BUILDING THE FORESHORE FREEWAYS: The politics of a freeway “artefact”
Centre for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town, Private Bag,
Tel: 021 6715404; Email: email@example.com
During the 1940s and 1950s the engineers and planners of Cape Town were
immersed in debates about proposed road infrastructure on Cape Town’s Foreshore.
As various alternatives were discussed the tensions between National, Provincial and
City government and the Foreshore Board surfaced. This paper highlights one aspect
of the story using reports, archived correspondence and minutes of meetings from
the time. The paper argues that Foreshore Freeway planning was an inherently
political exercise and that Foreshore Freeway infrastructure, in common with other
technological artefacts, has politics “embedded” into it.
BUILDING THE FORESHORE FREEWAYS:
The politics of a freeway “artefact”
Centre for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town, Private Bag,
Tel: 021 6715404; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the centre of Cape Town, overlooking the busiest intersection in the central City,
en route to the major Waterfront tourist attraction, and snugly to one side of the
International Convention Centre is a freeway, suspended and incomplete. Follow the
arc which this road describes and you will see, at the opposite side of the intersection
another stub of freeway, also suspended, also incomplete. Elsewhere, more hidden
from public scrutiny are four more suspended, incomplete pieces of two lane
freeway. These pieces of road form part of the so-called Foreshore Freeway of Cape
Town. They are the focus of ridicule, the location for advertising creativity, the source
of urban mythology and iconic Cape Town structures. They are also an anachronism
of the transport planning process – a process which tends to finish what it starts. How
did Cape Town come to have freeway stubs suspended above its centre? What can
this “artefact” tell us about road engineering of that time? And what does it mean for
us – engineers, planners, South Africans – today?
The story which emerges from these questions is rich and complex, and deeply
rooted in Cape Town’s contemporary history. This Foreshore Freeway story touches
east into District 6 and north to Government Avenue. It also connects across to the
US and to the birth of transport planning in the 1950s, and with the associated
development of traffic survey techniques, computers and modelling. The story was
influenced by tensions between levels of government, between modes of transport
and across professional boundaries and, inevitably, by the South African politics of
race. Locating and forming the Foreshore Freeway was, in sum, a complex,
protracted set of compromises between multiple actors with many agendas, and is
the focus of a piece of research work in progress. This brief paper focuses on one
part of that story, on some of the debates which ran from the 1940s to the early
1960s. The focus is particularly on the Eastern Boulevard, the road which runs into
central Cape Town from the southern suburbs, and which cuts through the
Woodstock/District 6 area.
The following material is drawn from many sources, but largely from the writings of Dr
Soloman Morris and government files from the National Archives of Cape Town.
Abbreviated referencing is provided, full referencing will be available in the upcoming
PhD thesis of the author.
2. THE PRE 1950 FORESHORE DEBATES
The genesis of the Foreshore Freeway scheme can be placed as early as the Paris
spring of 1940, when Monsieur Beaudouin (Chief Architect to the Government of
France and “first placed town planner in the Grand Prix de Rome”), received a cable
from WS Lunn (City Engineer, Cape Town) and JC Collings (Town Planning Branch
in City Engineers Dept) requesting his planning advice for how best to use the land
being created from the dredging for a new Cape Town harbor (Beaudouin, 1940).
Expected to cover 480 acres and situated at the shoreline of Table Bay, between the
existing city and the sea, Cape Town’s Council had long recognized the untapped
potential of the land but were now in need of some strong planning advice. The
Railway Administration, who were co-beneficiaries of the Foreshore land, were
unhappy with Council’s plan for the area and had appointed Professor LW Thornton
White (“former scholar of the British School in Rome”) and Longstreth Thompson
(“town planning consultant of London”) to help them to develop an alternative. The
cable to Beaudouin, requesting his input, was the Council’s response to the Railway
Administration’s appointment of experts (Cape Town Foreshore Joint Technical
Committee (CFJTC) 1948).
As war rumbled in Europe, Beaudouin started his three month sojourn in Cape Town.
