Connecting communities on the streets of Belville

The Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP) and Open Streets Cape Town (OSCT), with support from the City of Cape Town, have embarked on a project to consider how the streets of Bellville can be improved to provide more positive, safer experiences for pedestrians in the area. The project is designed to identify the needs of businesses and commuters in Bellville, and to devise creative strategies that can achieve people-friendly spaces in the busy urban centre. The programme culminates in a three-day on-street activation in mid-December focused on the intersections at Charl Malan Street and Voortrekker Road, and at Teddington and Kruskal Avenue.

In previous years, the two organisations have collaborated on producing vibrant, community-led Open Streets Days, in which a portion of Voortrekker Road has been closed to vehicles and open to people of all walks of life. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has demanded a different approach.

GTP CEO, Warren Hewitt said: “Even if the pandemic has curtailed our ability to bring the Bellville community out to enjoy car-free streets, through this approach we are still able to bring improvements and positive connecting experiences to the Bellville CBD. Vibrant communities are made when people have the freedom to interact and connect safely with others. Through these affordable, pop-up interventions, we can refocus life in public spaces on people. That said, we hope that these activities will inform planning decisions that can influence future wide-scale and more permanent interventions.”

The project this year comprises a research study to understand the needs of pedestrians and traders in Bellville’s CBD. The results of this study will be used to create temporary activations at the intersections in question. Teddington, Kruskal Avenue and Charl Malan Street are busy pedestrian thoroughfares which lead to the Bellville public transport interchange – the busiest in the Western Cape. Having a greater understanding of their needs could influence future urban design outcomes in the area. The project will highlight engineering tweaks, safer routes and policy input. These could include, for example, widening intersections, lengthening traffic signals or using prominent visual markings to encourage vehicles to slow down.

The second part of the project is a lively interaction on the streets conceived to encourage drivers and pedestrians to be more mindful of their behaviour on the street. This takes place between 17 and 19 December. Street performers will connect with the people of Bellville, reminding them again of the value of sharing the Open Streets experience; of stopping, connecting and feeling welcome together on the city’s streets.

Alderman Felicity Purchase, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, said: “This project is a manifestation of the City of Cape Town’s commitment to deliver lively and safe streets and public spaces for everyone. The City has embarked on infrastructure upgrades in the area and activities like this project will help to shape future decision making relating to the design of the urban realm. However, there is a continued need to change mindsets among drivers and pedestrians alike. Pedestrians need to be more conscious about their own safety on the streets, and drivers need to adjust their speed and attention to ensure they can keep pedestrians safe.”

Under its Integrated Transport Planning Sub-Committee, the City of Cape Town has formed a collaborative task team with a mandate to a mobilise infrastructure adjustments, maintenance work and necessary urban transformations as quick-win projects that support its long-term goals. This is necessary as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its broader impact on our shared city spaces. The task team is supporting Open Streets in its mandate to undertake related pandemic-responsive tactical urbanism projects across the metro.

Open Streets Managing Director Kirsten Wilkins, says: “We have hosted two successful Sunday street closures along Voortrekker Road in the past, but Open Streets Cape Town is not just about wonderful car-free Sundays in neighbourhoods around the city. We have now moved beyond “proof of concept” to working with stakeholders to create long-term change. This is particularly important now in a climate of economic recovery while still practically managing the spatial needs of social distancing and pandemic management in highly trafficked areas.”

The Open Streets movement is gaining momentum in the Mother City, with partnerships between OSCT and the City’s transport directorate, and others including the GTP, working to actively support interventions, placemaking initiatives and research work that will become more regular and widespread across the metro.

A number of partners are already on board to assist. The GTP’s partner in urban regeneration in Bellville, the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District, is involved in the project, providing logistical support to ensure the streets are clean and public safety is maintained. The Western Cape Government Safely Home programme is focused on pedestrian safety during November, which poignantly coincides with a global day of remembrance for victims of road traffic crashes on 15 November. Safely Home is supporting this initiative and helping to tell the story of how other city improvement districts and organising groups can create safe crossings and pedestrian spaces in their own neighbourhoods.