(Published on Cape Times 11 January, 2013)
The tragic death of cycling champion and Olympian Burry Stander has stirred debate about safety for cyclists and the long overdue establishment of policies that protect cyclists like the 1.5 meter required distance law. This law is well accepted in many other countries. At the centre of this debate; however lie deeper issues that engender violence on the road. Year after year, campaigns encourage drivers through billboards to slow down, not to drink when driving, etc. yet the death toll continues to climb. It is time for innovative thinking in addressing the carnage on our roads; and that is only possible when public streets are embedded with respect for human life.
Fear of crime in South Africa has made us strangers in our own streets and neighbourhoods and violent driving only exacerbates such situation. We cannot accept this and civil society can take the lead by presenting solutions to government for implementation.
In addition to planning appropriate infrastructure and law enforcement through public participation and targeted lobbying, there is a need to generate an even higher awareness among the public about our rights and responsibilities. Streets are public space to be used democratically and cyclists as well as pedestrians have a right to use that space.
Change begins by cultivating a culture of civic responsibility amongst all, thus education and awareness amongst drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are paramount. Respecting crossings and road signs might be the first step; however, only when streets become more than a path to get from point A to point B and start connecting people, will we see a significant decrease in the current animosity on the roads. It is not an overnight process and hard work is required in order to generate change at all the levels that are needed, including infrastructure, policy and most importantly our behaviour.
Burry Stander's death leaves a huge gap in the sport and the country will mourn the falling of a star who held so much promise. Let us honour him and all our fellow citizens that have perished on our roads. Let there be no more empty campaigns but a genuine commitment to changing the way we interact on the road and policies that ensure that there is enough respect to protect human life. It will require changes in how streets are conceived, designed, constructed and used. It will require changes in our thinking, design codes, construction practices and habits.