Car-free event brings city streets to life

Open Streets, run by an organisation of the same name and the City of Cape Town, is a city-wide programme that turns normally busy streets into temporary car-free space for people to move around freely and safely.

Last year, Open Streets CBD attracted about 15 000 people who walked, skated and cycled. It was a festive affair with plenty of dancing and singing as well.

The managing director of Open Streets Cape Town, Marcela Guerrero Casas, said there would be a few changes to this year’s event.

“We want to give people a better experience of a car-free CBD. We are also being more strict with where we place entertainment and how many people there are providing entertainment. Last year, we had about 15 000 people attend. It’s a good problem to have, but people are missing out on walking, skating and cycling in the open spaces, and that’s what Open Streets is about – moving around freely.”

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, said prioritising pedestrians was a long term process.

“South African cities have been designed to cater for vehicular traffic, and as such, in the past, we have prioritised all of our infrastructure and planning with the private vehicle in mind. We want to create a more liveable city, which is sustainable in terms of green energy and moving around.

“It is therefore our intention to gradually transform Cape Town from a vehicle-centred city to a city which provides for alternative modes of transport, such as walking and cycling. Making Cape Town more pedestrian-friendly and conducive for cycling is a priority going forward.”

Open Streets, he said, gave the public an idea of what such a city could look like.

Mr Herron said rising pedestrian numbers in the CBD meant new ways were needed to manage the flow of people and vehicles in a way that didn’t throttle traffic or threaten pedestrians’ safety.

For example, Mr Herron said, a new traffic light system at some key junctions meant pedestrians crossing there no longer had to compete with turning cars – a situation that often saw impatient motorists refusing to give way.

“The first trial was conducted on Long and Loop streets, from Strand Street to Wale Street, followed by a similar trial at intersections along Roeland Street in 2015. About 80 intersections in the CBD are now under exclusive pedestrian control,” said Mr Herron.

Ms Guerero Casas said: “The city has invested in pedestrian-friendly spaces, and with Open Streets we are highlighting those spaces, and we want to develop them. It’s about respecting pedestrians, because we all are pedestrians at some point in the day.”

Last month, Open Streets Cape Town held a planning session for this month’s event, and Ms Guerrero Casas said it had gone well.

“There were lots of new faces and people wanting to do new things, for example film-makers and drummers. It was so exciting to see.”

Open Streets is now being funded by the City, but it’s not a bottomless supply of money. “It’s still an expensive event to host,” said Ms Guerrero Casas. “We also need to apply for an event permit. We are a small team, so capacity is also limited. We are moving to not having to get a permit and the City has already had it in their plans.

“The aim is to get the city to take over the event and run it more often. It should become a regular programme, rather than an annual event.”

Ms Guererro Casas said there were several things participants in the event needed to know:

BLOB Come by public transport because Open Streets is about ditching your car for the day, and no motorised vehicles are allowed.

BLOB Dress comfortably. There will be lots of activities, including physical ones.

BLOB Be open minded. There will be new things to experiences, such as pole dancers, and a wellness hub.

BLOB Organisers of activities can set up anywhere free of charge, but must be mindful of free movement. BLOB Activities must be free and interactive. No big banners, scaffolding and marketing are allowed.

Email marcela@openstreets.co.za for more information or to sign up as a volunteer.