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Cape Town’s BMT bicycle deathtrap

The enforcement of the priority bus and minibus-taxi (BMT) lanes along Main and Sir Lowry Roads will kick-in this week (see previous article) . This will involve the curb-side lanes going into and out of Cape Town’s CBD kept clear for buses and taxis between 7am and 9am, and 4pm and 6pm respectively. The prioritisation of public transport over private car users is seen as another step forward in overcoming the city’s addiction to cars. This is definitely a positive move by the City, but there’s an obvious trade-off. Given buses and taxis will be travelling freely between the curb and the inevitable traffic jam along the center of the road, there is no space left for bicycles.

Bicycle lanes are soon to be constructed along Albert Road, which runs parallel to Main and Sir Lowry Roads a few blocks North. It seems the City’s view is that bicycles will use the Albert Road route, steering clear of Main and Sir Lowry Roads. This may seem reasonable, but the simple fact is that people will still cycle along the Main and Sir Lowry Road route. Even now, I feel safer riding Albert Road, but often ride into the city along Main Road anyway. I acknowledge that it is more dangerous, yet I still do it. Besides it being along the desire lines of cyclists, hugging the contour of Devil’s Peak, there are many destinations along Main and Sir Lowry Roads that people will naturally need to get to by bicycle.

As anyone who cycles along this route (or even Albert Road) knows, the experience of a Golden Arrow bus passing within a meter at 80km/h is utterly terrifying. It is just a matter of time before one of these roaring beasts takes a bicyclist’s life. I have no doubt that if I’d been hit on one of the countless times a bus has sped by within a meter of me, I would have ended up critically injured, but more likely it would have been the end of me. There’s certainly not enough space along the curb-side lane for buses to safely pass cyclists. Given their reputation, I can’t imagine buses slowing down or waiting to safely pass a cyclist.

Public transport and bicycles are on the same team (the anti-car / livable city team that is), but they are certainly not meant to share the road. Main Road is not the N2 i.e. a highway where you won’t find anything without a motor.

My point is, these BMT lanes are bicycle deathtraps. In our quest to become a sustainable and mobile city, we obviously need to prioritise public transport as much as possible. I think this move by the City is admirable, but as someone who often cycles into the city, this is something I’ve been thinking about. Is it reasonable for the City to ask cyclists to stick to Albert Road, or ignorant to think that they will? I don’t know the answer, but I’d love to hear the views of others.

Note: This post was written before a cyclist was killed by a Golden Arrow bus in Kalk Bay on Wednesday 24 October. The sad news emphasizes the danger of forcing these buses and cyclists to use the same narrow road space. 

 Image courtesy of warrenski at flickr.com

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Gareth Pearson

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  • Stephen

    I also cycle along Sir Lowry Rd quite often and agree – the busses and taxis are terrifying. However, I don’t think the City can take it any further than painting cycle lanes on the parallel Albert Road. Why not just cycle along that road and go up one of the side roads when you reach your destination on Sir Lowry, getting off your bike and pushing for a few metres if necessary? I don’t think cyclists can have it every which way.

    What should be done (if it isn’t being done already) is to introduce appropriate signage on Sir Lowry for cyclists to default to Albert Rd.

  • sweetsa85

    Stephen I think you are wrong, the city should prioritize the safety, ease and comfort of “soft commuters” to encourage people riding bicycles and walking. It is ridiculous to suggest that cyclists must cycle d-tours and push their cycles to get to desired destinations. You would never consider suggesting motorists to jump out their cars and push it over cycle lanes or sidewalks. Motorists are very spoiled in South Africa, they must learn to respect people traveling by other means than cars. It is not the cyclist making the roads dangerous it is the motorists.