‘Unfinished’ Foreshore Freeways – Let’s start with a clear brief

Cyclist and freeways_Lisa Kane_Road Classsification_3

The morning of Tuesday 21 June – I’m listening intently to the Mayor and Mayco Member for Transport, Councillor Brett Herron talking about proposals for the foreshore precinct. It’s rather surprising: “Whether the unfinished highways stay or go, are completed, or redesigned altogether, is for the proposed bidders to put forward” . This is not as focused on completing freeways as the earlier statements from the Mayor. This is more about land-use development; about bringing in the creative private sector; about open and transparent public participation. This is welcome. It’s balanced. It’s exciting. It’s different to what has gone before.

Then again… perhaps it’s a bit too enthusiastic about the ability or interest of the private sector to develop this land. But the statements from the podium are open-ended enough for a range of proposals to be put forward. It looks like the City is taking a wait-and-see approach.

My main concern is that there’s nothing in the statements (other than calls for affordable housing) about safeguards for ensuring good and plentiful public space, but this might be balanced out in the process of public involvement…

I’m feeling quietly optimistic. That is, until the Mayor is interviewed on the John Maytham Show later that day on the topic. Now she is stridently insisting that completing the freeways will be part of this scheme. She insists she has said so! I check the press statement again: “…part of the conditions for the development will be that it includes the funds to complete the unfinished bridges, alleviate congestion and provide affordable housing”.

Same statement – conflicting views on finishing the freeways or not.

If this process is going to succeed it needs a clear and visionary brief from the City; a brief which enables the design teams to do their own work. This brief should not prejudge the creative process. It should sketch out a vision, and not any solutions. It should trust in the design and engineering professionals to do what they do best.

A clear design brief is an absolute necessity. My hope is that the City will have the time, vision and wisdom to do just that, if nothing else, before 8 July when the Bid documents are released.

‘Unfinished’ Foreshore Freeways – An unexpected monument to struggle?

Freeways

Eastern Boulevard Construction through District Six. Source: City of Cape Town Engineer’s Annual Report 1964

 

It’s almost fifty years since construction on the ‘unfinished’ foreshore freeways in Cape Town started. For most of the 1940s and 1950s the foreshore was a windswept, bleak sandy wasteland beyond Adderley Street. It had been reclaimed from the sea for the construction of a new port during the 1930s, but by the early 1960s the new land hadn’t been developed  yet. The intervening period was one of intense wrangling between planners, politicians and engineers about how to develop the area. In 1963 a committee comprising a Detroit traffic engineer; a Bishops educated, British Professor of Planning; and a local engineer finally articulated an idea for a freeway route around the city. It was typical of thinking at that time.

This new freeway would provide a fast route for national traffic from the western suburbs of Sea Point and Camps Bay to connect with the N1 and the rest of the country. It would also provide a freeway up Buitengracht Street as far as Shortmarket Street. The silent sixties in South Africa meant public reaction to most things, including such road building, was muted. When the Eastern Boulevard (now named “Nelson Mandela Boulevard”) cut through District Six housing in 1963/4 there was little response registered by the engineers. By 1972, however, the mood had shifted dramatically. Awakening heritage, conservation, environmental and civil rights movements started protest the development of these urban freeways. The huge arches of the foreshore freeways were suddenly labelled by the local press as a “concrete dragon”.

Similarly, outrage was being expressed in the US where freeways had been built through downtowns . The roads ripped through “black neighbourhoods” and contributed to the rising civil rights movement in a series of ‘highway revolts’. South African road engineers, returning from trips to the US, were shocked by how dramatically the mood in the US had shifted against the very urban freeway construction that South Africa was in the midst of. Returning from one such an overseas tour in 1968 a senior National Transport official argued strongly that National Government should no longer subsidise urban freeway building. Over the course of the 1970s urban road schemes across the country were either quietly dropped or downgraded. By the mid-1970s attention had shifted away from the Cape Town CBD to the then new Mitchells Plain, which required huge roads and service infrastructure investment to fulfil the Apartheid plan.

