Traf­fic woes? Don’t drive, says the city

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

IN A BID to solve its traf­fic prob­lems, the City of Cape Town has come up with a cun­ning plan and it is sim­ply this: don’t drive your mo­tor car. This, the Ma­hogany Ridge reg­u­lars have sug­gested, was the prin­ci­pal mes­sage that Mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille de­liv­ered at this week’s spe­cial sum­mit on con­ges­tion.

Most news re­ports dwelt on the R750 mil­lion the city wants to spend over the next five years on “road in­fras­truc­ture projects” to ease traf­fic woes. De Lille’s com­ments, how­ever, about cam­paigns to wean Capeto­ni­ans off their cars, un­for­tu­nately ap­pear to have es­caped me­dia at­ten­tion.

“Most im­por­tantly,” she said, some­what darkly, “our res­i­dents will have to change their travel be­hav­iour and at­ti­tude to­wards pub­lic trans­port and non- mo­torised trans­port such as walk­ing and cy­cling.”

Ah, the ever-present threat of bi­cy­cles. No other city on Earth both­ers its cit­i­zens with th­ese con­trap­tions as much as Cape Town does. Soon we shall all be stuffed like polony sausages in Ly­cra. For our own good.

Walk­ing, how­ever, we un­der­stand. In many cases, it’s quicker than driv­ing to work. Two years ago, Cape Town was found to be South Africa’s most grid­locked city, with a two-hour morn­ing peak traf­fic pe­riod, from 7am to 9am. Two years later, it’s four hours, from 6am to 10am.

But the mayor has a point. The R750m won’t buy you much in terms of “road in­fras­truc­ture projects”. It’s barely three Nkandla up­grades. Clearly some­thing else must hap­pen.

Take, for ex­am­ple, one of the “pres­sure points” the city wishes to tackle – the greatly bot­tle­necked Ou Kaapse Weg. This two-lane moun­tain pass is the chief thor­ough­fare be­tween the south­ern Penin­sula and the rest of the city – and it’s a traf­fic night­mare at any given time of the day.

We blame the city. It was their lu­natic de­ci­sion to let de­vel­op­ers run amok in the Deep South with­out re­gard for in­fras­truc­ture. As a re­sult, there are all th­ese hideous clus­ters spring­ing up – “gated ghetto”, I be­lieve, is the ver­nac­u­lar – and more and more peo­ple are mov­ing into the area.

Which means more and more cars. But the roads can’t take it, and it’s not un­heard of that a school run be­tween Kom­metjie and Fish Hoek can now take up to two hours. Yet, for all this, there is, mys­te­ri­ously, so lit­tle re­li­able pub­lic trans­port down there – which is prob­a­bly why the roads are jam-packed with cars in the first place.

Noth­ing will change un­less Ou Kaapse Weg is mirac­u­lously trans­formed into a six-lane su­per­high­way overnight. And that won’t hap­pen. Not for R750m, at least. And, any­way, as De Lille has pointed out, there’s no point in build­ing new roads, be­cause that will just mean more cars.

Hence the sug­ges­tion of “be­havioural change” and all this bold talk of in­te­grat­ing and align­ing the city’s bus ser­vices with the trains. Which is in­ter­est­ing, as that would en­tail the city en­ter­ing into a part­ner­ship with the state-owned Metro­rail – with the pos­si­bil­ity that some of Cape Town’s punc­til­ious civic fussi­ness may rub off on Metro­rail.

God knows, but the trains are an or­deal th­ese days. They’re filthy. The car­riages are plas­tered with ad­ver­tise­ments for pe­nis-en­larg­ing creams and same-day abor­tion ser­vices. The graf­fiti is ter­ri­ble, the spell­ing atrocious. The seats are slashed and there are smelly pud­dles on the floor. Blind beg­gars roam the first-class coaches show­ing you their sores and singing about the mercy of Je­sus. Gangs of urchins wear­ing car-seat cov­ers mas­quer­ade as tra­di­tional dance troupes and de­mand money for jump­ing up and down.

Take it from me, this sort of thing doesn’t hap­pen on a MyCITI bus.

But, speak­ing of which, what­ever hap­pened to the city’s plans to pro­vide free wifi on the buses? There was much talk of such a ser­vice six months ago, and its in­tro­duc­tion would greatly en­cour­age the cit­i­zenry to make use of pub­lic trans­port.

Surf­ing the in­ter­net for pic­tures of kit­tens or what­ever on the way to work is cer­tainly bet­ter than be­ing stuck in a car with noth­ing but talk ra­dio for com­pany. All that phony out­rage from Kieno Kam­mies? You’ll even­tu­ally go mad.

More omi­nously, the city wants as­sis­tance with “ex­per­tise and money in find­ing long-term so­lu­tions be­cause, in the end, con­ges­tion comes at a great eco­nomic cost”, as De Lille put it, and will be ex­plor­ing “more en­force­ment” on bus and taxi lanes.

This means more traf­fic fines – an­other good rea­son not to drive.

How­ever, should it come down to manda­tory car shar­ing, I am will­ing to hire out my ser­vices as a pas­sen­ger. My rates will be rea­son­able, and my chat­ter not too inane.

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