Thursday, 19 March 2015

EcoMobility World Festival in Jo'burg and changing my thoughts

As the administrator for my club, Adventure Racing Club, I get a bunch of emails from the Provincial sporting bodies to which we are affiliated. One of them is Central Gauteng Cycling and over the last few years I've seen comms here and there regarding the plans and implementation for making Jo'burg a cycle- and pedestrian-friendly city.

I haven't paid too much attention to it as the commuting areas are not where I live; and as I work from home, I'm not commuting to an office daily.

But, headway has been made and cycle lanes - with barriers - are being constructed like in areas like Auckland Park, which has a high density of students (Wits and UJ being there).

While the plans benefit recreational cyclists, walkers and runners, this project is primarily about commuters - people using their feet and bikes to get to and from work and also to decongest the city. It's about empowering people with regards to transport - instead of being trapped in a car or taxi, creating an environment where business areas are not just glorified parking lots for private vehicles but that have streets filled with people moving easily.

A few weeks back I saw an invitation to the launch of the EcoMobility World Festival, which will be hosted by the City of Joburg during transport month in October. I thought it would be something interesting to attend - and it was!

On Tuesday night the launch happened (here's a piece on the City of Joburg website about the launch) and I found the short presentations to be very interesting, especially the 'case study' from the first EcoMobility World Festival that was held in Suwon, Korea in September 2013. It was essentially a month-long car-free experiment and as the man behind the Festival, Konrad Otto Zimmerman, said in his presentation, this was less an exercise in transport as a social intervention. Being on the streets, not encased in cars, people communicated and interacted with each other. (read about the Results from the first EcoMobility World Festival)

And so, the Festival (the second one) comes here in October.

The short of it is that for the month of October Sandton CBD will be car free! You can move around in Sandton on foot or bicycle and also Metrobus... but you certainly won't be driving your car. And considering that 120,000 cars pass through Sandton DAILY... they couldn't have picked a better location to really make an impact. There will also be loads of activities throughout the month.

I'm sure there are a bunch of plans in place for people coming in from a distance but interestingly, as I learned, a majority of people coming into Sandton (I can't remember the stat but it was more than 70%), live within 10km of Sandton CBD. Amazing!

Oh yes, there are all kinds of logistics to consider like dropping children at school before work and a bunch of things like this that will impact people; but with park-and-ride and alternative options taking people into Sandton, it should be very workable - if people play along.

I've been very keen on commuting more by bike but, like many, I see more barriers than opportunities and I need to really get my head around this.

With a mountain bike I can ride on pavements pretty easily so cars are not a big issue to worry about.

Without bicycle racks at shopping centres (and quite rightly paranoid that someone will steal my bike even if I chain it up), going to the shops (I'm surrounded by them) is challenging. And I also don't want to be hijacked either and my bike stolen.

Yesterday I had a meeting in Norwood, which is over the hill from me and less than 10km away. It was a perfect opportunity to commute by bike. That my bike was in Parys (I've got it back now) made it not an option; but had my bike been here it would have been perfect.

And I can't think of a single person I've met with - work or social - EVER who would mind if I rocked up on my bike whether in cycle kit or cycle-friendly clothing. And I'd just love it if people rocked up on their bicycles to meet with me.

The only other thing to take into account is time. I think to myself now that I would have had to leave a half-hour earlier for my meeting... but when you consider that loadshedding, broken-down truck, accident, traffic lights out can make a car commute take longer than a bicycle commute...

I am determined not to be as much of a lazy, car-commuting, scaredy-cat as I have been. Joburg only becomes more commuter friendly when there are more people are commuting. A lot of my movements are within a cyclable distance and I don't always have to cart around more than what can fit in a backpack. There's also a difference in intensity between cycle commuting and really riding my bike, like for exercise. Of course I can use the latter for the former; but it doesn't have to be so.

Interestingly, the two ladies at my table were from Decongest. They import electric bicycles specifically for cycle commuting. They do cycle tours to show people thecurrent cycle routes on Thursday and Friday afternoons. They have a 60-minute electric bicycle tour starting from 44 Stanley in Auckland Park. You need to pre-book - great way to try out an electric bicycle too.

From my side, what I do need to do is to investigate cycle-friendly shops where my bike will be safe and to put pressure on those I regularly use to put this in place, if they haven't already.

And I need to look at time differently. I've been wanting life to slow down a bit... maybe this is a good way to do it.

This is going to take a mind change to look at walking and riding as a way to commute and not running and biking as just sports. I'm all for it; now to make the transition from thinking and believing to doing.

Sandton may be the chosen location for the festival... but I can make my suburb my own personal EcoMobility Festival too - and not just for a month but all the time.

Check it out -

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