Opening the streets

The last Open Streets event held in Observatory in 2014 drew thousands of people.

The Open Streets Cape Town (OSCT) initiative will look to make a return on a much larger scale to mark Transport Month in October.

This time they will be opening up a 5km stretch of main road from Observatory to the Cape Town CBD on Sunday October 1.

The road will be filled with activities such as cycling, games, exercise and entertainment, but organisers are calling on residents to have their say in order to improve the Open Streets concept.

A public consultation meeting will take place on Thursday August 17, at the Woodstock Town Hall, starting at 6pm.

Open Streets events have taken place in Langa, Observatory, Mitchell’s Plain, Bellville and the CBD.

Until now, however, the route has been no longer than 2km.

For most of its length, the main road runs parallel with Metrorail’s southern train line so visitors and surrounding communities will be able to walk to the event. Usually, much of the road is dangerous for pedestrians and congested, especially during morning and afternoon peak times.

Managing director and co-founder of the non-profit OSCT, Marcela Guerrero Casas, said: “We are really keen to get as many people involved as possible as residents are the ultimate decision-makers of what happens on the day.”

She said the latest event is about to become one of the city’s biggest road closures, transforming the street into a pedestrian-friendly space for all cyclists, skateboarders, jugglers and everybody to enjoy, without having to worry about traffic.

“On October 1, we will be taking a major step in expanding the programme. In Colombia, hundreds of kilometres of streets go car-free every Sunday and public holiday. This is, of course, something we’d eventually like to see in Cape Town: an Open Streets route that brings communities together across many different parts of the city,” said Ms Guerrero Casas.

It was indeed an exciting concept for residents living in Woodstock and Salt River, having pointed out that the streets would be made to feel alot safer with more activities along the route.

Salt River’s Nasheed Toeffy was in favour of the Open Street’s concept, especially as he would be able to allow his two young children to cycle all day along the main road without fear of them being endangered by traffic.

“You only really get to do this when Open Streets comes around. I have been to the one in town, Mitchell’s Plain and Observatory. It’s really one of those things you take advantage of because it does not come around very often,” Mr Toeffy said.

When asked how he felt Open Streets could be improved, he said: “They should rather leave it as is. Pretty soon, you will find people wanting to commercialise it and take advantage of something that is supposed to promote safety and awareness.”

He did, however, indicate that more entertainment could be introduced in order to bring the space alive.

“Get a couple of artists to perform along the way, bring the space alive. Allow people to picnic in the main road while listening to some great music. Being entertained by some comedians – something like that. It really is a fantastic concept that has a lot of potential,” he added.

Resident Rowan Campbell said while he is a big fan of the concept, he fears of how the event could end up impacting Woodstock if such a long stretch of road is closed.

Mr Campbell attended the Observatory and Cape Town CBD Open Streets events and enjoyed cycling freely in the road.

“You meet a variety of people and it becomes one big playground. I really love this initiative as there is very little wrong with closing a road for the day and just having a blast in it,” he said.

However, he felt that the large scale plan to expand this initiative might end up being a traffic headache for locals.

“When it is tied down to one area, the roads in that specific area are closed off and it becomes easier to plan alternative routes through the neighbouring communities. Can you imagine how it’s going to be if this whole stretch is closed off? Can you imagine how this top main road (Victoria Road) will look and the amount of cars that will be parking in the side streets, in front of people’s homes etc?” worried Mr Campbell who stressed that he was not against the event.

Businesses along the proposed stretch had no complaints about the expansion, claiming that Open Streets, is “good for business”.

Woodstock cafe owner, Jamiel Gasant, said businesses would boom if Open Streets were to expand to the city centre, as more people would be expected to be passing through the area.

“Very little businesses would argue against this initiative, especially as it would mean that foot traffic would increase and that automatically increases sales,” he said.

Mr Gasant then laughed and said: “My business will stay open until the last person has left the area.”

Open Streets Main Road builds on a local programme inspired by Colombia’s Ciclovia events.

The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, said Open Streets formed part of their strategy to “transform transport behaviour in Cape Town and encourage people to become less dependent on private vehicles”.

“Ultimately, what we need to do is close a major arterial road every Sunday, and allow people to move by foot, cycle, skateboard, rollerblade, or just play on the street without cars interrupting. A 5km closure along a main road starts to get us closer to building Open Streets into the fabric of Cape Town, creating a people-friendly network that connects different parts of the city without vehicles interfering,” Mr Herron said.

Between 2013 and 2017, OSCT hosted 12 Open Streets Days in five parts of Cape Town, attracting between 3 000 and 15 000 participants at each one. While colourful activities have brought these days to life, Open Streets can be a chance for mobility and experiencing the city in a different way, Ms Casas said.

“”The route features many well-known landmarks and permanent public spaces, opening up a world of possibilities for exploring, socialising, exercising and shopping,” she added.

CEO of the Pedal Power Association, Robert Vogel, said creating the space for people to cycle safely and freely can be a “transformative opportunity” for those who do not feel comfortable getting on a bicycle on the streets of the city.

“We would like to see Open Streets grow as a regular programme. Residents from all parts of Cape Town should feel that riding a bike is not only safe, but that a bicycle is a cost-effective means of mobility that allows them to explore their city, access opportunities, and improve their health while having fun. Bicycles bring people closer together – they connect communities, promote social integration and allow people to engage with each other on a personal level. And of course, streets are public spaces too,” Mr Vogel said.

BLOB Residents from the CBD, Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory are invited to participate in a public consultation meeting on Thursday August 17, at the Woodstock Town Hall, starting at 6pm. There will be a Question and Answer session and all interested and affected parties are invited to attend, share input and get involved.

“If the residents of the CBD, Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory enjoy taking ownership of their section of the main road, who knows, maybe Open Streets Main Road will grow to connect further south and beyond,” Ms Casas said.