So yes, officially the foreshore freeway was stopped because the money ‘ran out’; it ran out because the international civil rights movement was waking up while, ironically, the Apartheid machinery was gearing into action. In this sense the ‘unfinished’ freeway can be seen as a physical manifestation of the struggle for human rights in making of cities. It stands as a memorial to painful struggles both at home and elsewhere.

Four truths about roads and ‘unfinished’ freeways

Lisa Kane_unfinished highway

Some years ago exasperated Professor of Transport Policy, Phil Goodwin took to the stage for his inaugural lecture at the University College London, with a lecture memorably titled, Solving Congestion (when we must not build roads, increase spending, lose votes, damage the economy, and will never find equilibrium). In it he took a well-aimed swipe at the ignorance about traffic which circulates as knowledge.

In the past 20 years this summary still stands as a piece of sense in a sea of rhetoric and exaggerated claims about the role of roads in the economy. As the news of plans to complete Cape Town’s (in)famous ‘unfinished’ freeways make headlines, yet again, it’s worth revisiting four well-researched truths about traffic:

  1. Roads generate traffic. The best metaphor for this research is of the fat man (traffic) with a tight belt (roads). Does adding a notch or two solve the fat problem? Does keeping the belt tight make the fat man more or less likely to stay fat? We know from research that in urban areas adding more roads simply feeds a culture of more and more car use. It does nothing to constrain that appetite for car travel.
  1. Roads do not solve congestion. Loosening the ‘belt’ (adding more roads) does, for sure give some immediate relief. But in the long term road-building generates even more traffic and the early-year benefits are quickly eroded. We don’t have to look further than Hospital Bend to see how quickly gridlock has resumed after the supposed relief of the additional lanes built at great expense to the tax-payer. On a larger scale the freeway city of Los Angeles, which suffers almost perpetual traffic congestion, should be a warning against the pursuit of road building.
  1. Travel behaviour is a process, not a state. Instead of thinking about fat men in tight belts, the metaphor transport planners use is that traffic is like water: It flows in pipes (roads). Improving the flow means diverting the water, into more and faster pipes (roads). But people are not water molecules. They are not the same. Less than two years after its launch we are already witness the impact of Uber on attitudes towards car ownership. What difference will Uberpool and other car share schemes make to how cars are used and to how traffic flows?
  1. Road building kills public transport. Public transport provision is a tricky, marginal business. It needs lots of people travelling on it to be viable. Public transport can quickly enter downward, or upward, spirals. In the upward spiral more people travelling mean that more buses are required, which means a more frequent service, which makes it more attractive to more people….and so on. In the downwards spiral the opposite becomes true. So road building and public transport are linked. And investing in roads reduces the viability of public transport.

We live in an era where almost everything points away from even more urban road building: climate change, technology developments, bus rapid transit schemes, pedestrianisation, high incidence of road-related deaths and urban renewal.

It begs the question why the completion of these freeways are even being considered as a sensible move?

On Friday, 10 June, I was interviewed John Maytham of Cape Talk about the issue of the unfinished highways. Listen to the interview here

Mommy PhD: Writing on Mars

 

Let's Pretend_a Bonnie Book_Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Writing on Mars

Cover of children’s book “Let’s Pretend” via Pinterest

 

It’s so important to have separation while studying, but how do you make sure that the necessary separation doesn’t become hurtful? How do you avoid resentful children en route to a lifetime of therapy? This was a tough one for me. I didn’t want Brett and Hannah to feel that they couldn’t have access to me but I also needed them to know that my PhD room was a different room from the others in the house.

When they were very little I would leave them with care-givers and tell them that I was “going to Mars”. “Going to Mars” they understood, really meant going down to the shed-study at the bottom of the garden, but in their vivid imaginations I was on Mars. If they wanted to contact me they would use the “inter-planetary” phone. And of course there were exceptions to the galactic separation. Needing a cuddle with mama was reason enough for warp-speed space travel, with me happily beaming back down to earth, because cuddles are available at any time – no questions asked.

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