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Neil Fraser looks at BRT routing
23 June 2008

The imposition of the Bus Rapid Transit system on Joburg's grid may have huge implications for traffic congestion, worsening rather than improving the problem.

Neil Fraser
Neil Fraser

I HAVE been looking at the latest available plans for the routing of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system through the inner city.

That we need an efficient and effective public transport system is without question. It is long overdue and I'm pretty sure that, without the pressure of 2010, it may not have happened for quite some time. But I must admit to still being very concerned regarding the model that has been chosen. Not that there is anything wrong with the model per se, it has worked extremely well in a number of South American cities. But I think that its literal "imposition" on to our grid may well be more difficult than it appears to be and could cause more problems in regards to traffic flow than it solves.

It is no secret that we have a very problematic grid pattern behind which, as is inevitable with Joeys, lurks another fascinating story. It seems that the first "unofficial" township, Marshallstown, was laid out in late September 1886, by entrepreneur Henry Brown Marshall on the northernmost portion of the farm Turffontein. A few weeks later the first mining camp was laid out on the adjacent farm, Randjeslaagte, consisting of two separate strips each with its own grid plan. As you will know from driving north up Rissik Street, the alignment of the north-south streets in the two camps was a tad out!

In applying a grid plan for Johannesburg, the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) government perpetuated an already established tradition. A grid plan had been used for the very first settlement at the Cape and in 1685 for Stellenbosch and the tradition was continued by the Boers of the Transvaal when they started to lay out their own towns.

The grid plan used in South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries was related to the plans bequeathed by the European metropolitan powers to settlements in their colonies, where it applied not only because it was convenient for the military engineers to implement or because it made administration easy, but more particularly because it served as a symbol of rational order within an untamed environment. In fact, it was seen as an expression of centralised power.

D. Stanislawski (1946, 1947) has shown that, contrary to what one would expect, the grid plan does not necessarily suggest itself as the logical pattern for the lay-out of a town. Like a radial town plan, the grid is also derived from a specific cultural strategy, i.e. that of an orderly democratic society. (Gerhard-Mark van der Waal).

Corner stands
However, the layout of the mining camp differed dramatically from that of the Boer towns. In the latter, the focal point was always the church square - "a manifestation of the hierarchial role of the church in those times". But mining towns focused not on church squares but on the diggings which often were outside the camp itself. "The unifying spiritual or emotional force of the Boer towns was completely absent."

In addition, Oom Paul - Paul Kruger, the ZAR president - was convinced that this would be just another gold-rush town, disappearing as quickly as it would rise. His interest was therefore to "demarcate as many stands as possible within as small a space as appeared reasonable for a mining camp or a village. Furthermore, as corner stands could be leased at a higher rental than others, the idea was to keep the street blocks small as a way of increasing the number of blocks and maximising the number of corner stands ... these would be attractive to the expected flurry of canteens and brothels, which would pay higher rentals for such stands." (Beavon)

That decision would have a major negative impact on traffic and contribute to the city's current traffic woes and, I think, will negatively affect the practicality of the South American BRT model laid on to the grid. As I understand the plan, there will be a number of parallel east-west/west-east routes in Main, Commissioner, Market, Gwigwi Mrwebi/Plein, Wolmarans, Smit, De Korte, Jorissen, Hoofd, and Kotze streets; while the north-south/south-north routes will be in Miriam Makeba, Rissik, Troye, Edith Cavell, Joubert, Loveday, and Melle streets.

Some of these are, in fact, quite short - De Korte and Jorissen running between Melle and Loveday and Hoofd being just the circle around the north end of the Metropolitan Centre. This BRT model is based on dedicated lanes that may be used exclusively by buses; in other words, cars are actually kept out by physical barriers (that's going to mess up jay walking!)

Place such a lane east to west down Commissioner between Troye and Miriam Makeba streets and you remove 20 percent of Commissioner Street's non-bus carrying capacity. Put it into Market Street and one may lose 25 percent. Some of the other streets could lose up to 50 percent of their lanes! There also will be a problem for the many drivers who, sometimes with an indicator but more often than not without, drive across three or four lanes of traffic to turn.

With that in mind, back to my comments of a few weeks ago when I was meandering through the city. The current situation is that the city is clogged rotten. Because there isn't enough parking, streets are literally impassable due to double parking of cars, vehicles trying to load or unload and non-existent traffic management. If we are going to proceed with the BRT I think we may well find the traffic in the inner city even more shambolic than now.

Unless, of course, someone is planning a London scene of charging entry into the city or even of banning cars from the central area. What with the price of fuel, it may well be the time to go back to the bicycle but I don't see bicycle lanes being planned! And the taxis? Don't ask!

Letters from the heart
Every week I enjoy getting email from a wide variety of folk, literally from all over the world, who agree or disagree with things that I've said, or to offer encouragement or commiserations, or who just want to chat about the city.

I also get lots of requests for information, which stems from the fact that for a number of years Citichat has been on the Joburg web page from which folk pick up my contact details. So I get requests such as "My aunt immigrated to South Africa from Australia in the early 1900s. We don't know her married name but her first name was Shirley. We think she lived in Johannesburg in a place called Doornfontein. Would you be so kind as to help us trace her?"

A couple of years back, I had a letter from a lady in Glasgow who asked if I could throw any light on a family member whose name was Archie Crawford. The most amazing coincidence was that, on the evening prior to receiving the email, I had just finished reading The Notorious Syndicalist by Jonathan Hyslop, in which Archie Crawford plays quite a role. He is first introduced as "a young fitter ... who had served his apprenticeship in Glasgow".

