Neither the headwind nor the early start could dampen the spirits of the more than 300 commuters who crowded the Woodbridge Island parking area at 6am this first day of February. Unlike the 100s of barely moving vehicle drivers on the roads nearby, though, these commuters had left their cars at home…
The occasion was the official launch of the first section of the City of Cape Town’s segregated bike way, parallel to the soon-to-be-operating MyCiTi bus system along the R27 toward the West Coast.
“I'm not sure whether anyone timed it, but you'll probably find that most of the cyclists took less time to cycle to town even at a leisurely pace than the motorists sitting in the traffic,’ observed Mark Pinder, an associate engineer at Arup who in involved in non-motorised transport planning and design.
Folding bicycles, recumbent bikes, mountain bikes, electric bikes, skateboarders, road bikes, fixed gear bikes, pedestrians and even a couple of tandems (two of which carried the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Dan Plato, and Cllr Elizabeth Thompson, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport) turned out to celebrate.
Cllr Thompson is not new to cycling, and has made a point of supporting non-motorised transport innovations and improvements in the city. It is her real hope that Cape Town becomes known as the 'cycle city', she says – and her actions show that she means what she says.
Says Elton Davids from Pedal Power Association, who steered Cllr Thompson over the 8km single-way route: “It’s fantastic to see the sports cyclists and sports clubs out supporting the route; even though many of them don’t commute by bike at the moment, these lanes could give them just the mind-change we all need. There will be a greater demand for these lanes and will be used more and more not only on weekends. I was encouraged to see so many different kinds of non-motorised ‘vehicles’ all in one space. Loved it.’’
Also out to celebrate was Stan Engelbrecht, photographer and creator of the magnificent Bicycle Portraits collection. One of the few cyclists who left his Lycra at home to ride in the ‘normal’ gear more commonly seen in international cycling cities, he is part of a group of fixed-gear riders who regularly ride as transport.
Basil Heald, from the Western Cape Provincial Government, lives in Blaauwberg and has been riding into central Cape Town for years. Not surprisingly, these last few months have been the easiest commuting ever, he says: he’s an unequivocal fan of the bike lanes, and when the buses start operating they’re make his commuting life even more flexible, he says.
Mark Pinder has also noticed that the new cycle path is well used on weekends, by families and training cyclists alike. “From a cyclo-tourism point of view it offers a safe cycle route from the Cape Town CBD to Big Bay,” he says. “It’s fantastic for active visitors to Cape Town.”
Louis de Waal, also a transport engineer and bicycle activist, was overjoyed to see infrastructure he’s been motivating for since the 1960s come to fruition. “The paths are a joy to ride,” he says. “They are safe, good sight distances, have excellent surfaces and have been well located in the confined space.
“Minor improvements could be direction arrows on the lane to encourage cyclists to keep left and pass on the right,” he notes. “Another thought is to paint the central bollards (about six of them) in white so that they stand out in poor weather or dawn and dusk conditions.”
“I look forward to seeing similar facilities along other bus corridors to be developed,” he says.
Katharine McKenzie, mother of three young children and not yet a cyclist herself, watched the ride from the Woodstock bridge. She is now determined to get herself a bike and bring her two sons and daughter – who love cycling – out on the route over the weekends. “I loved it,” she said. “The City has done a superb job with this infrastructure, and once the buses are operating, it will be even more useful.”
Joining the ride was Irish visitor Michael Noone, who works as a volunteer with the Bicycling Empowerment Network. He was riding a single speed bicycle, and was impressed to discover that “one gear is all you need on such an effortless journey”.
“I enjoyed the route throughout,” he said. “There is impressive scenery and changing backdrops along the way. The warm weather did not do any harm either.”
He lives in Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, where, like Cape Town, there is not yet a culture of commuting, he says. “The hilly topography, consistent wind, rain and narrow roads don’t lend themselves to it.” Although much of Cape Town is also hilly, windy and with narrow roads, at least this one stretch it is “idyllic”. “It is the perfect spot for complete beginners to start commuting, or for seasoned cyclers to enjoy the uninterrupted, safe ride into town.”
The segregated bike ways, and the new bicycle parking racks seen about town, are an integral part of the City’s Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system. “Once the entire system is completed, there will be dedicated cycling lanes all around Cape Town. Cyclists will be able to cycle from Mitchells Plain to the city centre or Brackenfell, almost anywhere,” says Elias Tukushe, Head: Non-Motorised Transport and Universal Access.