Open Streets: bigger, better

Open Streets in Bree Street earlier this year was also extended into Longmarket Street

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 today, 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 in Bree Street in the CBD.

Earlier this year, Open Streets CBD had also seen an extension of the event to include Longmarket Street, and saw hundreds of people enjoying a few hours of car-free roads. But, until now, 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. The route is envisioned to end at the Grand Parade.

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.

Central City Improvement District (CCID) CEO Tasso Evangelino said they have always understood that Open Streets would ultimately be extended in this way, as the original movement that started 40 years ago in Bogota, Colombia, sees around 120km of streets throughout the city go car-free on Sundays and public holidays.

“We think it is very exciting to see larger and larger tracts of urban area embracing the initiative and creating this type of public activation.”

He said the CCID operates in the usual manner during the event.

“We know that the Open Streets event organisers also make use of an additional cleaning team from the same NGO we support, namely Straatwerk.”

He said Open Streets in the CBD had so far been well-organised, and the events encourage people from across Cape Town to come to the area.

“At the next event, it will be business as usual for the CCID. We deploy the same numbers of public safety and cleaning teams that we would on any day of the week.”

He said there has been no discussions with the Woodstock Improvement District or the Observatory Improvement District to strategise security and cleaning on the day.

Neighbouring Woodstock resident Nasheed Toefy 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.

Another resident, Rowan Campbell said while he is a big fan of the concept, he fears of how the event could end up impacting Woodstock traffic if such a long stretch of road is closed.The mayoral committee for transport, Brett Herron, said that the logistics of the day, including traffic, is still in its planning phases. “On the day, the inbound carriageway of Victoria Road (M4) is proposed to be a vehicle-free zone where people can walk, cycle, skateboard, etc. The outbound carriageway will have normal public transport (buses, taxis etc.) and access to businesses etc., but in general private vehicles will be encouraged to use alternative routes.”

While the costs to block off such a large part of the road are yet to be determined, he said Open Streets CBD cost the City R185 800 to cordon off.

Open Streets is funded by a grant given by the City, the Millenium Trust, Woolworths and other smaller organisations which support the event. Mr 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.”

Between 2013 and 2017, OSCT hosted 12 Open Streets Days in five parts of Cape Town, attracting between 3 000 and 15 000 visitors 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 today, 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.