A cargo bike future for Cape Town?

I am looking forward to being on a panel deliberating on the possibility of growing a cargo bike culture in Cape Town, South Africa.

The panel is part of a day long event called #cocreateMYCITY 2019.  The organisers say:

“The initiative will bring together South African and Dutch stakeholders to discuss ways to co-create economically, environmentally and socially Resilient Cities, focusing on sustainable and innovative solutions to urban challenges.

In my presentation, I will show some pictures from when cargo bike cultures were more prolific across South Africa. Such as these below.

The practices depicted as above have not entirely disappeared in Cape Town and other South African cities. See recent photographs below which show actual practice and aspiration.

Drawing on historical and contemporary experiences, I am optimistic that it can again become more commonplace to use bikes to ferry goods, people (lots), run enterprises and so on in Cape Town – as it once was.

 

 

 

Changes in traffic culture

When I ride a bicycle or walk in a motor-oriented context, I sometimes feel very frustrated by the unequal power relations demonstrated in street level traffic culture. In such contexts, pedestrians or people cycling are rarely ‘seen’ by those behind private cars.

I then remember what a respondent said to me about changes in Chicago. He had been commuting by bicycle and was also involved in grassroots mobilisation. In 2015 he said:

When we started out, people often talked about fearing for their safety. People were not used to us being around. You would be yelled at. There would be people like, what the hell are you doing? So in 12 years I have seen amazing turning around in public opinion. In terms of being yelled, feeling terribly scared on the streets. And now I am in a pack of cyclists. And I see motorists acknowledging you have that right of way. As I see it we are all taking turns. I am finding it a little easier to get your place in line and be acknowledged at an intersection on a bike than it used to be.

That gives me hope then about the possibilities for change – even though such changes appear to take long to realize:

trends in bicycle mode share Chicago

Data Sources

Active Trans. 2018. “Regional Mode Share Report.” Chicago, Ill., United States: Active Transportation Alliance. www. activetrans.org.

Berkow, Matt, and Nick Falbo. 2014. “Chicago Bike Monitoring 2014: Technical Report.” http://www.activetrans.org/.

League of American Bicyclists. 2014. “Where We Ride: Analysis of Bicycle Commuting in American Citie.” http://www.bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/ACS_report_2014_forweb_edit.pdf.

Vance, Steven. 2015. “New Census Data Says Chicago’s Bike Mode Share Is at an All-Time High | Streetsblog Chicago.” StreetsBlog Chicago (blog). September 25, 2015. http://chi.streetsblog.org/2015/09/25/new-census-data-shows-chicago-bike-commuting-might-be-up/.

The Cultural Politics of Infrastructure: The Case of Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg, South Africa

Tomorrow, I will be presenting a seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand on the appearance and disappearance of a cycle lane on one of Johannesburg’s thoroughfares.

Below is an abstract of the talk which is based on a chapter in a book critically engaging with the global upsurge of cycling infrastructures (Morgan 2020). The book is due out January, 2020.

Cycle infrastructure, especially cycle tracks and or cycle ways, have commanded significant attention in cycle planning. They have, for some, been seen as a ‘silver bullet’ to promote utility cycling since when separated from vehicle flows, they can shield people cycling from motor traffic improving road safety. A range of studies have however begun to question the causal relationships in stimulating cycling. Others following the notion of co-evolution between technology and society and therefore setting aside the concept of ‘neutral’ technologies, point to the possibilities of infrastructures doing other ‘work.’

This paper follows these critical lines of inquiry about cycle infrastructure to examine an historical case of cycle lane provision in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1935, a cycle lane was allocated on a road called Louis Botha Avenue. While the road remained an important cycling corridor well into the 1960s, and there were policy recommendations for such high volume corridors to have barrier protected cycle tracks, the cycle infrastructure was never upgraded and was eventually abandoned. How do we make sense of the appearance of the cycle lane as well as the failure to upgrade the facility? This paper draws on insights from science and technology studies for analysis. It argues that the cycle lane as well as improvement failure were ultimately manifestations of processes through which the rights of cycle users on Louis Botha Avenue were in question, as were also their rights of residence in an area called Alexandra Township adjacent to the road.

I look forward to showing the film clip below to illustrate the argument:

References

Morgan, Njogu. 2020. “The Cultural Politics of Infrastructure: The Case of Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg, South Africa.” In The Politics of Cycling Infrastructure, edited by Till Koglin and Peter Cox. Bristol, United Kingdom: Policy Press.

 

How apartheid killed Johannesburg’s cycling culture

I recently published an article in the Guardian Newspaper which provides a sneak preview of the book into the history of cycling in Johannesburg.

There is undoubtedly much more empirical material and analysis contained in the book. So look out for the printed edition.

You can read the article here.

Fragments of the past

Across South African cities, bicycles are rarely used to commute. Instead people use motorised transport such as minibus taxis, trains, buses, while others might walk.

Of course like many cities around the world, there was a time when bicycles were a choice mode of transport across South Africa – even for the social elite. This is a story that a forthcoming book called Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience tells – albeit only about Johannesburg.

