File picture: David Ritchie / Independent Media

Cape Town - The city is at a “tipping point” and severe traffic congestion in the city has the potential to stifle development and constrain the economy, experts have warned at the first Mobility Indaba under way in the city.

Single occupant vehicles, unused bicycle infrastructure and facilities, a reluctance to shift behaviour and mindsets around public and non-motorised transport,are some of the key issues being grappled with.

Cycling activists said the perception of cycling as a leisure and sporting activity only, had to be changed, and motorists had to become more accepting of sharing the road with cyclists and bicycle commuters.

Chief executive of business leadership organisation Accelerate Cape Town, Ryan Ravens, said bicycle facilities at corporate buildings and the millions the city had put into bicycle infrastructure around the city were not being fully utilised.

The bicycle storage and shower rooms at a new building in the V&A Waterfront’s Silo district had gone unused for three years, he said.

“We are at a tipping point. If we don’t get support for these initiatives then they will stop and we will start moving backwards,” he warned.

In addition, Ravens said the city’s congestion problems could threaten ongoing development in the city.

“As a developing nation, we absolutely cannot afford to constrain our economy,” he told the gathering on Thursday.

Ravens said that while the V&A Waterfront had enormous potential for further expansion, access to the area was already putting pressure on developers to slow down the pace of development.

“What’s happened in the city is that we’ve got to a very emotive space around transport and there are lots of push-backs and nobody wants to take responsibility.

“So, your property developer insists they want to go ahead with property development but the city is not able to match that with the required infrastructure and there’s a little bit of a push-back on to property developers to tell them to slow down.”

Everyday problems of affordability and accessibility

Hosted by the Netherlands Consulate, experts and ordinary Capetonians are debating the everyday problems of accessibility and affordability to transport options in South Africa’s most congested city.

Invited groups from the city’s poorest communities such as Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Langa, are among those giving their input on how their daily transport problems are even affecting their ability to find work.

Research has shown that households earning less than R3200 a month were commuting between 45km and 70km a day.

Consul General of the Netherlands in Cape Town, Bonnie Horbach said the city’s residents had a collective responsibility to solve the city’s transport woes, and authorities alone could not be blamed for the situation.

“What happens a lot is that we talk about somebody else and their problem without really knowing what they would wish for a solution,” she said.

“Sometimes you can do a lot yourself. You don’t have to look at government, or the city or Prasa to change things.

“If you group people and create a network you can change a lot and be heard at a policy level,” said Horbach.

Operational costs

Transport for Cape Town commissioner Melissa Whitehead said at least 500 000 residents only had access to non-motorised transport options.

“It’s not only about those who have access to public transport, but also those who, due to their financial constraints, have access to nothing other than walking,” she said.

Whitehead said inventive ways had to be used to address the needs of the poor and to retrofit the city to make it more efficient.

“Essentially the transport costs of the city are the operational costs of the city, so the more inefficient your city is, the more the transport costs.”

But Horbach said a “copy and paste solution” from the Netherlands would not work for Cape Town.

“It’s not one solution that fits all.

“It’s not that bicycles are going to solve transportation and mobility issues, but if you give people more choices sometimes they can take a bike, other times they can take a train or they can walk.”

Cape Argus

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