The stretch of road from Station Road on Liesbeek Parkway through Woodstock along Albert Road is a crucial route for bicyclers. One can bike into the City Bowl on a safe cycleway separated from traffic from as far as Rondebosch, until reaching the dreaded Station/Liesbeek intersection. The intersection itself is not the problem, it’s the fact that it marks the end of safe cycleway and the start of the dangerous final stretch into the city. A bicycle lane is planned for this route, but the design that it takes will determine whether it is truly beneficial.
Cape Town has boasted about its self-proclaimed title of “cycle city”, but by no means is it valid. Urbanist and “Cities for People” advocate Jan Gehl speaks of cities like Copenhagen and New York who have given a “whole-hearted invitation” for people to ride bicycles, and as a result have seen tremendous results. Whereas those cities approach it as if saying “please, ride your bicycle”, Cape Town’s approach is more like “please, drive your car, and if you’re brave enough to ride a bicycle, you’re least likely to get killed along these few routes”.
Riding a bicycle as a means to get into Cape Town’s City Bowl is perfectly viable for many people. Many probably don’t even consider it, but they’d be pleasantly surprised to find that it is not only possible, but extremely enjoyable. I ride from Wynberg to the City Bowl almost every day of the week. It’s only around 14km and takes only 40 minutes. Anyone riding into the City Bowl from the Southern Suburbs is funneled through Albert Road (see map below). It is currently a barrier stopping people from bicycling into the city, but it has the potential to be that crucial link that connects bicyclers from Liesbeek Parkway’s safe cycleway with the MyCiTi cycleway in Woodstock.
The plans for the bicycle lanes along this route will be presented at a public participation meeting later this week. From what we’ve seen, the plans appear to be for a Bree Street style painted lane between street-side parking and the roadway. This does not protect bicyclers from the serious threat of opening car doors. This design also invites vehicles to stop in them as they see it as a loading zone that is not blocking the roadway (this is clearly evident in Bree Street). Anyone who rides a bicycle along Albert Road understands the threat of buses and other large vehicles. As someone who is relatively comfortable riding in traffic, even I feel unsafe when I hear the roar of a bus engine rapidly approaching from behind. A painted bicycle lane will not make bicyclers feel safe. If the city is to send out a whole-hearted invitation for people to ride bicycles, it needs an uninterrupted route free from vehicles blocking the way, that makes bicyclers feel safe from traffic and from the threat of parked motorists opening their doors.
Cities around the world have learnt from mistakes and have developed best practices for the appropriate design of bicycle infrastructure. It makes no sense for Cape Town to repeat those mistakes, but rather to be bold and make the improvements to the city that really do invite bicycling whole-heartedly. A two-way protected cycleway with a painted buffer between streetside parking and the sidewalk would be a far more appropriate solution for Albert Road. A Streetfilms video on the installation of this type of bicycle lane along Prospect Park in New York clearly shows the importance of protecting bicyclers (see image below).
The installation of such a cycleway along Albert Road would not only make bicyclers feel safe and open the floodgates of bicyclers who want to ride along this route (even if they don’t know it yet), but it has tremendous potential to benefit Albert Road economically and socially. The area is being increasingly gentrified, with destination developments like The Old Biscuit Mill and The Woodstock Foundry attracting people from across the city. However, one would be ignorant to deny the fact that visitors to these places are mostly white upper class citizens who park their cars, do whatever they’re there to do, and then leave. There’s no interaction with the surrounding area and there is little benefit gained from the local community.
Inviting bicyclers along this route has the potential to change this. When on a bicycle, you’re no longer sheltered by the barrier that your car becomes. Your senses are stimulated and you interact with the people around you. You don’t have to worry about finding parking should you want to stop at a shop or grab coffee with a friend on the way home. Having more people around makes the street safer and invites even more people to the street. The idea of Albert Road as a walkable, attractive street that invites pedestrians and bicyclers is not beyond reach. If the city is going to invest in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure that is going to be in place for years to come, they need to do so properly. This is an open challenge for the city to live up to that title of “Cycle City”, and send out that whole-hearted invitation to its citizens to swap out their cars for bicycles.
The plans for the proposed Albert Road bicycle lanes will be presented to the public at a meeting on Thursday 21 June at 5.30pm at the Old Showroom, Society for the Blind, 45 Salt River Road, Salt River. All interested members of the public are encouraged to attend and share their views on the plans. RSVP to Kim Diedericks by Tuesday 19 June. 021 762 3050 / firstname.lastname@example.org