The Foreshore and a walkable CTICC

The recent headline that Cape Town is to double the size of its Convention Centre reminded me of a recent trip to the Design Indaba and the hair-raising, and dangerous, crossing which hundreds of visitors to the Centre were forced to make across Lower Heerengracht on the way from parking to the centre. The poorly thought through walking access on the streets outside the CTICC stood in stark contrast to the South African creativity on show inside it. Public spaces like those on our Foreshore are both unfamiliar, unwelcoming and unsettling. Access routes which welcome international visitors to the CTICC will be something that the new Convention Centre management will be forced to apply its mind to. I would love to see some of the creative thinking that went into the Stadium access also be applied to the CTICC. This aerial mock-up shows just how close the CTICC is to vast tracts of land in the Eastern Foreshore where there is lots of space for parking. Better still the CTICC is, surprisingly, on the doorstep of the station. It just appears further because pedestrian access between the two has been at best ad-hoc, and at worst neglected completely. The CTICC development provides an opportunity to really implement some “liveable” streets design in the Foreshore and to give pedestrian accessibility in the City the priority it deserves.

 

Who judges the gold BRT standard?

The Twitterverse has been abuzz this week with news that ITDP, well known transport US-based NGO have published BRT Standards. Generally the response has been salutory. I am less clear that this is good news.

In their book “Sorting Things Out” Star and Bowker argue that all standards are not simply technical, but are ethical and philosophical matters. They are ethical because decisions taken during the preparation of standards can have massive (unintended) downstream consequences; and philosophical since they deal at a very basic level with how we see and categorize the world, and with our very understanding of “reality”. You do not have to go very far in transport to see how this can be so. Mundane and seemingly innocuous “technical” decisions about road widths and curb radii embedded within technical design guidance such as the US “Green Book”, and translated to South Africa and across the globe during the 1960s, impacted on streetscapes. Streetscapes in turn impacted on speeds of vehicles, and so on quality of environments; on accessibilities by foot; on deaths in traffic; local economies…and so on. And on. Ultimately, seeming technical decisions in the Green Book (and elsewhere) about the infrastructure which makes up our cities were in practice decisions which valued the car over the pedestrian, speed over slow, efficiency over urban design. These guidelines embedded hierarchies of urban values, albeit disguised as technical guidance.
A standard which endorses particular ways of doing BRT, as ITDP’s does seems to me to be equally problematic. In putting themselves in the role of judge and jury ITDP are implicitly stating that (a) there is a universal best practice for BRT and (b) ITDP know what that is. So, the argument goes, Cape Town’s “best”, will be the same as Tokyo’s, Seattle’s, Caracas’s, Perth’s, Boston’s, Lagos’s, Bogota’s? Where is the local context, the deep understandings of the specifics of politics and social community. Where are the interests, wishes and desires of the local politic in all of this? It is in the assumption of knowing which is “best” in all contexts where ITDP’s standard is disappointing.
I admire ITDP. In my experience they are an energetic and well meaning group doing crucially important work in neglected settings. But this time, I think they missed the mark.

The struggle to respect, and street scripts

In an earlier blogpost I wrote about my attempts to make “random acts of kindness” an habitual part of my driving day. Just in case my children should see that post; or the people who responded so generously to it (including an elderly lady with walking stick, and wheelchair users) should see me driving – I have a confession to make. I often get it wrong. I sail past pedestrian crossings which have children waiting to cross at them. I swing left and narrowly miss office workers.  I drive through. Past. Over. I confess, I confess! In truth, I often fall short of my aspiration to treat other road users as human. And yet it is also true that this is my deepest wish. I know it’s unfashionable, but I really want to respect other road users, especially those who aren’t driving. In fact, I spend a lot of my working life, and a good chunk of my spare time working towards this goal. So why is it so difficult?
Madelaine Akrich offers some clues as to why I, and many of us, fail despite our best intents. In her work on technologies she argues technological artefacts, like roads, traffic signals, curbstones and all the paraphenalia of the street, behave like a film script. This film script prompts us to act out our lives in particular ways. Thus a freeway scripts us to drive fast; a red light scripts us to stop, and a traffic circle scripts us to turn left. These examples are so obvious, even mundane that we take them completely for granted. Amongst those obvious “scripts”, though, are the less obvious and more insidious ones. A wider road, for example, scripts “speed”, even on a suburban street. Straight roads also script “fast”, regardless of the number of people crossing, or the schools nearby. South African road infrastructure scripts in millions of subtle ways and for the most part these scripts are for priority, and speed, to the car driver. In this daily drama the simple act of behaving independently, and counter to the script, is much tougher than we may think.
Tough, but not impossible. I re-commit to “random acts of kindness” on the road. And I close my ears to the laughter of my teenage children on the backseat when I fall short.