Big changes coming for roads in South Africa – including 2m sidewalks and bicycle lanes

 ·4 Jul 2023

The Department of Transport has gazetted its National Land Transport Strategic Framework (NLTS) for 2023-2028, outlining the government’s plans to revive and restore South Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.

According to the department, the NLTS is a guiding document, so it does not detail specific outcomes for transport in the country but rather provides a “vision” for how the sector should operate along with short-term (five-year) goals.

Its primary goal is to provide the framework, clarity and certainty for the department’s development goals, and align plans with national policy.

The NLTS’s actual value, however, is delivering a sober review of the current state of transport and related infrastructure in South Africa – and the results are not good.

The department broadly outlined the biggest challenges around roads and transport in the country right now, including a “generation” of infrastructure neglect, apartheid-era spatial disparities keeping people far from public transport nodes, and overall administration and management complexities that make an integrated approach to planning incredibly difficult.

Some of the biggest issues flagged by the report include:

  • Public transport integration, safety, universal accessibility, and efficiency remain a constant challenge despite the amount of money spent on subsidies and upgrades.
  • Exorbitant amounts are spent on private cars, relative to the fraction of the population that the car services, which is “unjustified”.
  • 87% of freight by weight is moved by road and 13% by rail, reflecting a significant imbalance in the freight transport system;
  • South Africa’s road fatalities and traffic accidents levels are among the worst in the world and show no significant reduced trend, indicating that the road safety strategy to date has not worked;
  • With the exception of the national road network, the road and rail infrastructure are generally under-maintained and a lack of strategic management and maintenance system, and subsequently funding;
  • The provision of pedestrian and cycling facilities is still not mandatory for new developments; there is no systematic focus on walking and cycling;
  • Land use planning priorities and interventions to ensure increased universally accessible densification and targeted growth along core corridors are not happening at a fast-enough pace.
  • A lack of institutional and management capacity is one of the most substantial short-term obstacles to achieving the policy objectives for transport.

Long walk, short cycle

According to the document, the five-year strategy to address these challenges is broad, with each aspect having its own short-term and long-term goals and objectives.

In general, however, the department wants to improve the public transport system and provide better and safer access, with more efficient and better-quality services.

This is because most people in South Africa do not have a private vehicle and depend on public transport and other non-motorised transport (NMT) to get to work, school or amenities.

As part of this, safer and more accessible walking and cycling infrastructure is planned, which also forms part of the department’s goal to reduce carbon emissions.

“Changing these problems requires a change in focus, and a far greater emphasis on walking and cycling, which would automatically reduce the amount of carbon consumed,” it said.

“However, the spatial inequalities already developed must be actively overcome in order for the move to a low-carbon economy to be successful.”

The department noted that 26.3% of people in South Africa use walking as their main mode of transport to get to work, with 1.3% of the population using cycling. In rural areas, the number shifts to 39.2% of people who walk.

It said that, if properly planned, cycling and pedestrian networks can act as feeders to public transport – and given the low cost of this form of mobility, it has the potential to bring about equity and create accessibility for people who cannot afford public transport or private vehicles.

“Therefore, it is important that cities and municipalities not only provide mainstream NMT considerations in planning and providing safe and fit-for-purpose NMT infrastructure but also develop programmes that will attract new cyclists and pedestrians,” it said.

To better integrate NMT into future planning, the department proposed that municipalities make provision for unimpeded (no light poles, road signs, informal traders, etc.) minimum of 2-metre-wide sidewalks and a minimum of 1.5-metre-wide cycle lanes as a standard requirement for all municipal roads.

This would include the necessary signage, communication, enforcement and maintenance – while also raising awareness and advocating these facilities.

Over the next five years, the department aims to develop national guidelines and standards for NMT as a sub-sector of the transport system to ensure consistent planning and designs that receive the necessary funding.

It also wants to draw more investment into safe NMT facilities, particularly for schools, and to increase the number of bicycles it distributes through its programmes.

The other strategic objectives can be read below:

Read: Private companies team up to tackle pothole crisis in South Africa

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