Johannesburg’s past vibrant bicycle culture

A visitor to Johannesburg would be hard pressed to identify a vibrant utilitarian bicycle culture. Most residents perhaps imagine that not only is it impossible to create one, there also has never existed one.

On the contrary. Up to 1935 there more bicycles registered by city council than automobiles. See the figure below that I created from council records.

secondperiodofanalysis

Prior to this then, it was routine for council and others to support everyday cycling. In 1901 the town council decided to support its employees in purchasing bicycles. In arriving at the decision, a committee of the council argued:

This committee is of opinion that a considerable number of the Council’s employees could with advantage perform their duties on bicycles, and think the best plan will be for the Council to grant these officials a fixed allowance and allow them to find their own machines (City of Johannesburg 1901, p.130).

Such financial support continued for at least the next two decades given the available evidence trail.

Later in 1905, the council voted and agreed to fund the construction of bicycle parking at a town cemetery. In so doing they argued:

It is considered necessary to provide some place where visitors to the Cemetery can leave their cycles, and we propose that a cycle rack should be erected near the main entrance at a cost of £20” (City of Johannesburg 1905a, p.1127).

In an earlier post, I showed that in 1935 the city council allocated cycling lanes along Louis Botha Avenue. The were described “as the city’s first experimental cycle track, a white line a few feet from, and parallel to, the left hand kerb, cutting of a strip of the road for the use of pedal cyclists” (Unknown 1935).

So what?

Johannesburg once had a vibrant everyday cycling culture. And just as it was created and supported by council, bicycle shops, enthusiasts, and many others, so it was destroyed. The story of the processes of destruction are for another time.

It follows then that it can be built up. Just as many other cities around the world are doing currently because they have realised the limits of automobility. Many formerly car centric cities (which also were bicycle cities at point) have seen their bicycle mode share grow remarkably. Chicago, a city that I have also been studying is a good example.

bicyclemodesharetrends 
Bicycle mode share trends in Chicago . Sources: (Berkow & Falbo 2014, p.3; Vance 2015)

References

  • Berkow, M. & Falbo, N., 2014. Chicago Bike Monitoring 2014: Technical Report, Available at: http://www.activetrans.org/.
  • City of Johannesburg, 1901. Minutes of the Meetings. Johannesburg, South Africa: Radford, Adlington, Ltd.
  • City of Johannesburg, 1905. Council Minutes, City of Johannesburg. Johannesburg, South Africa: Radford, Adlington, Ltd.
  • Unknown, 1935. More attempts at traffic solution: Cycle lanes and lectures for school children. The Star.
  • Vance, S., 2015. New Census Data Says Chicago’s Bike Mode Share Is at an All-Time High | Streetsblog Chicago. StreetsBlog Chicago. Available at: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2015/09/25/new-census-data-shows-chicago-bike-commuting-might-be-up/ [Accessed August 29, 2016].

 

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