk hear of the disastrous impacts over the radio and feel it in our peak-time trips, as congestion ramps up.

At present, it is a far-fetched idea to expect people not to aspire to owning a car, let alone to travel without one where it is already accessible. For mobility enthusiasts, like myself, this is a scary situation for our city, given our climate change reality. 

But there is hope. The Urban Mobility Portfolio Committee of the Cape Town City Council has taken a keen interest in road safety, non-motorised transport, and the directorate’s flagship MyCiti bus project and rail devolution. 

The day is coming when it will be convenient, reliable and affordable to travel around Cape Town… without a car. 

As the Urban Mobility Directorate works toward this goal, under the leadership of mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and executive member Rob Quintas, the portfolio committee is closely monitoring progress. 

To make our roads safer, the City’s road safety programme assesses and upgrades hazardous intersections. The portfolio committee established a Policy Review Working Group which is considering the creation of a Road Safety Strategy and the review of our Traffic Calming Policy. Officials and ward councillors receive numerous requests for traffic-calming measures, making it a challenging job to decide which traffic-calming projects ought to be prioritised in the limited budget. 

One thing has become abundantly clear to the committee: residents far and wide want calmer, safer streets within their neighbourhoods.


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To encourage walking and cycling, the City has a non-motorised transport (NMT) programme, which is currently changing the face of Grassy Park. The portfolio committee has taken a keen interest in the NMT concepts that the directorate uses, data collected to assess uptake and what lessons the directorate is taking forward into the next phase. It certainly is impressive how the NMT programme, in conjunction with our Public Transport Interchange (PTI) upgrades, reinvigorates public space – our oversight visit to the Makhaza PTI is a key example. 

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MyCiti Phase 2A will be groundbreaking. The most influential technological advancement for bus services in South Africa over the past two decades has been the advent of dedicated lanes. The dedicated lane along the N2, as we know it today, was relaunched by the City in 2007. 

A 2008 study presented at the 27th Southern African Transport Conference found that a private car saved five minutes on the N2 thanks to the public transport dedicated lane, while public transport vehicles saved as much as 19 minutes. Remove the opportunity for vehicles to weave in and out of these dedicated lanes, using separated infrastructure like you see on the MyCiti red roads, and suddenly the time saved travelling is so much more significant. This is the power of implementing MyCiti Phase 2A to connect Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to Claremont and Wynberg. The project will be a game changer for making Cape Town accessible. 

But even with safer roads, better walking and cycling infrastructure and a world-class bus service the holy grail will always be urban rail. It will not be an easy task, given the decay Prasa has allowed, but it is vital for making Cape Town a global mobility city. The directorate is currently working on its Rail Feasibility Study, which the portfolio committee is watching closely and eagerly awaiting the final report. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “City of Cape Town is trying to resolve the Metrorail Central Line debacle, but Prasa won’t come to the party 

Giving up your car for a day is not a new campaign. It started in 1994 but has gained significant popularity of late as the world grapples with climate change. Although a noble cause and a crucial goal to strive towards, it is a far-fetched idea for Cape Town. But the day is coming when travelling around Cape Town without a car will be convenient, reliable and affordable. The journey will be marked by small victories as the City implements its projects. The portfolio committee will be monitoring this journey. You can join us by observing our in-person meetings once a month. DM/MC

To observe the Urban Mobility Portfolio Committee meetings, email the chairperson, Mikhail Manuel, at [email protected]

 

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  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Now let’s hope the taxi industry doesn’t decide to sabotage great progress made for affordable public transport in Cape Town. If the past is anything to go by, we can expect intimidation, violence and absolutely no support from our government (especially in a city controlled by the opposition).

  • John Cartwright says:

    Good news. Accessible and affordable public transport is one of the cornerstones of socio-economic wellbeing.

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