Johannesburg – Finding parking in shrinking urban spaces that have to deal with a huge influx of motor vehicles is frustrating for commuters who still commute to work in their privately owned cars. However, that may change soon as more and more commuters transition to more sustainable ways of commuting.
The EcoMobility festival, ending this week, has given South Africans a preview of what a future in which they commute to work in different modes may look like.
Karthi Pillay, Deloitte Africa Manufacturing and Automotive Leader, said the festival had shown that building sustainable cities that have an integrated public transport in South Africa was possible.
The glimpse into a sustainable, ecomobile future included walking, cycling and making use of electric bicycles and cars, even sharing driverless cars which commuters did not necessarily own. Cycle lanes are soon set to be integrated into the Sandton business precinct.
Pillay noted Sandton was selected to host the festival due to the increasing number of commuters entering the precinct. The number of commuters to the area had increased at an annual rate of 3,4% per year, and it was projected that the numbers of commuters to the area would continue to grow at around 3% per year.
EcoMobility had shown that while the technology exists, changing perceptions from using a privately owned car to public transport would take some time, especially as there was room for improvement in the public transport sector, particularly in terms of infrastructure.
The change, Pillay noted, would also require new thinking around crime and using public transport as new ways of reducing crime were looked at and as more commuters began to use their smartphones to book public transport services online.
Pillay believed South Africa was ready to embrace a shift towards ecomobility, but that this change would require “a massive mindshift, both by auto industry – whether it be auto manufacturing, insurance, financing or fuel – and by consumers”
The push to have motorists use public transport and walk around Sandton ahead of the closure and alteration of surrounding roads is unrealistic and unsafe, a Sandton commuter has said.
October will see Sandton roads being closed or altered as part of the EcoMobility Festival, which aims to push more motorists to use public transport.
This represents a fundamental change to those who commute to Sandton by car everyday for work, and less so for those who use public transport. The road closures will last the whole month, with some of the changes made, such as certain park-and-rides, to continue after October.
For the first time in South Africa, the EcoMobility World Festival will be held in Sandton. The first such festival was held in Suwon City, South Korea in 2013.
For the month of October, key parts of Sandton will be closed to private vehicles. Those who work in Sandton will need to use alternative forms of transport, such as buses, bicycles and the Gautrain, or travel on foot.
News24 canvassed a few opinions from people who worked in Sandton or commuted there, prompting mixed reactions.
Both Precious and Saskia work in shops in Sandton City, which is in the middle of road changes.
“I think it’s a very good idea. We [are] trying to stop the harmful emissions that are hurting the earth so I’m all for it,” Precious told News24.
“People must enjoy walking. They must use their legs more and… exercise because it’s healthier and they get to enjoy the atmosphere. Walking around as opposed to driving, you get to see everything, so I’m all for it.”
This was echoed somewhat by Saskia, who also wondered how those commuting into the area might feel come October 1.
“It’s going to take… time to get used to it and people might get frustrated. Walking is not bad. I use public transport.”
Renee, who sometimes comes to Sandton for work, felt it was a good initiative, but had concerns whether the whole exercise was practical.
“I just don’t know if it’s realistic for South Africa because… in our country, things are so unsafe, and I just don’t know if it’s going to be safe enough for me to walk so I’m not trusting it 100%. I think it’s a great initiative in theory. In practice, I don’t know if it will work,” she said.
Robert, who frequents Sandton for shopping and does not work far from the area, echoed Renee’s concerns, calling the exercise irresponsible.
“It’s a bit irresponsible without having a back-up plan. I know there is always a back-up plan but I don’t believe the plan will be executed correctly.”
On Twitter, the same applied, with some praising the move while others called it madness.
Sandton Central Management District today announced that it will launch an information campaign to help those who work, visit and live in Sandton to get to grips with getting around the Sandton CBD during the World EcoMobility Festival, from 1 October to 31 October 2015.
Driven by the City of Johannesburg, the upcoming EcoMobility Festival is part of the city’s plan to decongest traffic and give preference to public transport, bicycles and pedestrians on our streets. With the high and growing levels of traffic congestion in the Sandton CBD, the country’s leading business hub, it was a clear choice as the venue for the festival to optimise its positive impact.
