Thursday, April 3, 2008

Reflections on Cycling to Work

A BBC interview of Nobel laureates asked what they were doing to save the planet. Four of the five rode their bicycles to work, emphasizing the Local Agenda 21 call for thinking globally and acting locally. South Africa’s energy crisis offers the opportunity for reflecting on renewable energy instead of blaming Eskom. Every individual has the opportunity to take local action and every local action has global consequences.

Within Nelson Mandela Bay there has been a long standing recognition of the potential for bicycle transportation. Unfortunately, a concomitant understanding of the global context and the need for enabling infrastructure has not been forthcoming. In the 1980’s the emphasis was on alleviating traffic congestion by encouraging bicycles for commuting to schools. Twenty years later congestion around schools is worse and less children cycle to school. The reasons are simple: safe cycling routes to schools are limited and school cycling infrastructure such as secure storage and changing facilities are not established.

There has been success with recreational cycle paths. A network of mountain bike trails is established, and the Flat Rock – Hobie beach and St Georges Strand - Blue Water Bay cycle paths are complete.

Still lacking, is an understanding of the global picture and more local action. Parents are not looking for bicycle paths to school – they want safe transport for their kids. We live in a vicious cycle of: its’ too dangerous on the roads for bicycles and bikes get stolen – on the roads and in the schoolyard.

A more holistic view of recreational planning in the city can enable massive opportunities in nonrenewable energy conservation. Planning is at an advanced stage for the extension of the cycle path network from Port Elizabeth harbor to the Coega IDZ. Using the route of the existing sewage rising main line, a bicycle path is to be built between the Papenkuils and Zwartkops river. In the process of establishing the path, angling access to the Dolosse will be formalized, screening vegetation established and recreational areas improved. The development will fundamentally transform the area between the North End prison and Zwartkops river mouth while simultaneously providing for cycle paths, angling, ornithological, and other recreational experiences. The development will enable numerous possibilities including:

- A Port Elizabeth marathon run between Hobie beach and Coega

- The Iron Man route rerouted along the Waterfront and extending to Coega harbour and back

- A new waterfront, marina and residential area being established North of Port Elizabeth harbour at Sidon street

-Quality angling experiences from the Dolosse

While the naysayer’s point to crime as a limiting factor, its’ actually all about people. Just as people commit crime its also people who stop it, people who ensure that we act responsibly and people who make things happen.

People are making the Cape Recife to Coega recreational path happen. Whether it is actually going to be used for bike commuting is also people dependent. Today there are some 400 million cars in the world fueled by non renewable energy and wreaking havoc on oil rich nations and the environment. There are also 1.4 billion bicycles on the road making it the most popular form of transportation. However, do we see comparable levels of spending on bicycle infrastructure? No, we see 35,000 bicycle related deaths per annum in China - a nation with double digit growth and fueling its economy on non renewable resource use.

There is room for hope. Today, major cities of the world make cycling facilities mandatory in urban planning. While government provides cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes, bike assisted public transport and lock up facilities, the employer provides lock up and changing facilities at workplaces. The advantages for the employer are compelling, including:

Employees who bike commute are healthier and spend less time on sick leave.

Bike commuters are more energetic and less obese (obesity is a major health challenge in many countries, including South Africa). Instead of spending time in the gym, employees stay fit by commuting to work.

Bike commuters are less likely to fall into debt traps created by excessive payments on transport which they cannot really afford.

Recommended exercise norms of 30 minutes per day are met and exceeded.

Savings on parking and other motor vehicle related infrastructure
Less dependence on public transport disruptions

The reality for workers in the Coega IDZ have brought home the realities of nonrenewable energy use to CDC employees.

Employees spend at least 40 minutes per day traveling in cars. Assuming an AA rate of R2 per km, employees are likely to be spending R92 per day commuting to work.
When using a car pool, employees are more likely to be late and leave early.
Employees are less likely to spend time exercising given the time spent commuting and the distance to the closest gym.

So what are the realities of commuting by bike to Coega?

Storage and showering facilities are essential – both are provided at Coega Development Corporation.

Riding on the freeway is out – something like writing your own death certificate.

Currently, using a bicycle is tricky. There are threats from motorized vehicles on residential backstreets and the off road terrain is challenging and technical. It is possible to avoid major roads using dirt roads and residential back streets.
You must use tire sealant and even then you get the occasional flat.

There is an anti cycling attitude amongst the petite bourgeoisie types. They believe it is unbecoming to mix it up with the working class by showering at work, greeting anglers and riding with fellow commuters and runners. The petite bourgeoisie hate the fact that cycle commuters are saving money (forget the planet) and do anything to make your life difficult.

Crime is a potential problem. So far there have been no problems as people encountered are either anglers, runners, fellow cyclists or simply to drunk to bother anyone. While Cape Town has “bergies”, PE has a burgeoning population of dolos dwellers living in the area of Sidon street. So far, they are harmless.
A “magic wand” (must be seen to be appreciated) or similar defensive device is recommended for dogs and other offensive types. To date, there have been no problems.
Glass is a major problem in the St Georges strand area. Its like peeing on your own doorstop. Go to the beach, have a party, break some bottles, let your kid step on the glass, go to casualty for stitches …….. I wonder if it’s a South African thing …… maybe apartheid or is it a feeling of empowerment to break bottles …… Why not recycle?

It takes just over an hour to get to work. With a functional bike path between the Papenkuils and Zwartkops, the commute could be reduced to 40 minutes (vs a car trip of 20 minutes).

You need to be cycling fit. If not, your first week will be hell. Once you’re into the routine, it becomes a breeze.

The wind is a #^%$^@$. Early mornings are great. Afternoons can be a challenge, but, hey driving into the wind also needs more fuel!

If you want to loose weight, stop smoking, or eat healthy, bike commuting is the way to go.

Podcasts are fantastic. Go to and download your favorite topic onto your Ipod shuffle. No matter what your interests, there will be a podcast subscription for you.

You can get wet, even if its not raining. At high tide, expect to get hit by waves along the dolosse.

Even with the dangers, your odds are better than with a taxi. At least your life is in your own hands!

Despite the efforts of the petite bourgeoisie, riding a bike to work is a blast. It’s not for everyone, but, it should be considered by all. In years to come we may well commute in vehicles fueled by renewable forms of energy, but, in the interim, cycling must be somewhere near the top of the pecking order.

For those not able to use cycling as a form of renewable energy, there are many other ways to get involved. Given the “current” situation, a visit to the Eskom website at would yield a lot of information on energy efficiency.

No comments: