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.

1 comment:

leah said...

It says something that the word "curb-cut" was part of both my sons' vocabulary starting at 2 years. Harvey with his difficulty pronouncing Rs still sounds very elegant when he shouts, "Mama! I see a cuhb cut!"