According to him, there was an easing of tensions between the Cape Town parties
as they worked on their separate reports but with “a considerable degree of cross-
reference and collaboration”. The resulting plans had a similar approach and “the
same essential elements”, which were a largely at-grade Parisian inspired scheme
with straight, wide Boulevards stretching to the East and West and a newly
developed civic centre. The plan for a Monumental Approach from the harbor and
vistas stretching in all directions, ensured that approach to Cape Town by sea (the
focus, as this was in a time before commercial aviation) would be most impressive
A year later, in March 1941, the City Engineer presented three alternative schemes
to Council: the Council’s scheme by Beaudouin of Paris; the Longstreth-Thompson’s
scheme produced for the Railway Administration and the original Joint Town planning
Scheme created before the various expert advisors joined the process. The tensions
were many, but focused on the location of the railway station and the civic centre
site. A Committee was set up to broker a compromise plan, but these negotiations
broke down, with the City believing that no satisfactory solution could be found while
the position of the Railway Administration on the siting of the railway station
remained as it was. The Foreshore plan was deadlocked (CFJTC, 1948).
Two and a half years later, in October 1944, local parties lobbied national
government to intervene in the stand-off and a Committee was appointed under the
chair of Major-General Szlumper. The Foreshore Investigation Committee (Szlumper
Committee) sat in February of the following year with the plans developed so far and
the Committee made recommendations, mainly relating to the siting of the new
railway terminal and following this the Minister of Transport approached the City
Council with a suggestion for a new Foreshore Joint Technical Committee (JTC),
which was formed and subsequently sat 34 times (CFJTC, 1948).
Monsieur Beaudouin was appointed by the JTC committee and returned to Cape
Town in June 1945, where he developed another new plan. After he left, his scheme
was handed over to the new Town Planning Office of the City, who developed yet
another variant, which was submitted to the Minister for approval. The Minister
expressed “keen interest” but wanted to get Beaudouin’s stamp of approval on this
revised scheme and also wanted the concerns of the City Engineer who had
expressed doubts about the adequacy of the scheme for “motor traffic and parking”
to be considered. So, on Beaudouin’s return, the new Town Planning Officer, and
Beaudouin developed another plan, which was unanimously accepted by Committee
In June 1946, six and a half years after that first cable to Monsieur Beaudouin, and
many versions of the plan later, a report, plan, and photos of a model of the proposed
Foreshore Scheme were submitted to the Minister of Transport
. It seemed that the
scheme would now finally be built. But it was not to be so straightforward.
3. THE 1950’S: “METROPOLIS OF TOMORROW”
In 1949, Solomon Simon Morris became, at the age of 37, the City Engineer of Cape
Town, a position which he held until his retirement in 1977. By 1951 “Solly” Morris (as
he was affectionately known) and his team had developed somewhat different ideas
to those published in the 1947 Plan. Morris argued that the 1947 Plan would require
Boulevard gradients in excess of 1 in 10.5 and that there were many reasons to
argue that the 1947 plan, so long in the making, was flawed, potentially very
expensive and difficult to justify.
He proposed relocating the Eastern and Western Boulevards and adding a Ring
Road to the original plan to “allow for circulation”, with “as little disturbance as
1 Report published by Government printer as UG 48, of 1946 and tabled 12 February 1947.
possible”, and “speedy entrance and exit” for the vehicles travelling (Morris, 1951).
By doing this Morris was evoking an emerging post-War view which wedded the fast-
moving car with the inevitable, more hopeful, modern future.
In “Metropolis of Tomorrow”, Solly Morris countered the grand boulevards and vistas
of the 1940’s scheme with a plan for a modern city. This was a new turn for the
planning of the Foreshore. Morris argued for speed, economy and overcoming
“The importance of efficient traffic circulation in the central city has already been
emphasised. The congestion which occurs in the central city to-day is strong
testimony of the time-consuming, uneconomical and frustrating complication which
ensues from the ineffectual traffic circulation.” (Morris, 1951, p34)
Unfortunately for Morris, through, his arguments for efficiency, commonsense and the
objectivity presented in “Metropolis of Tomorrow” were not enough to generate
funding and commitment to his plan. His proposals for a Ring Road to pass under the
historic and well-loved Government Avenue were controversial and by 1956 another
Committee had been formed by Province, with the specific and urgent brief to attend
to the location of Boulevard East and its intersection with the Foreshore Schemes.
The rest of this paper focuses in on at those particular debates, using records of the
meetings held, now stored in the National Archives.
4. BOULEVARD EAST
The 1956 Committee, which consisted of representatives from the National,
Provincial, City governments; the Railway authorities, the Foreshore Board and the
University of Cape Town was briefed to:
“consider various questions relating to the engineering design of Boulevard East, in
particular the location of the railway bridge and the traffic carrying capacity of
These “certain intersections” were the central city junctions of the Eastern Boulevard
with Oswald Pirow Street, Heerengracht, and Buitengracht.
