Researcher says roads still enable social segregation

11th July 2019 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

Department of Transport (DoT) researcher Oscar Thobela says South Africa’s road network remains an enabler for social segregation, despite the end of Apartheid more than 25 years ago.

Speaking at the Southern African Transport Conference this week, he stated that transport was more transit-focused, excluding other users of the road and perpetuating the legacy of social segregation.

Thobela noted that economic development and social equality would not improve until South Africa’s roads catered for all groups of road users.

He noted that, during the Apartheid era, roads enabled segregated spatial planning, with roads used to help divide communities.

The DoT continued to work to rectify the spatial divide that some roads entrenched but Thobela argued that engineers and town planners often excluded pedestrians and cyclists from road planning.

“Road and transport planning does not provide adequate integration between different road classes in new developments. Road guidelines do not reflect the special needs of some road users, such as older drivers, visually impaired pedestrians, children, people with mobility limitations and users of lower-speed alternative transport modes.”

Additionally, Thobela said road specifications did not always address specific combinations of roadway design features that could have an impact on road-user behaviour and subsequent safety.

He highlighted that road widening was often a solution for engineers and town planners to relieve congestion; however, at widened junctions, drivers tended to drive faster, prohibiting pedestrians from crossing the road safely.

Thobela said these “pedestrian excluded” developments were contrary to cities’ integrated development plans and did not support comprehensive integrated transport plans, which promoted inclusive development.

He recommended that future road developments needed to be holistic and prioritise the needs of all road users.

“The development of gated communities and malls, for example, should include consideration of the needs of pedestrians, especially those with disabilities.”

Bloemfontein Central University of Technology civil engineering Professor Dilip Das’ research, which was presented by a university student at the conference, found that central business districts (CBDs) were once nerve centres of cities, but that they were becoming more prohibitive, as a result of nonmotorised inaccessibility, such as nonexistent minibus stops, and few pedestrian crossings and cycling paths.

Das emphasised that nonmotorised transportation, such as cycling and walking, could revive CBDs.

His recommendations for achieving that goal included restricting vehicular movements in the internal city streets, offroad parking systems and augmentation of public transport systems.

He said pedestrian pathways should be linked with important public areas and places of interest.

These suggestions might simultaneously contribute to increased road safety, he added.