Festival opens with call for cities to support eco-mobility

Festival opens with call for cities to support eco-mobilityResidents in procession along the streets between Sandton and Alexandra, following a section of a 5-kilometre dedicated cycling and pedestrian pathway that the JDA is building between the historically divided suburbs. (Image: #joburgecomobility)

The 2015 EcoMobility World Festival got under way in Sandton on Sunday, 4 October with calls for commuters to start making the switch to walking, cycling and public transport, and for cities to support them in making this switch possible.

Traffic lights for cyclistsTraffic lights for cyclists along the Sandton-Alex route, one of a number of new cycle routes that the JDA is laying out across Joburg. (Image: #joburgecomobility)The month-long festival will showcase a vision of the city of the future in which active street life and social inclusivity are served by a sustainable transport system. Certain streets of the Sandton CBD have been partly closed off for regular traffic for the month, with preference given to public transport, walking, cycling and "wheeling" on eco-mobile vehicles.

The festival was officially opened by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and City of Joburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau.

All three then joined in a carnival-like procession along the streets from Sandton to Alexandra that, besides the ordinary walkers and cyclists, featured jugglers on unicycles, police officers on horseback, BMX tricksters, mime artists, breakdancers, electric bike riders and Geza Jozi waste reclaimers.

Minister Peters, in her opening address, said that walking and cycling were not just modes of transport for poor people. If cities supported walking and cycling, then people would walk and cycle.

'We need to change the way we build our cities'

Joburg Executive Mayor Parks TauJoburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau (centre) prepares to join Sunday's eco-mobility procession from Sandton to Alexandra. (Image: #joburgecomobility)"Walking is cool. Cycling is cool. Let us make it possible to stay healthy. If you walk or cycle you can reduce your weight, and reduce the chances of getting diseases," she said, adding that this was also in keeping with South Africa's commitment to reducing climate change by cutting down on its emissions from vehicles.

Premier Makhura echoed the Minister's comments, saying the province needed to change the way it designed and built its cities in order to promote the shift away from private motorised transport.

"We used to protect those who walk and run on the streets of our cities and towns," he said. "We need to change the way we build our cities and towns to promote and make it fashionable for people to walk." At the same time, the province and its cities "need to ensure that it's cool for kids to use public transport. It promotes social cohesion and protects the environment."

The Premier, who used a three-wheel electric vehicle during Sunday's "Streets Alive" procession between Sandton and Alex, said he was "enjoying the moment … The EcoMobility festival shouldn't be just for a month. It should run for 12 months. I'm committing that from Monday I will use the Gautrain and BRT to the office every day."

Investing in infrastructure for eco-mobility

Mayor Tau takes the Metrobus from Ghandi Square to SandtonMonday morning, 1 October: Mayor Tau takes a Metrobus from Ghandi Square to Sandton, where he has temporarily moved his offices for the duration of the EcoMobility World Festival. (Image: #joburgecomobility)Mayor Tau said the City of Joburg viewed the EcoMobility World Festival as "a precursor to the future of Sandton and Johannesburg, in which economic efficiency was not blocked by traffic congestion.

"We always tell people who complain that they are stuck in traffic that, in fact, they are traffic. We need to decongest our cities as traffic encourages inefficiency. The less time people spend sitting in traffic, the more our economy will flourish."

The Mayor said the best way of cutting down on this congestion, and the resulting impact of vehicle emissions on climate change, was to invest in public transport, cycling lanes and pedestrian facilities - something the City of Joburg was actively pursuing through massive infrastructure investments.

Among the international guests who attended Sunday's opening event was Yeom Tae-Young, mayor of the South Korean city of Suwon, which hosted the inaugural EcoMobility World Festival in 2013. Mayor Yeom said the eco-mobility was a good thing because it promotes social change and integration in communities.

Festival events, infrastructure

The temporary public transport loop in SandtonBranded minibus taxis offer members of the public free hop-on, hop-off rides around the temporary public transport loop in Sandton. (Image: #joburgecomobility)Besides the dedicated cycle route between Alexandra and Sandton - which will become permanent after the festival - four "pop-up" cycle lanes have been set up between Sandton and Rosebank, Parkmore, Alexandra and Morningside. These routes are clearly signposted, and marshals are on duty to keep traffic flowing safely and smoothly, especially at intersections.

In addition, a public transport loop - with one lane reserved for public transport, and the sidewalk broadened for pedestrians and cyclist - is operational along Rivonia, Fredman and Fifth Streets, with hop-on, hop-off minibus taxis freely available to the public.

The loop serve as temporary infrastructure during the festival, but will become a permanent feature in Sandton from June 2016.

The Festival will include futuristic vehicle parades, carnivals, a Mayors' ride, and the world's largest "green mobility" expo, at which manufactures of bicycles, scooters, tricycles, segways, velo-taxis, cargo-bikes and light electric vehicles from around the world will put their latest innovations on show.

Monday, 5 October also saw the start of a week of high-level EcoMobility Dialogues, at which international experts and local leaders will debate the latest sustainable transport solutions, discuss strategies to reshape cities for ecomobility, and adopt a Declaration on Low-carbon Urban Transport for tabling at the UN climate summit (COP21) in Paris in November.

Gino van Begin, secretary-general of ICLEI Local Government for Sustainability, co-host of the event, said the festival would "show the way forward for cities aiming to transform themselves into more sustainable, livable, healthy cities".