Open Streets student intern from Stanford University in California, Alex Ramsey, recently took a trip to Mitchells Plain to help our Operations Assistant, Mzikhona Mgedle, with on-the-ground preparations for the upcoming Open Streets Day on 3 April. Here're his reflections on taking the train there from Cape Town Central Station:
Morning at the Cape Town train station is a hectic scene. Hundreds of people swarm out of the station, past stands selling food and sunglasses, and off into the city to start their day. Meanwhile, some of us fight upstream to reach the departing trains. Our train is scheduled to leave two minutes after we buy our tickets, so Mzi and I push through the crowd and run towards Platform 16. We both breathe a sigh of relief when we see that Train 9523 is still there waiting for us, and we hop onto one of the first carriages. Fortunately, there are plenty of open seats to pick from. We sit for a few more minutes and watch even more people run down the platform, past people selling fruit and vegetables, to jump onto the train. There's a sudden whistle, the carriage lurches forward, and we start on our way to Mitchells Plain.
I had never taken the Metrorail to Mitchells Plain, so I took in the sights along the tracks. After the many tracks coming from Cape Town station diverge, our train exits Cape Town and we head out towards the flats, making periodic stops at stations like Pinelands, Langa, and Nyanga. The weather is nice - blue skies with a few massive white clouds hanging in the sky. In addition to the many clusters of homes, we see learners playing football in schoolyards nearby and dogs running in the fields. Occasionally we see people walking alongside the track, and I wonder where they're going. Buses and cars pass above us on graffitied bridges and continue on roads extending into the townships.
The train is relatively empty, with only a few people getting on and off at every station, making the ride relatively quiet and peaceful (I can imagine the experience during rush hour isn't nearly so quiet). The few people on the train are friendly, and some seem to know each other as they greet others on the train while getting on.
A word to the wise: be careful taking pictures on the train or on the platform. At one of the stations, Mzi hopped out of our carriage to take some pictures of the platform. Seeing this, the train operator promptly and angrily confiscated the camera, only giving it back after we'd reached the end of the line. While it is unclear to me what the actual law or policy is regarding taking pictures at the train station, it was a mistake we wouldn't make again on the rest of the trip.
The trip takes about 45 minutes in total. When we arrive, the station itself is buzzing with activity, though not so much from travelers as shoppers. The station and the surrounding facilities house a Shoprite, a variety of clothing stores, hairdressers, electronics retailers, and fast food restaurants. The variety of people surprises me.
When we finally leave the station, we only have to walk about a block or two before we reach Merrydale Avenue, the location of Open Streets Mitchells Plain on Sunday, April 3rd. Given the station's proximity to the route, the Metrorail offers an easy-to-use and affordable way to come out and celebrate the day - just remember to be careful taking pictures along the way!