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The government must stop building roads for cars and start building infrastructure for people.

This is the central message that emerged from the second edition of the National Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) conference at the Ditsong Museum in Pretoria at the weekend.

The conference, hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs, followed the unveiling a week earlier of a 5km cycle lane between Orlando East and Noordgesig in the City of Johannesburg.

The one-day conference was aimed at exploring ways to create an environment for the rollout of non-motorised transport in South Africa’s cities to improve people’s quality of life and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Delivering the keynote address at the conference, Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi challenged the middle class to get out of their cars and start cycling or walking.

He said it was wrong to assume that the cycling infrastructure that cities such as Johannesburg were investing in was aimed only at poor people or low-income earners as these sections of society were already using cycling or walking as their modes of mobility.

MEC Vadi also called on the middle class to use public transport systems such as Metrobus and Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system more to ease congestion on the roads and alleviate greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Johannesburg’s Executive Director of Transport, Lisa Seftel, said the City was committed to making walking, cycling and public transport the preferred modes of mobility among its residents.

This, Seftel said, was despite the fact that apartheid’s spatial patterns had made this objective difficult to achieve. Most home-to-work trips were too long to be undertaken on a bicycle and many of Johannesburg’s learners attended school far from their homes, she said.

A 2010 survey of bike ownership in Johannesburg showed that 91% of the city’s households did not own a bicycle. The survey also showed that in the Johannesburg central business district and Alexandra only 2% of the households owned a bicycle. Ownership was high in corridors such as William Nicol (22%) and Beyers Naude (23%).

“There is political will, community initiative and sustainability imperatives to make Joburg a cycling friendly city. The City is committed to making walking, cycling and public transport the modes of choice for residents. [But] we are starting on a low base,” Seftel said.

She said more than R250 million had been set aside in the current financial year to provide dedicated cycling infrastructure in several areas of the city, including the Johannesburg inner city, Alexandra, Alexandra-Sandton, Sandton CBD, Rosebank and Diepsloot-Fourways.

Most of the projects are expected to be completed by June next year.

Seftel also told the conference that to further demonstrate its commitment to a car-free environment, the City would close off certain streets in Sandton in October next year as part of the Ecomobility World Festival in Johannesburg.

The streets will, instead, be used for public transport, walking, cycling and other forms of economobility to show that creating a car-less environment is possible.

Govin van Eyck of the AM Civil Engineers said there was a significant paradigm shift towards non-motorised transport, as demonstrated by the City of Johannesburg’s leadership in policy formulation and implementation.

“Tshwane is taking a leaf from the City of Joburg. We have a lot to learn. What is encouraging is that we have political will and support but are we bold enough? We need to have a big shock NMT project. Be bold and go big,” Van Eyck said.

He cited the lack of awareness and public education, under-expenditure and the lack of commitment to ringfence NMT budgets as some of the challenges facing the rollout of cycling infrastructure.

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