We need cycle-friendly cities

28 February 2012 - 02:11
By Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver

After many years of putting it off, I have finally committed to riding the Argus Cycle Tour. This means I am doing some serious huffing and puffing up hills as I try to get fit enough for the race. But the upside is that I am seeing a whole new side to Johannesburg city and the roads that I take for granted in my car. I am also acutely aware of how bicycle-unfriendly our city is.

Last Sunday, on my way up Malibongwe Drive, I passed a fellow cyclist lying on the side of the road after being struck a glancing blow by a vehicle. Luckily, all he had were some scrapes and bruises, but he was justifiably furious. The driver was too close to the side of the road, and had not been looking out for cyclists.

There should be laws about this. Cars need to keep a distance of at least 1.5m from a cyclist when passing. Some countries have even legislated this. The South African regulations (regulation 311 in particular) offer a long list of what cyclists are not allowed to do, but offer no protection to cyclists from motorised vehicles.

As a country we have made bold commitments about climate change and lowering emissions. One of the most obvious and least expensive ways of doing this is promoting non-motorised transport, especially cycling.

Our cities' mayors need to put their money where their mouths are and make our cities more bicycle-friendly. For example, we need a network of cycle paths and lanes demarcated on our roads. We also need public awareness campaigns about the importance of looking out for cyclists and ensuring their safety.

And we need to promote cycling as not only a middle-class sport, but as a more affordable form of transport for everyone. The Bicycle Empowerment Network in Cape Town has been doing inspiring work along these lines, setting up cycling centres and bicycle shops in low-income communities on the Cape Flats.

Given the lethargy of our politicians on this issue, we also need visible activism to give the issue more prominence. I am inspired by the efforts of Critical Mass Johannesburg, who have organised night rides on the last Friday of every month and take over the streets of Johannesburg. Let's build a critical mass to demand more cycle-friendly cities in South Africa.