Hoffman, the National Department of Transport representative, did not think that it
would be possible to disperse quickly enough all of the traffic which would enter
Cape Town and his concern was that these intersections would restrict the free flow
of traffic. Hoffman offered up some calculations to help the discussions using the
road capacities of the three approach roads. He proposed a series of flyovers on the
Foreshore to give a free flow of traffic. In turn, the City Engineer’s Department did
their own traffic analysis, and developed different forecasts. Faced with two
conflicting versions of the future, the City and the National Department were at
stalemate, and Morris argued “it might well be that the only way to satisfactorily
2 National Archives Box PAR G14/1 and G14/2, Provincial Administration of the Western Cape of
Good Hope file P480 Batch 1.
resolve this difference of views would be to await the results of the traffic survey at
present being undertaken.”
Another Committee member, meanwhile, Mr Hugo of the Provincial Roads
department, appeared to be getting rather frustrated. He argued that if the matter
were held over until the traffic survey was completed, it might be found that the
properties along the Eastern Boulevard route (frozen in preparation for scheme
development) might be “defrozen” and the construction of the Eastern Blvd would
become very difficult. He felt that the Committee should continue with their efforts to
find a solution and not await the results of the traffic survey.
It is unclear from the correspondence what Hugo’s urgency was, but we do know that
the City Engineer before Morris, W.S. Lunn, had already put together a plan for
compulsory purchase for the Eastern Boulevard through District 6 in the late 1940’s
and that there had been plans for clearing so-called slum properties in District 6 since
1940. In 1953/4 a Master Plan for Housing had been developed, including District 6,
and so there was momentum to finalise road plans5
. By March 1956 we have two
sets of traffic forecasts (one from Morris and Rudner at the City and one from
Hoffman, the National Government representative), and we also have Hugo from
Province urging them both along because of frozen properties in District 6.
In some ways this is story of deadlock is very particular to Cape Town, 1956 and yet
in other ways this is a timeless story of transport planning: competing tiers of
government, personal rivalries, struggles over methods of planning, and agendas or
interests masked behind it all but pushing through in various ways.
What was the solution? At the next meeting in May the Provincial representative
talked of the attempts made to “cut the gap” between the forecast figures already
submitted by the City and National Government, but Mr Hugo argued a third
perspective, that the flow along Eastern Boulevard would not be as heavy “as first
feared” because of the constrained width of de Waal Drive. It may seem strange in
2011 to hear Mr Hugo voice, in an official document, such a personal opinion, a
hunch really, and without the backing of traffic survey but prior to this time much
planning of roads was based on estimates of existing flows, judgment and some
basic predictions of the future.
The matter of what to do was unresolved despite the arguments from all sides, but at
this meeting these concerns about traffic analyses were superseded by another
issue, this time questioning whether the Foreshore Board, who were part owners of
the Foreshore land, would want a flyover bridge or a busy road through their planned
shopping precinct at the intersection of Hertzog Boulevard and Heerengracht. It was
resolved that a report be drawn up for the Board, in order to get their approval and so
19 March 1956 Minutes of Meeting from National Archives box PAR G14/1 and G14/2 027,
Provincial Administration of the Cape of Good Hope file.
4 National Archives box 3/CT 4/1/11/682, file G53/1VOL1.
The Corporation of the City of Cape Town (1953 and 1954) Annual Report of the City Engineer.
Cape Times Limited.
to be able to address the question of the suggested flyover at the shopping precinct.
In conclusion the report of the Committee to the Foreshore Board argued that the
1947 plan was unworkable in its current form and that “desirable though a shopping
precinct may be in its present location, from a traffic point of view it can hardly be
considered suitable” and that “if ultimate traffic flow is to be efficiently handled some
major modification to the 1947 Plan appears inevitable.”6
4.3Back to the Eastern Boulevard
Morris, meanwhile, was not convinced about the necessity for the Eastern Boulevard,
and so unsurprisingly the Committee waivered over the wording of the report on it. In
a draft which was not sent they said:
“The Committee has not addressed itself – as indeed it was not in a position to – to
the question of when or even whether at all in the foreseeable future the Blvd East
should actually be built…certain facts have appeared in the course of this
conversation which must inevitably give rise to some concern. The present
capacity per se of the approach roads appears to be more than adequate for some
considerable time; yet the construction of the Blvd East, paradoxically enough,
may well give rise to fresh traffic difficulties at its intersections in the Foreshore
which are sufficiently serious to necessitate reconsideration of the fundamental
concepts of the 1947 Plan”.