Sandton Central Management District has facilitated communication between the City of Johannesburg and businesses in the Sandton CBD over the past nine months in preparation for the festival. However, Elaine Jack, City Improvement District Manager for Sandton Central Management District, says she has received a flood of requests for more information about access in Sandton CBD during October after the City announced its plans for the festival last month.
Responding to this Sandton Central’s communication campaign will help make it as easier for people to get into and around Sandton CBD. It will provide simple, easy-to-understand information on the Sandton Central website where anyone can subscribe for news alerts and updates.
Jack explains that, essentially, Sandton residents, workers and visitors will still have full access to the Sandton CBD during the festival, but the emphasis will be on using public transport to move in and out of the CBD. There will also be new ways to move around the area. Sandton’s CBD was originally not built for any mode of traveling other than private vehicles. Now, as part of the city’s festival initiative, it is putting in place infrastructure to enable safe walking and cycling as well as public transport.
“The EcoMobility Festival has put the Sandton CBD at the forefront of the city’s attention with vital investment in public transport that is not fully available in the area. Public transport is one of the sustainable solutions to ensuring Sandton remains competitive and the preferred location of choice for business and tourism in the city. By choosing Sandton as the location for its World EcoMobility Festival, the City of Johannesburg is giving us all a chance to choose new alternative ways of getting around Sandton, during and after the event.”
While a small portion of the Sandton CBD roadway is being restricted to private vehicles during the festival, much more space is being given to the city’s people. The initiative goes beyond simple traffic decongestion and reducing vehicle emissions, to giving people the opportunity to live more balanced healthy lives associated with leading city’s globally.
People can improve their health and fitness by walking or cycling to work. They can enjoy reading, instead of getting hot under the collar in traffic jams, while catching a bus from one of more than a dozen park and ride venues across the region, or taking Gautrain into the Sandton CBD.
“We’ll have more, safer spaces to walk and cycle,” notes Jack. For the 10,000 people who walk from Alexandra to Sandton every day, the city will be upgrading the walkways and offering a dedicated pedestrian and cycling bridge across the M1 carriageway into Sandton that is safe and dignified.
Johannesburg isn’t alone in wanting to improve its public spaces. New York, Paris and Singapore are among others that have recently created city centre pedestrian zones and traffic restrictions.
The EcoMobility Festival stands to have big benefits for decongesting Sandton and improving its access. “We know Sandton already experiences frustrating levels of traffic congestion. This festival is the one of the first steps to improving this. It forces us to deal with our congestion issue,” says Jack, adding: “The changes during October will take some getting used to, but we believe everyone should become familiar with the set up in no time at all. Plus, we’ll share valuable information to help.”
For the month of October, Sandton CBD will benefit from a whole host of resources that it wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. It will also have the support of the entire world, to help find new, better, more environmentally respectful ways of getting around Sandton, as part of this global event.
“We encourage people to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones, and their cars, even if it is a little frustrating at first. Try the new mobility options. Rethink how you get around the node,” says Jack.
She adds: “Making that behavioural change is always going to be difficult, but we hope this event will open up dialogues within corporates and among workers to see what alternatives work and what can be done better in future. We are all invested in the future of Sandton. It is exciting that we can all play a role in ensuring that this vibrant city remains at the forefront of places to live, work and visit in South Africa.”
The 1, 2, 3 of getting around Sandton Central during the EcoMobility Festival:
- Essentially, there is only one street – West Street – that will become a dedicated pedestrian zone for EcoMobility. This area will span about 100 metres of the West Street roadway, from around Maude Street to Fredman Drive.
- There will be more space for pedestrians and cyclists on three of the streets that intersect West Street. Maude and Stella will have limited access for local vehicle users and construction vehicles, while Alice Lane will function in the same way, but also offer access for public transport, including metred taxis and Tuk Tuks. On certain weekends, Gwen Lane will be activated as an EcoMobility zone, but on weekdays it will remain open to vehicles from Fredman Drive.
- All this will be surrounded by a public transport loop running around the Sandton CBD on Fredman Drive, Fifth Street and Rivonia Road, which will remain open to all vehicles, but will feature a dedicated bus lane and wider pavements. Preparation work is already beginning on this loop. Public transport, in the form of bus and Gautrain, will also be available into Sandton CBD.