Johannesburg: On Your Bikes!

| September 26, 2014

Outside the big cities there are a variety of programmes that help obtain bicycles for school children.

Fewer than one percent of all commuters in Johannesburg cycle. But that could soon change. Danish advisors have been to Jo’burg to get the process started.

By Henrik Køster, COWI

Johannesburg politicians want to research how to introduce cycling as a form of transport, thereby reducing congestion and pollution in the city. There are already many South Africans that cycle, but they do so outside of the city for fitness. The challenge, therefore, is how to introduce cycling as a normal form of transport within the city itself.

Reinforcements from the north
One of the first steps in increasing the share of cyclists was to call in reinforcements. In a project supported by the World Bank, two of COWI’s specialists in transport and planning were asked to offer suggestions as to how to get the people of Johannesburg cycling.

”It is a very exciting task, but also a complex one as traffic- and personal safety are the biggest obstacles for turning the place into a bicycle city,” says Market Director Carsten Glenting and Project Leader Henrik Køster, referring to Johannesburg’s many robberies, attacks, thefts and road accidents. At the same time, there are also some substantial geographical and topographical challenges in the form of the city’s enormous expanse and hilly terrain.

In order to create the best possible advice, the two specialists from COWI got together with independent consultant and cycle guru Troels Andersen and Gehl Architects who, combined with Alta Planning & Design, have specialised in converting large city areas into cycle-friendly spaces. All parties have vast experience with bicycle traffic from projects in a variety of different countries.

A combined effort
The project opened out into an examination of which efforts would best facilitate, kickstart and support cycling in Johannesburg. The result included recommendations on:

• How to establish a public-private infrastructure partnership and thereby convince a skeptical public sector that cycling is not a competitor, but more an extension of a journey with a bus or train.
• How to roll out an arrangement that offers the greatest number of inhabitants access to a bicycle.

The subjects were discussed at workshops in Johannesburg in November 2012. On the background of these discussions the co-operation partners created a list of possibilities that covered a variety of topics like a city bike arrangement, safe parking, integration with collective traffic, creation of green routes and cycle route planning on the internet.


Jo’burg has many green areas, where paths could be upgraded to cycle lanes with a minimum of resources.

Jo’burg works on
COWI’s preliminary study was finished in 2013, but in the following years the city has continued working with the ideas and has made some huge leaps forward. “We have really built momentum with one cycle lane finished, one in construction and one in detailed planning,” says Executive Director of Johannesburg’s Transport Department, Lisa Seftel, who is responsible for the work. “We have held two family freedom cycle rides drawing over 5,000 people each and our bike feasibility study is 50 per cent complete!” she continues.

So maybe, in the years to come, Johannesburg will be known as Africa’s leading bicycle city.

Category: Newsletters in English, Planning, Policy, September 2014

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