Ralph Mathekga

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Yesterday was a great day for cyclists around Johannesburg with some of the roads in the city closed for one day just to ensure that cyclists can enjoy riding the 94.7 cycling challenge. I have participated in the competition several times and I managed to complete the race without an incident this time. I can imagine some motorists might have been irked by the idea that some parts of Johannesburg were not accessible by car because they were exclusively reserved for cyclists. This kind of road closure happens only once a year in Johannesburg.

Speaking of getting around on a bicycle, former mayor of Johannesburg Parks Tau attempted to construct cycle routes around Johannesburg with the aim to get people out of their cars and onto the bicycle saddle. If the majority of people were to cycle in Johannesburg that would certainly alleviate the traffic jams we are seeing in the mornings. Cycling can also contribute positively towards a healthy life style, eliminating issues such as obesity and other lifestyle diseases including heart conditions and high blood pleasure.

In many European cities including Amsterdam cycling is a way of life and a way of getting by. In London you can rent a bicycle as they are parked alongside the roads and available for use as a means of transport and a quick way to do site seeing around the city. The same also applies in New York with the city’s cyclists competing with motorists for use of the roads.

Most cities around the world are working hard to encourage people to get on the saddle and use bicycles especially for short distances. Here in South Africa it’s only once a year, during the 94.7 cycling competition, that one gets to see that many people actually own and ride bicycles in the country. I occasionally use my bicycle to get to work.  This is a great way to get some exercise and avoid traffic at the same time. Yes, I get to work quicker on a bicycle than I do using a car.

When the EFF criticised the idea of continuing to build cycle lanes in Johannesburg I thought that the criticism was misguided.  The EFF’s Commander in Chief (CIC) maintained that building cycle lanes is an unnecessary luxury and that the City of Johannesburg should not spend public money on such. The view by the CIC seems to be based on the wrong idea that it is only white people who get to cycle recreationally; hence the whole idea of cycle lanes can be done away with. But most of the time I cycle to work in the morning, the majority of fellow cyclists I come across are black folks trying to get to work. Most of them are doing small time jobs like gardening and they cycle to work as a way to save money that would otherwise be spent on transport. Those cyclists get healthier while at it.

I was shocked when the DA’s newly elected administration in Johannesburg went along with the EFF’s crazy idea and opted to cancel the construction of cycle lanes in Johannesburg.  If cycle lanes are built in a way that connects townships with the city center that will make a big difference. If there was corruption in the construction of Johannesburg’s cycle lanes that should be dealt with and perpetrators should be brought to book. Doing away with the entire project because of politics is not acceptable. South African politicians might have given up on their waistlines, but many South Africans do care about their health.

Juju has been quite exemplary by shedding some weight recently. But not everyone can afford an expensive weight management regime that at times include Herbex and a gym subscription. For some people, bicycle lanes will be a less expensive option. After all, being thin is one thing, but being healthy is something different.

I challenge the CIC and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba to get up in the morning and leave behind their entourages and get on their bicycles. Once they realise who cycles in the mornings they will see that cycle lanes are actually an urgent necessity for getting by in Johannesburg.

* Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cycling  |  johannesburg


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