While the old utility story of bicycles in South Africa might be largely forgotten,  there are still some echoes of that past.

In Cape Town, Lebogang Mokwena – also Cape Town’s Bicycle Mayor – is teaching adult women to ride bicycles. This is remarkably like another initiative that took place in the late 19th century, when bicycles were a novel technology.

IMG_3511
Teaching women to ride bicycles in Cape Town in 1899

 

Other echoes occur in infrastructure. See below existing cycle tracks in Johannesburg developed in the 1980s, in the then independent municipality of Randburg. While there are clear signs of decay and they are headed to complete ruin, I did spot one person on a bicycle one day in 2017 using them.

 

Below, cycle and pedestrian tracks developed for school children in the 1980s  – in a small town called Springs. The tracks as I saw them in early 2017 were largely overgrown. It is likely that some people on foot walk along them as do the still small population in Springs that cycles.

 

Below, pictures of a cycling school for children developed in the 1960s also in the small town, Springs. The school now lies dormant.

Can the past reconnect with the present? Can the former more vibrant cycling cultures in South African urban centres return? Policy-makers, planners, academics, activists in many towns across the country, certainly hope so. If experience in other cities across the world is anything to go by, that old simple technology can also make a comeback for everyday transportation at the edge of the African continent.

 

 

Context and utility cycling: The case of Springs in comparison to Johannesburg

Introduction

Streets in Gauteng are dominated by people using automobiles. This means that other users and types of uses are, in the main, subservient to those of driving. This is in spite of the low levels of car ownership. The 2014 National Household Travel Survey revealed that only 38.5% of households in Gauteng either owned or had access to a private car (Statistics South Africa 2015). In the democratic transition, there was heightened policy attention on the needs of people walking, cycling, using public transportation, as well
as other forms of locomotion (Morgan 2017). One approach, called Complete Streets, seeks to transform streets in Gauteng into spaces with multiple uses and where different users can co-exist (see for example City of Johannesburg 2014). What might such a transformational process entail?

How would users respond to invitations for new ways of inhabiting and moving about streets? How would the nature of street design shape user responses? This chapter considers these and other questions by examining a historical moment in the 1930s when policy-makers in towns and cities along the Witwatersrand mining belt were grappling with road use. With growing motorisation, questions arose as to how to accommodate all road users – not only those in private motor cars. At about the same
time, two municipalities, Johannesburg and Springs, decided to separate road users by offering them their own spaces. However, while Johannesburg, as far as records reveal, created cycle lanes on one road – namely, Louis Botha Avenue – Springs created a net-
work of cycle tracks. Johannesburg’s cycle lanes were separated from motor vehicle space by white paint while most of the tracks in Springs were physically separated by space and barriers.

How do we understand these different degrees of accommodation for utility cycling in  the two municipalities? This chapter uses concepts from the literature on transitions to organise the analysis into the reasons for the different council decisions for Johannesburg and Springs in the 1930s. The chapter argues that in Johannesburg, because of socio-economic inequality and actor activities, bicycles and then automobiles were seen as symbols of social status (in as much as they were practical transportation tools). This was compounded by rapid urban expansion within a hillier topography. In Springs, while there was inequality which might have produced the tendency towards conspicuous consumption, this was moderated early on by the influence of Protestant religious beliefs. In turn, these religious beliefs were supported by low levels of economic activity and compact morphology and level terrain. These dynamics shaped council decisions in allocations of bicycle infrastructure and use patterns. I conclude the chapter by drawing out lessons for the contemporary agenda to promote utility cycling. Data-collection methods were mixed, involving archival research, examination of secondary materials including photography and film footage, and ethnography.

Read rest of chapter here

 

Social pressure as a barrier to mode shift

Cycling advocates in low cycling contexts often point to factors such as poor road safety, distance, and lack of access to bicycles as barriers to cycling uptake in their contexts. Certainly these are legitimate.

But is it perhaps also the case that other ‘invisible’ barriers such as social pressure are equally as important? During the course of my PhD research, I collected many reports in space and time suggesting that the gaze from others is as important in shaping transportation practices. Here are a few.

From Beijing in 2006:

Although I did save a lot of time while cycling, there are disadvantages to cycling. There is nowhere to park near my company, and I had to take a cab when meeting clients. What would they think of me if I cycled up to them?

From Chicago in 1999:

my whole family acts like I’m from Mars because I don’t own a car

From Beijing 1926:

….a university professor in Beijing ‘confessed’ in a letter to the editor of a journal that to save transportation costs, but also to comply with social expectations, he usually called a rickshaw to pick him up, walked most of the distance, then took another rickshaw to reach his destination gracefully (Moghaddass-Esfehani, 2003, p. 97)

References

Moghaddass-Esfehani, A., 2003. The Bicycle’s Long Way to China: The Appropriation of Cycling as a Foreign Cultural Technique, 1890–1940. In Proceedings, 13th International Cycling History Conference 13. 13th International Cycling History Conference. San Francisco: Van der Plas Publications, pp. 94–101.