‘Most congested city in the country’

MATTHEW HIRSCH

Traffic is a hot topic in Cape Town at the moment, and a recent study shows this is not by chance.

The TomTom Traffic Index measures congestion on the road networks of 295 cities around the world. A study it released last month shows Cape Town is the most congested city in South Africa. Cape Town is also on the list of the top-100 most congested cities in the world.

With growing densification in the city and on the Atlantic Seaboard, the only way to free our streets from gridlock, says Mayco member for transport, Brett Herron, is to free ourselves from the unhealthy obsession we have with our cars.

“Transport for Cape Town, the City of Cape Town’s transport authority, is aware of the challenges we face, and this is why the City has committed to spending R750 million on road infrastructure projects over the next five years. The stark reality remains that cities cannot build away congestion and that building new motorways or freeways only provides short-term relief.”

Mr Herron said road users should do their bit to ease the traffic grind by changing their travel patterns.

“Similarly, the private sector must assist with implementing flexi-time for their employees. Developers can contribute by developing housing and office space close to existing public transport nodes and the national government must play their part in fixing our unreliable passenger rail system.”

The R750 million will be spent in accordance with the congestion management programme that was adopted by council in December last year.

On Tuesday March 15, the City’s mayoral committee adopted a new approach to integrated spatial and transport planning. A policy document, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Strategic Framework, prescribes how new developments across Cape Town should happen to deal with apartheid spatial inequality, the high cost of public transport, and future urbanisation, while also stimulating economic growth.

“In order for us to achieve our vision of Cape Town 2032, all future developments must have the right mix of land uses that produce or attract movement in the right places with the aim of balancing travel patterns across the city. Some developments in some places may require more of a particular land-use type (residential, retail, recreational, office or industrial) than others to help correct the current travel imbalance over time,” said Mr Herron.

However, he added that the only sustainable solution was to have fewer private vehicles on our roads.

“Those among us relying exclusively on our private cars to get where we want to be – in particular those living in the Cape Town central business district and in the areas where the MyCiTi service has been rolled out – will have to make a mind-shift towards public transport and non-motorised transport such as walking and cycling where practical.”

Marcela Guerrero Casas, who is one of the drivers behind the Open Streets initiative, said it was possible to change people’s attitudes, but a multi-pronged approach was needed.

The Open Streets event, which promotes the use of public and non-motorised transport, started in Cape Town in 2013 and had its latest event in Mitchell’s Plain on Sunday April 3. Ms Guerrero Casas takes heart from its growing popularity.

“We are working with the City, and if we can do these events on a more regular basis, then it can help.”

She believes we can all make small changes in the way we move around the city, by taking the bus or choosing to walk instead of climbing in our cars when we need to travel short distances.

“In the long term, we may need regulation because people respond to the law. But campaigns like these can help. I would like to think that we will have networks so it will be easy for people to get around the city (without private cars).”

Green Point resident Luke Stevens said there had been a noticeable increase in traffic in the area. “Increased migration to Cape Town and increased tourism have put more cars on the road. If traffic congestion acts as a proxy for wealth and economic activity, this is the unpleasant effect of a positive circumstance,” he said.

At least part of the solution to the problem, he believes, lies in residents’ hands. “As a family, we sold our second car nearly a year ago. With a little planning, it is simple to cut down on car trips and walk, cycle, taxi or take public transport instead. These positive choices bring obvious fitness benefits and reducing time behind the wheel in traffic jams really reduces stress. The extra planning effort to avoid reflexively jumping into a car can eliminate a lot of pointless trips and actually frees up personal time.

“The MyCiTi system is also clean, efficient, safe and a pleasure to use – apart from one aspect, obtaining and recharging cards is the slowest and most painful retail transaction in the country. Transport for Cape Town must improve this.”

Mr Stevens said initiatives, such as Open Streets Cape Town, had done a great job showing people new ways of looking at streets.

“We need to recalibrate our societal perceptions of freedom and status. Try it out by leaving your car at home one day each week.”