One Pace or Another: WALKING IN THREE CITIES

Places stride to the rhythm and mood of those who occupy, govern and plan them. On arrival one can sense a place’s vibe, tempo in the scents, informally traded cents and sentiments from the expressions of the familiar strangers welcoming (or rejecting) your presence.

In this post I briefly reflect on some foot traffic issues in South African cities and “towns” namely: Polokwane, Cape Town, Mahikeng and Pretoria. I argue that straight-line-thinking, and obstacles impose a drag effect on non-motorised travel planning along the city/town’s ripening center rippling peripheries.

National Character

South African’s choice of mode is an income based decision. On average, minibus taxi’s carry 26% of the working population to their occupations, whilst 28% of the total work trips are performed on-foot. Most of these trips are performed by middle-and-lower income earning groups, the highest 25%, in terms of income travels by means of car (49%) over long distances and walk very little. This implies that there is more foot, bicycle and transit traffic provision necessary, since the car is an elitist alternative for a democratic nation.

Mode Choice Distribution in South Africa between 2003 and 2013 according to the National Household Travel Surveys issued by Statistics South Africa.

Non-motorised travel is a culture, and commuters seek for shortest distances, easiest forms of movement and the most convenient actions to match their travel needs. To reflect on this, I sampled a few places around the country, just to juggle the contradictions in the kind of provision that exists for non-motorised travel.

City Poise

The City of Cape Town, for example, is pulling enormous efforts to provide for non-motorised travel infrastructure, culture and mobility on a macro-scale. These include bicycle lanes, universally accessible Bus Rapid Transit and transit interchanges. Yet, there are still those odd moments when pedestrians go one way, whilst such provisions go another (0A and 0B) — like on the UCT campus.


The City of Tshwane is another example of profoundly progressive integrated planning efforts in the form of Bus Rapid Transit, public space and pedestrian zones (i.e. Church Street- 0C). Yet there are those odd moments when poles intrude pedestrian space, side-walks provide evaporating universal access and sewage lingers with the hawkers (0D). Further-out of the city, near the University of Pretoria, we see sand-pits holding hands with straight lines of non-motorised provision — landscaping is certainly not well realized opportunity (0E).Lastly, from loitering around the city center I realized that using a bicycle to get around the 7kms that make up the center is certainly not an option encouraged — let alone provided for. In the city, who’s voices can articulate the actions necessary to expand the fluidity and priority of NMT mobility — the lower income end of the masses, or the young middle-class learning from Europe, Asia and the Americas?

Snippets of Tshwane CBD and beyond — Not the townships for this discussion.

Town Poise

I visited Polokwane and reside in Mahikeng. Both towns feel subtle, and breathe a confused air in the way non-motorised urban movement is considered. OF and OJ are samples of good pedestrian measures: OF — when lower pedestrian movement is expected, tighten up the space, add some trees, why not a bike lane? OJ — traffic calming zebra crossing in a residential area: might need some warning signs studded on the sidewalk for the visually impaired. OG, OI and OH are examples of the unnecessary: why the double step in OI? Why cycle up, or push your trolley to hit poles and trash bins on one side? These questions sprang up during my bike trip. But, they felt distant when I realized that it was a Sunday, and no real traffic is to be expected. Thus, these inconveniences will go unnoticed until it is pay-day for the walking masses.

Snapshots of Polokwane, taken randomly in 2014.

Mahikeng, however, spares non-motorised facility resources for pot-hole filling expenses along drainless motorways. The closest water sucker, in ON, barely catches the puddles as this main arterial to the Ramatlabama border does no justice as the dry mud after a few rainy days suggests. This artery is in close proximity to a shopping complex, with a large pedestrian catchment.


OM and OK are along the same route toward the Shopping complex near ON. The most noticeable aspect is that non-motorised facilities evaporate in signage and dust as one travels from OM to OK toward the complex. Cyclists negotiate directly with traffic as in OK. Where there are non-motorised facilities, it is narrow, under capacitated and does not suit the type and level of service necessary (see how the distant pedestrian chooses the gravel; or locate the nearest trash bin: far from pedestrian movement). In view of OL, I believe a city or town should serve it’s children. The road I the image provides access to three primary schools, yet, scholars young and old negotiate with dust and traffic on their first day to school.

Remarks

Cities and towns are key places for foot traffic. To a large extent, towns should be more equip for foot traffic than cities due to the community orientation and traditionally close knit nature. This is untrue in the changing economic climate of the average South African household. In this post I intended to argue that that straight-line-thinking, and obstacles impose a drag effect on non-motorised travel planning along the city/town’s ripening center rippling peripheries. The cities visited here both have good non-motorised infrastructure, Cape Town CBD outperforming Pretoria’s CBD due to its well implemented integrated transport plan, smart travel model and non-motorised strategy. Polokwane and Mahikeng were no exceptions : the type, context and thought behind the infrastructure provided is based on questionable rationale.

For future reference, cities implementing BRT systems must take note that: (a) increases in density need to be reinterpreted in terms of the type of density to be expected (i.e. non-motorised or motorized density); (b) sustaining the density and inspiring the town center and CBD to retain more foot traffic (sticky) rather than be a place to stop and go; (c) non-motorised facilities in these areas need to reflect the level of service for each type identified and foretasted for key corridors; and (d) universal access must be at the top of every non-motorised travel management agenda in towns, cities and residential areas. Oh yes, do remember that space is to be explored and investigated: safely, securely and with a great degree of aesthetic pleasure.

This post was written in 2014, for Phambili RAR a company focusing on research and analysis in transit.

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