Cape Town's highway to nowhere

Andrew Donaldson says the city is becoming an expensive hell for the motorist


IT’S not often we get to see much imagination and creative thinking at the Civic Centre. But lo, here on display for public comment were the six impressive private-sector proposals to develop the Foreshore freeway precinct — the city-owned land under and between the unfinished highways and the harbour.

Wandering about their scale models and design sketches this week, I was struck by the vision of the architects and other clever clogs who’ve pondered on ways to revitalise this wasted space.

Here were green-belt parks alongside the existing freeway, where the Mother Citizens could gaze out at the harbour and observe the stevedores at play before being whisked off to some domed restaurant in a pod on an overhanging monorail.

This clearly was a future quite unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

Naturally, not everyone approved. A Parklands resident, Victor Mothibi, told the Citizen: “For me, I feel like none of these proposals bridges the gap of classism. The people who would be going to this place with these fancy designs would be people that can afford it.

“I like that they’re doing something about these overhanging bridges but I just feel that there isn’t much else I’m liking about it because I saw one proposal with a circle which I don’t understand because it would take a lot of money to construct and again takes away from something else.” 

Well, as long we can all agree to dislike anything we don’t understand, then we’ll all get along fine. As one of my uncles probably used to say.

According to Brett Herron, the city councillor for transport and urban development, the proposals had to address the city’s traffic problems and have an affordable housing component.

(Cue amusement among the cynics at the Mahogany Ridge. “Affordable? Well, only if you have the money…”)

“Moreover,” Herron told reporters, “it must leave us with a lasting legacy.”

This is the sort of talk that especially excites Patricia de Lille. “No mayor has ever attempted to deal with the unfinished bridges,” Cape Business News quoted her as saying, “and I would like it to be part of my legacy.”

And she’s certainly working on that, is our Patsy, much of it in concrete and behind high walls, and in all the better parts of the Peninsula, too.

The Foreshore overhaul is one of five transit-oriented projects the city is banking on to promote economic and residential opportunities closer to transport corridors. The others are in Paardevlei, Athlone, Bellville and Philippi.

This, the mayor maintains, would reverse the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and allow people to live closer to their workplaces.

However, there appears to be consensus among the proposals that, in the future, people will still drive to work. Most of them suggest that the city’s traffic problems could be eased by building more traffic lanes flowing in the same direction to avoid bottlenecks.

Driving is one thing. It’s when they park that the trouble starts. 

The city has what Herron has termed a “travel demand management strategy” which it employs in its long-standing war against the motor car. It effectively means they will charge motorists the earth in parking fees. 

According to a tariffs and charges proposal document for the coming financial year tabled before the city’s transport and urban development committee, motorists could soon be hit with a 69% hike in parking fees. 

“The tariff should deter motorists from parking for long periods where there is high demand such as the CBD,” Herron told The Times. 

But it’s not just the city centre — Sea Point, Claremont and Tyger Valley have also been identified as “high-demand parking areas”.

Cape Town’s roads are the country’s most congested. According to the 2017 Tom Tom Traffic Index, the city has a congestion level of 35%, which presumably means that for eight hours a day driving is hell. To put it another way, the morning and evening peaks are four hours each way.

One day, we’ll tell our grandchildren why it was called “rush hour”. 

It’s now been claimed — admittedly by the designers of a car pool-sharing app — that almost 80% of cars entering the CBD each work day only have one occupant. 

Bicycles are not the answer. This is not Amsterdam. Besides, the city has for years attempted to coax us into the saddle but the only discernible result appears to be the alarming profileration of bearded millennials on skateboards playing in the traffic.

The problem is Metrorail. Cape Town’s passenger train service was once an asset we could all depend on. Alas, no more. It’s a failing disgrace.

It’s true, the trains aren’t run by the city. But perhaps they should be. 

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.