‘Long live the bicycle’

CARL COLLISON

March has been declared the “Month of Cycling” by the provincial government, with thousands of cyclists from around the world enjoying the Cape Town Cycle Tour last Sunday, March 6.

The aim of the campaign is to promote all the benefits of cycling, from improved health to saving the environment.

The day after having participated in this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour, Marcela Gurrero Casas, managing director and co-founder of Open Streets Cape Town, recalls: “I was reminded yesterday that it was after participating in the race for the first time in 2012 that I wrote a letter to a newspaper in which I said what an amazing weekend in Cape Town it was, seeing all these bicycles on the road. But I also questioned why we were not seeing more people cycling in the city; why we were not trying to ensure that the hype around cycling could go on for longer.”

It is precisely this which the provincial MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, is aiming to do through having recently declared March the “Month of Cycling”.

Expanding on the reason for emphasising cycling during this month, Ms Marais says: “The benefits for the city and province, as a whole, of having more people cycling is significant and abundant.

“These include improving wellness and decreasing the burden of disease for the province as a whole; many trips are faster by bicycle than by car and, considering the hours motorists spend stuck in traffic, cycling saves invaluable time for all commuters.

“Also, not only does cycling save time, but with the increasing prices of petrol, cycling is a more cost-efficient option.

“Another benefit of cycling is the benefit to the environment. Cycling produces zero pollution and is the most eco-friendly mode of transport.

Ms Marais adds: “Cycling, whether recreationally or professionally, contributes to social inclusion. Cycling events connects people who would otherwise not engage with each other under regular circumstances. It is also an alternate activity promoting an active and healthy lifestyle which tackles many social ills. Cycling events create conditions for access and mass participation, talent identification and skills development within our communities.”

In addition to these benefits, cycling events also add to the province’s coffers, such as through tourism.

Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, says: “The Cape Town Cycle Tour and related cycling events are extremely important in terms of the economy. The Cape Town Cycle Tour is the world’s largest timed cycling race with around 35 000 competitors. There were reportedly 4 500 international competitors this year, and they are likely to use the race as part of a bigger exploration of the city. This means that their accommodation and travel costs contribute to the economy, but also that there’s a bigger contribution in terms of restaurant meals, retail and in general as they enjoy all the attractions and experiences the Mother City has to offer.

“Cape Town Cycle Tour contributed R450 million to the city’s economy in 2014, the last time the full race took place, and it’s expected to generate at least the same figure this year.”

True as this may be, these large-scale, revenue-generating events occur only once a year. What about life as an everyday cyclist in the city?

“We haven’t come very far,” says Ms Guerrero Casas, adding: “My feeling is people just don’t care. There is no real sense of urgency to do something about, for example, the heavy traffic congestion.

Commenting on the effectiveness on the City of Cape Town’s rollout of dedicated cycling lanes in Bree Street and Woodstock’s Albert Road, Ms Guerrero Casas says: “That was a step in the right direction, but those lanes have become a joke. They are not really used by cyclists and are not respected by motorists.

“Both provincial and national government seem committed to fighting climate change, which is great. The policy is there. But we need implementation. We need businesses to have programmes in place that would incentivise their employees to cycle to work, for example. Without these kinds of incentive programmes, we are not going to get anywhere.”

All too aware of the struggle that lies ahead, Ms Guererro Casas adds: “I know it’s not simple, but the answers will have to come from various quarters: government, the private sector, civic organisations and, of course, people like you and I.”

The Open Streets events involve roads open only to pedestrians and those using non-motorised means of moving around, such as rollerskates, skate boards, bicycles and even tricyles, to enjoy games, socialising and visiting establishments along the way. So far, they have been held twice in Bree Street, as well as in Langa and in Mitchell’s Plain.

Coming back to the letter she wrote calling for more cyclists on the city’s streets, she adds: “You know, I ended off that letter with the words ‘viva la bicicleta’, which means ‘long live the bicycle’.”

Smiling, she adds: “It might sound like some kind of utopia, but if we had more people cycling, we’d live in a different city; a better city.”

* For more information on the official Month of Cycling events, visitwww.westerncape.gov.za/assets/departments/cultural-affairs-sport/events_calendar_february_2016_3.pdf