Sustainable Stellenbosch - Pedestrian Hub and Cycling Highways
9 July 2022
Below you'll find my submission to Stellenbosch Network's Ideas for Change Challenge 2022, which called for the presentation of solutions which would help transform Stellenbosch, a university and agricultural town in South Africa, into a more sustainable city. My proposal, submitted as a 500-word explanation, focuses on the pedestrianisation of the town's central district, complimented by the construction of several cycling highways to connect outlying districts to this new pedestrian hub.
I’m submitting one idea composed of two parts, both of which complement each other’s core sustainability focus. Even a partial roll-out of this proposal would see (a) large reductions in GHG emissions and noise, (b) improved wellbeing and safety, (c) easier access to employment and opportunities for residents across the income spectrum, and (d) increased business performance and tourism.
First, a significant portion of Stellenbosch Central should be pedestrianised by reducing or banning private vehicles on portions of Plein, Dorp, Andringa, Church, and Ryneveld Street (or a subset of these). This reduction in vehicle traffic would be complimented by the extension of sidewalks – made possible by the removal of unnecessary parking spaces – into wide, walkable boulevards. This would turn the city’s tourist and business hub of restaurants, accommodation, offices, and shops into a vibrant and world-class pedestrian zone. As such, Stellenbosch would proudly follow in the footsteps of Europe’s great walking streets. Naturally, these pedestrian boulevards would need to remain lightly accessible for delivery and emergency vehicles.
Research has shown that such pedestrianisation brings significant economic benefits for local businesses, which are able to expand their activities into what were previously car-only spaces, and which also thrive with increased foot traffic. Furthermore, such a ban would greatly reduce GHG emissions and noise, and increase safety, thereby improving the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. Pedestrianisation would also be a significant asset for the city’s tourism offering, allowing it to differentiate itself even further from competing tourism destinations in South Africa. Lastly, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is cheaper to maintain in the long-term than vehicle infrastructure, thus proving to be both a sustainable and cost-effective solution.
This pedestrian hub would be further complemented by the construction of a series of cycling highways, connecting Stellenbosch’s outlying districts with its city centre. These cycling highways, consisting of protected bicycle paths based on the Dutch model, should begin by connecting Kayamandi and Cloetesville to Stellenbosch Central via Bird Street-R304 and the R44. These two connections are particularly important as it would connect Stellenbosch’s low-income residents with its centre of economic opportunity and employment in a low-cost, efficient, and sustainable manner. Anyone familiar with the prevalence of walking and cycling amongst Stellenbosch’s low-income residents can attest to the utility this idea offers.
Following this, and to ensure Stellenbosch’s pedestrian hub is properly accessible to the wider community, similar cycling highways should be constructed along major arteries leading to Stellenbosch Central, meeting in the pedestrian zone. The prevalence of cheap bicycles, the city’s generally flat terrain, the growing popularity of e-bikes, and the presence of protected and segregated bicycle paths would elevate Stellenbosch as a beacon of sustainable, equitable transport. Not only would this massively decrease emissions and noise, but it would be a win for wellbeing, equality, and tourism. As the Dutch have proven, the bicycle does not discriminate by wealth or class, is excellent for physical and mental wellbeing, and is often more useful for the elderly than walking or driving.
With thanks to Roland Postma for their reading and suggestions.