Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another week: Obs to the Waterfront, Obs-Plumstead (again), and the public swimming pool

This weekend saw a lot of mileage for the Bullitt. We didn't take photos because the routes were a little more intense/weren't sure of safety, but I thought I'd write a quick post anyway.

Getting from Obs - Plumstead on a Sunday was infinitely easier than last time (we rode on a Saturday). Very doable and even enjoyable. The strong winds made life a bit more difficult, but we're all more confident, just knowing the route and being more confident on the quiet roads. The kids are still happy on the long ride. I'd now tend towards staying on main roads rather than trying to leave and enter traffic. We also discovered  that our last trip was the day of a major horse race, which explains a lot of the Saturday traffic and large tour buses.

We traveled for the first time to the V&A Waterfront, through the Cape Town CBD. There are plans afoot to create a bike lane on Albert Road, but for now getting to the city involves cycling in major traffic. The bike lane can't come soon enough. Thankfully, there isn't too much bus traffic (mainly car and minibus taxi). Once we got to Church Road in Woodstock, we were faced with a right turn in difficult traffic, in order to get onto the wonderful bike path that runs from Milnerton into the city.

When on that beautiful path that runs alongside the myciti bus route, I'm a lot more conscious that a) the city has been thinking of how to make biking more accessible for much longer than I've been biking. b) Biking offers a completely different view of the city.

While on this trip, we encountered a lot of homeless people living under bridges near to the city, and along the railway line, and I'm finally starting to feel something in me shift a bit. As you know if you read this blog, I'm theoretically trying to follow Jesus and be post-colonial, anti-racist and liberal and trying to see social ills in historical context and blah blah blah. But those abstract beliefs don't fit well together when I'm actually encountering beggars and homeless people. When faced with people who need/want something from me, I get guilty, angry, defensive and unsure of myself. This is where feeling "I can't help" unless I consider the the societal-level stuff collides with "here's a person who maybe could use someone noticing them", and these two ideas don't go together well. I don't want to be like this, but I honestly haven't been able to figure my way out of it. Praying about it hasn't helped. But riding along and seeing where people live, something is gradually shifting. When we bike, there's something to talk about with all kinds of people, and no hunk of metal to whisk us away. For the most part, people actually don't ask us for stuff as much, which paradoxically makes me feel less uncomfortable engaging and seeing where things lead.

Also on the Waterfront trip, I encountered my first negative comment: from a middle-aged white man driving a ridiculously expensive car who wagged a finger and said "what you're doing with those kids is very dangerous, you know?" I felt very small and very angry, and didn't say anything.

Observatory swimming pool
Observatory swimming pool has been an uncomfortable distance: too far to walk, to short to justify driving. So riding is perfect. Entrance is just R5 (US$0.50), and the kids love it.  I wish they opened earlier than 10am, but otherwise I'm so encouraged that, even as some beaches will be less accessible without the car, other options are opening up.

We're putting our best effort into selling the car this week, and hope to write more (with an exciting, rare, guest writing appearance from Eug) next week on Composting Faith.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Observatory to Pinelands (Oude Moulen) by bike: Short, beautiful, ridiculous

On Tuesdays our usual ride is to Oude Moulen ecovillage in Pinelands. I've done the ride three times, and part of me enjoys it and part of me is indignant, full of adrenaline, and using every ounce of energy I have. 

According to the Cape Town bike map, there are two bike-accessible bridges over the freeway/highway, between two freeway onramps/offramps. But in reality, one of those bridges has been completely removed, and the other can only be reached offroad, which I'll describe in a second. The first time I rode, I ended up having to cross the highway via the offramp at Berkeley St, which for the most part avoids the actual highway, but had to take a gap between traffic zipping on and off it. It was semi-safe, but not something I'd like to do every week: while the speedy trucks along Berkeley were mindful and gave me space, that is not something I anticipate to be true for all time, I think we were lucky.

So this is the dirt path, which is to my knowledge the only safe way between Obs and Pinelands, yet will be muddy and unpassable in winter, beautiful part of the day and year, and creepy and unsafe the rest of the time. Right now, I'm embracing the beautiful part. 

The dirt path going down the hill, with the highway in the distance.
Through the fence is the official route to the bike path/pedestrian bridge over the highway. It's in the Valkenburg hospital, which is a government-run psychiatric hospital. They won't allow entry. While I understand why, I really hope there is a middle ground to be found. Hopefully before winter.

It's beautiful going along the path, with ponds to the right and left- the path is made largely just by people walking on it.
It's beautiful on one side, but it's also very dirty, and occasionally a place for people to sleep.
A bridge over the river from Noah's perspective. This is a fantastic bridge, but getting on and off it is the steep, narrow dirt path, with a fairly sharp turn.

Over the first bridge, we can see a train bridge, and the kids love watching the train pass by.
The M5 is often very busy, depending on the time of day.
In the distance is Devil's Peak and before that, Observatory.

There's this random, abandoned, trash filled structure on the way. Noah asks, "is it a playground?"
The path, which heads directly to the highway. In the winter, I expect that it will disappear under water and be unpassable, as the rain will cause the river to rise a lot, and the soil here is already damp, mid-summer, so it won't be able to absorb all the winter rain without becoming super muddy.

