During COVID19, many Langa residents, particularly young people, took to the streets with bicycles to offer delivery services and support community kitchens by delivering medicine and food. The Langa Bicycle Hub and Cloud Deliveries are examples of what emerged during that period.
This development has shed light on the enormous opportunity that exists in supporting the growth in cycling, and at the same time, improving non motorised transport (NMT) in the township. Most people in Langa rely on walking and public transport; however, navigating the streets is not always safe or pleasant. Indeed, the streets of Langa are narrow and there is often conflict among taxis, pedestrians and the growing number of bicycles. At the same time, in the residential streets, it is common to see children playing and adults sitting outside or simply walking around.
This contrast highlights the need to think about NMT both in terms of physical and “human infrastructure”. Similar to other parts of Cape Town, there is a need for hard infrastructure that protects and enables walking, cycling and universal access, but also a new mindset by users of those streets. This can be done by improving the physical space while challenging the existing vehicle-dominated culture.
With this in mind, on Thursday 16th February, the Langa Bicycle Hub (LBH) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) co-hosted a ‘walk & talk’ in Langa. Walking along some of the main streets, participants observed and discussed challenges and possible ideas to resolve them.
The objective of the walk was to bring together cycling activists, cycling businesses and transport users in the community. Representatives from several organisations joined. They included the Langa Bicycle Hub, Open Streets Cape Town, LANGA Community Advice Services, IKhaya Le Langa, Langa Safety Patrol (LSP), Qula Kwedini youth initiatives, Langaformen and Bridges for Music.
The walk started at the Langa Bicycle Hub and the first stop was a bicycle delivery service supported by Boxer stores coordinated by a woman managing trolleys and bicycles in the store. The service includes home deliveries and provides informal employment opportunities to youth who dropped out of school. It also supports informal traders to transport their goods. There is also an increasing number of adults who stand outside supermarkets with their bicycles who are also connecting with informal traders to transport their equipment.
Langa has a long history of people cycling; many have been commuting for years to Cape Town, riding up to 35 km daily. They do this to save up their income and often do it on the highway because cycling through the streets near the Athlone Power Station, Bunga Ave bridge leading to Athlone and the Jan Smuts Bridge leading to Pinelands can be unsafe.
The second stop took place at the Sharpeville massacre-pedestrian circle where we reflected on the history of people protesting laws that restricted the movement of black residents. At this site, we were joined by members of the Langa Advice Centre who shared the current plans by City of Cape Town to change a section of King Langalibalele Street to be a one-way road around the taxi rank.
The group reflected on the many challenges around Langa’s taxi rank, including cars going at high speeds and largely ignoring the pedestrian crossing. There is a clear need for education about road safety and to find ways of sharing not just the road, but also parking. In fact, one of the ideas was to engage taxi drivers and businesses to share parking with bicycle delivery brigades which are run by the Langa Bicycle Hub.
We then proceeded to see a bicycle lane along Jungle Walk Rd, where we observed the lack of a network; in other words, this lane leads nowhere. The walk ended with a series of surveys and discussions which gave the group a chance to reflect and discuss possible actions. Highlights included road safety education particularly for children, raising awareness about the rights for all users and cycling safety. It was concluded that schools and informal traders should be prioritised when planning new developments.
The walk is the beginning of a much longer conversation about the creation of a Langa Mobility Forum and we will continue to work with the HSRC team to conduct further research. The aim is for this platform to facilitate activities and collective action to create safer public spaces and improve mobility. The next walk will take place on 7 March and will engage public officials and other stakeholders. If you are interested to take part, please contact me on 071 970 2475 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.