He later married Mary Fitzgerald after John, her husband, died, although it was rumoured that they had been lovers for many years. I sent the lady a copy of the book as it contained information on her family but also on the period in which he had lived in Joburg.

Cry my beloved city
But here is a letter I received last week from a young man who keeps in touch with me on a regular basis because he has a real interest in the city, in fact a passion for it. The email was titled Cry My Beloved City.

"I'm sure you'll be surprised by the title of this email and yes, it's not a mistake; I'm crying for my beloved city.

"We are currently 722 days to the World Cup and about half of those days to FIFA's 2009 Confederations Cup and I can't wait to see thousands of fans flocking into our city. But my main concern is regarding our estimated large numbers of fans coming to the city while we have security problems! Even though the city is doing a great deal to make sure that tourists and we, the Joburgers, are safe, there is still a lot that we have to accept needs to still be done to assure the world that Jozi is a safe haven for all.

"I'm glad that the CCTV cameras are now working. But, are we expecting visitors to come to a city where they might be burnt because they are not South Africans even though they are Africans? With a city dubbed the murder capital of the world, I still have to convince myself that we will lure a huge number of tourists and visitors to our shores. We have the metro police who are very inefficient and are not doing anything to make sure that the city is safe for all of us.

"I might be called a pessimist, but I still stand my ground on what I say and my love for this city will make me exercise my freedom of speech until all these issues are addressed. We see metro police guys walking around the western parts of the city in numbers of two to five, or even more, while taxi drivers are causing chaos around Noord Street Taxi Rank and illegal street hawkers operate in Hillbrow, on the corner of Sauer and Bree streets - actually I should basically say the whole of Bree Street around the Noord Street Taxi Rank plus Joubert Park, Eloff Street and other parts of the city.

"We see metro police vans and vehicles going past them as if nothing they are doing is wrong. Have they, metro police, forgotten their duty of making sure that we all adhere to the city's by-laws? Are they ignoring the by-laws because they will never get enough bribes? We will never achieve the status of a true world-class African city while we ignore the basics of keeping our pavements clean and arranging proper trading stalls for our people.

"If the metro police lack resources why don't they ask for funding and hire more? A clean, walkable and friendly city will create more opportunities for our people than a filthy one. A city where tourists can walk freely will help bring more investment which will result in more jobs created. Is it so complicated for our city administrators to think of it this way? I hate it when they come with projects that take a month to clean a place or to get rid of crime as if they make a difference, because after that one month, the situation goes [back] to what it used to be like.

"Illegal advertising is messing up nice buildings in Hillbrow. How difficult is it for metro guys to pick up the phone and dial those companies that are advertising, as they leave their numbers visible?

"I honour Mr Masondo for all the good work he is doing and the results are showing. But I still say that more care needs to be taken of places where most of our poor people are found in numbers. We cannot afford to see places like Newtown and the west of Jozi being the only places that are being taken care of while we know very well that large numbers of our very poor people are doing their business around Joubert Park, around Noord Street Taxi Rank and the area around Plein Street.

"Cleaning and providing security for those parts of the city will for sure bring investment, out of which the same poor people will benefit.

"I go to Hillbrow once a week to check progress of the landscape upgrade that is being undertaken by [the Johannesburg Development Agency, JDA] and, honestly, Hillbrow is changing to the best. I applaud the JDA for taking the effort to beautify Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville and I must say that the drive I took around those areas showed me that we as a city can turn things around.

"Again, as I see these projects being undertaken and the lives of our people being improved, I say thanks to our African ancestors and God the Father for bringing us a person of Mr Masondo's calibre.

"As we know that our city is the main attractor of our African brothers from neighbouring countries, we need to make sure that they are able to find and identify places that they going to and it brings me back to the point you raised in your last few Citichats about street names.

"We really need to have visible street names and, again, we need to identify different precincts around our city. For example, fashion district, Hillbrow, Ellis Park precinct and all the others for which boards must be visible. The only area that one can easily identify is Newtown and even then the signage is insufficient. I'm sure there are lots of companies that can sponsor better signage.

"Lastly, we need art performers in our city, we need to listen to nice African music while we walk streets like Main and Pritchard during lunch times and breakfasts. This will create a lovely atmosphere in the city. But for all these to succeed, the whole city needs to be a [city improvement district] so that we can have security personnel on every corner.

"I'm crying for this city. I love this city and I think with less than 12 months left to the Confederations Cup, we can still make it one of the most attractive cities in the world. We, as the youth, need to be given a chance to participate in making this city work."

Nice one Pule.

Thanks, Neil

Saturday, 28 June
Randlords and Finance - Parktown Walking Tour
Upon the discovery of gold, an elite group of capitalists from the Kimberley

diamond mines set up finance to become the shareholders of new mines on the Rand. Through industrial consolidation, these entrepreneurs became influential mine owners. The profits generated benefited them with government support, and even political control. Earnings were also invested for international trade development, resulting in the listing of several companies on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

These events paved the way for these men ultimately to be known as The Randlords. Their aspirations and achievements are reflected in the homes they built. The cost of the tour is R70 and booking is at Computicket. Meet at the Sunnyside Hotel. For information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays between 9am and 1pm on 011 482 3349.

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Last Updated on 23 June 2008