In the final draft of August 1956 the Committee was more constrained:
“…the Committee wishes to record that it has been expressly given to understand
that the Boulevard East Project is to be considered as a fait accompli. For this
reason, and bearing in mind that this proposal has been accepted by the
authorities concerned, and that development along the route of the Boulevard has
been frozen for many years, it desires specifically to refrain from expressing any
opinion on the necessity or otherwise of this highway.”
The response of the Board to this report is not on record, but almost a year later
Morris (from the City) and Hugo (from the Province) are still exchanging
correspondence about it. In a Confidential memo, Morris remains unconvinced of
Boulevard East’s necessity:
“Recent discussions….have made it clear that subsidy for construction of the
Boulevard East will not be made available unless certain major design
amendments are made…” “As a consequence two important issues are raised:
firstly whether the proposed amendments are justifiable; secondly, in view of all of
the difficulties that have arisen in regard to Boulevard East, whether the benefits
that would arise from construction of this roadway are, in fact, commensurate with
Continuing, Morris argues against the Boulevard East not only from traffic
considerations, but also other points of view:
“The route and probably the road itself, was perceived on architectural, or perhaps
geometric considerations, rather than those of topography and traffic flow.”
6 Report of the Technical Committee appointed to consider the route, location of bridges and ancillary traffic problems connected with Boulevard East, to be
submitted to Provincial secretary. National Archives, Cape Town file PAR/P480 Batch 1.
7 Draft of Report of the Technical Committee appointed to consider the route, location of bridges and ancillary traffic problems connected with Boulevard
East, to be submitted to Provincial secretary. Dated 1956 Aug 29. National Archives, Cape Town file PAR/P480 Batch 1.
8 Report of the Technical Committee appointed to consider the route, location of bridges and ancillary traffic problems connected with Boulevard East, to be
submitted to Provincial secretary. National Archives, Cape Town file PAR/P480 Batch 1.
“It is not a true “radial” or “tangent” road. It lies on a route which, from a traffic
engineering point of view, appears arbitrary or forced, striking as it does over, and
interfering with, three other radials: De Waal Drive, the Main Road and Strand St
“A truly adequate traffic plan using this [Eastern Boulevard] has not yet been evolved;
for example it is hard to see how some form of congestion could be avoided at
“It therefore seems possible that the principal problem is not the provision of
adequate roadway capacity leading into the City; and in any event even if it is, then
Boulevard East – bearing in mind its heavy expense – makes a relatively
ineffective contribution to its solution.”9
Morris opposes the construction of Boulevard through District 6 for many explicit
reasons and perhaps also for reasons we are not party to. A terse and dramatic
response comes from Hugo in return, in July 1957. There is talk about a new
Committee, but Hugo is threatening to remove himself from any Committee which
does not agree to Boulevard East. A new “Western Exit Technical Committee” is set
up, with the terms of reference that make it clear: Boulevard East is a “fait accompli”.
Once again it looks like the debate is closed and a new Foreshore Plan can finally be
put in place. Or can it?
Early in 1958 an alternative for Shopping Precinct problem is proposed, a deviation
of the Eastern and Western Boulevards which would bypass the proposed Shopping
Precinct completely but the National Department of Transport are not convinced and
argue that long term plans must include linking Boulevard East and West. There is a
breakdown in communication. The City are prioritising a Ring Road; for the Railway
and Habour’s Board the Shopping Precinct (presumably important for revenue
raising) is key; the Province are anxious to get the Eastern Boulevard built while the
National Department of Transport are prioritising efficient flow of long-distance
through traffic. Morris, meanwhile, is hopeful that the results of the traffic survey can
resolve the many tensions.
By February 1958 the traffic survey had been completed and the analysis work done.