The second bridge over the river. Concrete blocks. The first time I went over, I had to garner all my courage. In winter the river will come up as far the bridge.
Made it to the bridge over the N2/M5. These roads are all gridlocked during rush hour. But getting down to the level of the river/highway, and then having to get up to the level of the bridge is pretty tiring pushing the Bullitt.
Devil's peak and the back of Table Mountain, from the ecovillage.

While this is currently the best route between Pinelands and Observatory, it is not a bike path. It will be flooded during winter, and unsafe in anything but full light. The alternative routes on the freeway offramps are dangerous. The slightly longer route via Raapenburg road past Vincent Pallotti hospital is likely one that many experienced cyclists take, and we're happy taking that route on a Sunday, but during the week the sheer volume of traffic rushing off the highway and accustomed to a yield sign (which few people take to include bikes) makes it feel relatively unsafe. Having driven on and off the highway myself, I know it is difficult to see and account for cyclists, and the double lanes mean that cars are often going between 80 and 100km/hour.

One solution would be to create a way through the Valkenburg hospital. I know there are complexities to figuring out bypasses and access, but using the existing tar road to get to the bridge would make the route convenient and safe and I believe more people would try it. In the larger picture of making Cape Town more livable, healthier and more sustainable, it seems to make sense that this is one piece of infrastructure that should belong to everyone. Does anyone know someone working at the Valkenburg who I could check in with?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Observatory to Plumstead by bike, and dreaming of better bike infrastructure

Last Saturday, Eug and I and the kids took the cargo bike down to Plumstead. By bike it's around 15km one-way. It's an important route for us because my parents and two siblings and their families all live in Plumstead. The southern suburbs are easy commuting distance from the city centre.

You can see the rain cover here. It was a cloudy day so Eug set it up just in case.
I wanted to share a bit about a couple of challenges of the ride. I'm hoping that our own experiences might be helpful for other people trying to use bike transportation. The thing is, it was not an easy ride on the Bullitt. I'm hesitant to share that because I want you to cycle. I do. Maybe we can all band together and make it a better ride.

The bike path on the side of the Liesbeek river is a pleasure, and Rosebank is full of bike lanes. Rondebosch common has bike lanes on the pavement, and there are a few underpasses through the busy roads around Rondebosch common. The main challenges with these lanes on the Bullitt are sharp turns, and lack of ramps on and off the pavement. Because of the ways some roads intersect, riding Plumstead- Observatory is a lot easier than the reverse direction. But for the most part, the first part of our ride was fun and exciting.

Once we reached Claremont and Kenilworth, the options for bikes deteriorate significantly. Bike lanes disappear, roads get very busy, and when we took side roads, we found ourselves intersecting with busy roads (Landsdowne, Mead) with no robot to help us cross. If you add the issue of pavements without ramps, there are not a lot of options for bikes with weight. I am very proud of the load I can comfortably cycle with on the Bullitt, but I am not physically able to lift the bike to ramp the pavement with the boys in it. However, at intersections like Mead st, with turning traffic, it becomes very difficult to navigate safely. If we cross with the pedestrian light, which is far too short, I can't get the bike back up on the pavement before the traffic starts to move. If we behave as motorists (as we are supposed to) and take a right turn into traffic, this means cycling on the main road (rather than side roads) the whole way, or facing a difficult re-entry into traffic. Right now, I would tend towards recommending Rosmead the whole way, rather than going on side roads and having to consider pavements. The challenge of bike lanes that end abruptly in the middle of a busy area- often leaving you stranded on the wrong side of the road- should not be that difficult to fix. The other option- which we have not yet tried- is riding down Main road the whole way. This would mean giving up the awesome bike lane experience of the early part of the cycle, but it could potentially make some parts of the ride easier.

We stopped on a small bridge because we spotted some tiny baby guinea fowl. beautiful.
The distance takes about an hour each way, with a lot of detours. It seems that it would be possible, with infrastructure, for commuters all the way south of the city centre to Plumstead to commute into the city by bike. In fact, the difference in time would likely be far less for people commuting during rush hour.

Despite the inconvenience, we loved trying it out for the first time and arriving at my parents' made it worthwhile. We hope to make it a regular trip, and for it to keep getting easier.

Peace. Kindof. 
Grandpa sneaks tiny chocolates into the kid's milk. 
To improve biking in any section of Cape Town, more people have to try it and share their experiences- as so many people are already. We have to keep trying it, find the easiest ways on existing infrastructure, and try to get our stories out there to make it a priority to improve infrastructure. I dream of protected bike lanes, and for much of the route, these seem practical without increasing the overall size of the road. Despite the apparent cost of bike lanes, the environmental, social and health costs of driving are far greater. Look at me, biking for two weeks has put me on my high horse. I know you have a good reason for driving, I know I always do. But maybe even cycling part of the time can change Cape Town- and perhaps even change the traffic on the road so that when you do have to drive, it's a more pleasant experience.

Noah found this grapevine, picked about 5kg of grapes, and took this photo. The vine is along the Liesbeek- where it's made into a canal in Rosebank. It was clear that it was long forgotten, and the only way to get to the grapes was to step into the canal (It's dry enough in summer that the outer parts are completely dry, making it a great path). We'll make grape jelly.