In 2011, following the leadership (and some argued, crazy idea!) of my friend Zoe Duby, I became involved in helping organize the World Naked Bike Ride for Cape Town. The 200-strong ride around the city got the attention of both local and international media; but most importantly, it opened the space for cyclists to use their voice. With messages ranging from the need of safety for cyclists on the roads to the condemnation of our heavily fuel-reliant society; it was clear that an untapped citizen-mobilisation potential was travelling around the city on two wheels that day.
Cape Town joined a global movement that day and images remained in my head, (as well as a lovely book published by Worldwide Cycling Atlas showcasing the event as a creative form of cycling activism.)
In March 2012, the momentum was escalating and with Zoe leading the way again, a bigger organizing committee joined the cause; with Joshua, Andrew, Daniel, Andrea, Diana and Jaime. Under their leadership another 200+ strong naked bike riders took over central Cape Town and again captured media attention. This time, the surprise element was not the numbers and colorful nature of the event but the number of citizen-driven cycling events that were taking place in the city. In addition to the Argus cycling tour (incidentally happening the next day), moonlightmass (a monthly ride throughout the city) had been launched a month before. Everyone wanted to be on bicycles!
With the cycling fever growing and mainstream media interested in promoting the discussion, My friend Diana Sanchez (also Colombian) and I decided to write a few letters to the editor and opinion pieces. We saw the opportunity to materialize the dream of Open Streets in Cape Town and other cities in South Africa. The concept wasn?t new, the HSRC brought the former mayor of Bogota Antanas Mockus under a project on building safer cities and did a study visit to Colombia and Brazil in 2009 had seen the potential of this public space. Similarly, the city of Cape Town, in particular the transport department had considered rolling out a similar event in 2011 and the Bicycling Empowerment Network had participated in a car-free event along Klipfontein Rd (inspired by the Open Streets model). In 2012, with the new developments in the bicycle community, and our eagerness to be active in building a better city, we felt the time was ripe and the wheels were put in motion!
Informal conversations followed with different people with a strong interest in seeing more cycling in the city and who thought "Open Streets" was a model to be replicated in Cape Town. Within a couple of weeks and with the help of Gail, Jonathan, Silvia, Lynn, Glen, Andrew and Sarah, the community was invited to share their ideas and projects at what came to be called CycleLINKS 0.1. On 28 May, 2012 at the Josephine Mill, as part of the green drinks series, more than a hundred cyclists and non-cyclists came to hear about Open Streets and to share information about the different initiatives taking place in the city.
That day, the Bicycle Cape Town campaign was born and became the main platform to channel citizens's energy by, among other ideas, planting the seeds of Open Streets. After seeing a video of what the programme looks like in Bogota after 30 years, those in the room started to daydream with us Open Streets in Cape Town seemed possible!
BCPT took the city by a storm during the following 5 weeks and by 17 July, 2012 when the second meeting was convened with an online operation and a team already in place. Open Streets was set to become its first flagship event. The more than one hundred of attendees at cycleLINNKS 0.2 were thrilled. By the end of the night 55 people had signed up to become volunteers of Open Streets.
Media attention followed, articles on the Cape Times, New Age, West Cape News and beyond as well as interviews on SAFM and Cape Talk Radio confirmed Open Streets is a concept with a future in this city. Just as the Bicycle community has jumped on board and will promote the establishment of this event, many more sectors of Cape Town are expected, and already coming on board. After all, Open streets are not only about cycling. Open streets are about citizens equally sharing the public space and building healthier, sustainable and integrated communities.
The movement is underway and objects in motion will remain in motion...