The traffic analysis report confirmed what many had argued, that there would indeed
be congestion at the Shopping Precinct/ Close intersection, but Mr De Bruyn, the
representative from the Foreshore Board was cynical, arguing that traffic congestion
would occur “not only on the Hertzog Boulevard/ Heerengracht intersection which
had been specifically singled out, but also at every intersection in the City.”10
Although the traffic analysis had given information, it had not resolved the Committee
debates. Not surprisingly, the Board were unimpressed. In June 1958 the Board
Chair noted that although this Committee had been in existence since August 1957,
no progress on their brief – the actual planning of the Western Exit of the Eastern
9 Memo June 27, 1957, National Archives file PAR/P480 Batch 1.
10 Minutes of Meeting 3, 26 February 1958, National Archives box TRE/7/6/D Vol 1.
Boulevard – had yet been made. The Board insisted that the Shopping Close must
stay and in reply the National Government threatened to withdraw funding explaining
that “National Road Funds had perforce to be spent on the best schemes only, and if
the scheme was not a workmanlike one from the engineering point of view, there
would be no alternative but to withdraw from the scheme.”11
In retrospect this position of the National Government sounds like brinkmanship
masquerading as professionalism. Who was to judge the “best” and most
“workmanlike” scheme? Clearly there were several contested and competing views
between layers of government about what “best” for the Foreshore actually was.
5. THE “RESOLUTION”
As we know, the eventual scheme built on the Foreshore was dramatically different
from the one debated here, and the idea of bypassing the Shopping Precinct
intersection completely was the one which did ultimately win through, as the whole
Foreshore development was bypassed by the Foreshore Freeway in a plan
developed in the early 1960s using a new generation of overseas experts. Ironically
the shopping precinct so beloved of the Foreshore Board (now called Piers Place)
did not develop in any significant way, perhaps bypassed itself by suburban
developments elsewhere. The eventual Foreshore Freeway scheme adopted in the
early 1960s was far more substantial than anything discussed in the late 1950s.
In 1959 the Chair of the Foreshore Board told the press that it was “too late” to
review the plan for the Eastern Boulevard12 and the Eastern Boulevard, which had
been part of a provisional town planning scheme for the redevelopment of the District
6 “slum” area since 1940, was one of the few sections of Solly Morris’s promised
“Metropolis of Tomorrow” built (Barnett, 1994; p178). The Eastern Boulevard, which
the City argued against but which the National and Provincial governments
eventually insisted upon has the dubious distinction of being the cause of the first
large scale demolitions in District 6, starting in 1960.
6. CONCLUDING REMARKS
Given South Africa’s history of Apartheid planning it is easy to draw conclusions
about the politicised nature of South African urban planning and housing. Whether
transport planning is as politicized is more debatable – with some still advocating, as
Solly Morris did in the 1950s, that transport planning is a more objective process,
based on scientific data collection and modeling. After researching the detail of road
planning practices, however, the conclusion must surely be reached that road
planning is as politicized as urban planning. Struggles for power between levels of
government, and between individuals and institutions, permeated the engineering
meetings of the 1940s and 1950s as surely as they permeated the urban planning of
the day. We can conclude then, that road planning, is political, but what does saying
that mean for the Foreshore Freeways, and for transport planning practice today?
Studies of technology from elsewhere offer some pointers. Langdon Winner asked
“do artefacts have politics?” and describes the case of Long Island’s parkways, which
11 Minutes of meeting 18 June 1958, National Archives box TRE/7/6/D Vol 1.
12 Cape Times 3 September 1959.
were built as access routes from New York City to the beaches of Long Island from
the 1920s (Winner, 1986). They were important as they provided one of the few
means for New Yorkers to leave the crowded city and experience leisure in the open.
The bridges over the parkways have achieved some notoriety for their embedded
racism, as they were low enough to stop buses (mainly used by poorer African-
Americans) to use, but suitable for rich car owners to pass under. Hence the bridges
embedded politics of race which permeated the use of the road long after those who
were involved in their planning and construction had gone.
Given that the debates about the form and location of Cape Town’s freeways were
clearly politicised exercises, what can we say about the artefacts of those debates,
the constructed (and incomplete) freeways which remain? The general argument
made here, and repeated through many other case studies of technical artefacts and
systems, is that the seemingly neutral urban road infrastructure we now live with
have embedded in them their social and political histories (Hughes, 1983; Bijker et al,
1987; Bijker and Law, 1992; Garb, 2004). As we have seen above, these histories
are not neutral, and they are not simple. In the case of the Foreshore Freeways they
reflect the power politics of decades of negotiations, and so the conclusion is: the
Foreshore Freeways have politics. The politics of the Foreshore Freeways may not
be as simple as the politics of the Long Island Parkways but they, too privilege some
actors and interest groups over others as they continue to describe the transport
infrastructure, and city, which was seen as “best” by the engineering and planning of
the 1940s to 1950s.
When considering what to do with these political artefacts from the past we would do
well to reflect on their histories, and on what politics are embedded in them.
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