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Transit-oriented development projects to ignite economic growth and more

Transit-oriented development projects to ignite urban renewal, economic growth and job creation in Bellville and metro-south east. In March 2016, the City of Cape Town’s Council adopted a new approach to integrated spatial and transport planning to accelerate our efforts to eradicate the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and to assist us in building a more equitable and inclusive city.

The policy document called the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Strategic Framework serves as the City of Cape Town’s long-term development strategy. It prescribes how new developments across Cape Town should happen and how existing public infrastructure should be transformed to deal with apartheid spatial inequality, the high cost of public transport, and urbanisation while also stimulating economic growth.

As such, the City has identified five projects in Bellville, Philippi East, Athlone, Paardevlei, and the Cape Town central business district (CBD) where we will either invest in the improvement of existing public transport infrastructure or provide new public transport infrastructure to ignite urban renewal, economic growth, and job creation in these areas. The investment will take place over the next five years by means of TOD principles.

In the majority of these projects the City will make the first significant investment which must serve as a catalyst for further investment and development by the private sector. Simply put, the City’s contribution must trigger investment from the private sector that will support and drive further economic growth and job creation, which would at the same time attract more commuters to the new and improved public transport infrastructure.

The five projects fall in three distinctive categories:

a)  Transport infrastructure exists, but radical intervention in line with TOD principles is needed to improve the long-term sustainability and viability of the transport assets and the urban renewal of the surrounding area

b)  The land earmarked for development is almost vacant and as such the provision of public transport infrastructure and public and private development can happen simultaneously by applying TOD principles

c)   Private and public development already exists. As such there is a need for the provision of public transport infrastructure – in this scenario the development serves as a catalyst for the provision of public transport infrastructure

I will elaborate on two of the five catalytic projects to demonstrate how the City intends to use TOD to reimagine and transform Cape Town over the next five years.

The revitalisation of the Bellville central area through TOD:

  • Bellville is home to Cape Town’s second CBD with five hospitals and three university campuses located within the central area. The Bellville central area has enormous employment and skills development potential, but is in desperate need of regeneration. The Bellville station precinct is the second busiest in the city.
  • Other existing public transport facilities include those for buses, long-distance buses and minibus-taxis, but the location, design, and layout must be addressed to improve the efficiency and convenience for commuters; as well as the interface between pedestrians, vehicular traffic and trading.
  • Voortrekker Road, Durban Road, and Frans Conradie Drive are the main arteries in the area, carrying significant volumes of traffic with heavy congestion during the peak-hour periods. Improved public transport will assist in attracting private vehicle users, thereby alleviating the congestion on these roads.

The City wants to use the available public land and existing public transport infrastructure as a catalyst for the regeneration of the Bellville CBD. This means that the City intends to make a substantive investment in the existing public transport infrastructure which will then serve as a catalyst for other developments.

We will invest in major upgrades and new layouts to make the public transport facilities more efficient and to create pedestrian-friendly spaces, starting off with the redesign of the public transport interchange in the current financial year (2016/17).

The objectives for TOD in this area are as follows:

  • To maximise Bellville’s location efficiency so that people can walk, cycle and use public transport to reach their destinations
  • To boost ridership, minimise congestion, and ensure that public transport becomes more viable in the long-term
  • To drive down the cost of public transport for new and existing residents
  • To provide a mix of high-density housing, shopping, recreational and transport choices
  • To ignite urban renewal through public and private investment, which will assist in job creation, skills development and economic growth
  • To create a sense of place that is recognisably distinct but simultaneously strengthens local identity and connectivity between transport and development

The existing public transport facilities already attract a significant number of commuters, but we anticipate that population growth and public investment in efficient and world-class public transport facilities in Bellville will spur even higher commuter numbers:

  • An additional MyCiTi trunk route to operate on dedicated red lanes between Westlake and Bellville will be rolled out within the next decade.
  • The construction of a new Blue Downs double-track rail line from the Nolungile station in Khayelitsha to the Kuils River station will commence soon. This direct link will cover a distance of approximately 9 km, stopping at four stations between the metro-south east residential suburbs and Blackheath, Kuils River and Bellville

The logic is that with the growth in commuter numbers, private developers and local businesses will see the benefit of investing in new developments around and in the vicinity of the public transport facilities as the commuters will have buying power. The new developments can be in the form of small businesses selling consumables, supermarkets, and corner cafés, and even housing opportunities for a diverse cross-section of income groups – including Bellville’s significant student population of over a 100 000 young people.

There is already a significant demand for affordable and middle-income residential development, in particular for rental units, in this area. The urban regeneration which is to follow on from the City’s investment in the existing public transport infrastructure will spur an even greater demand for housing.

These are just examples. In the end it is for the private sector to decide how developers can capitalise on the commuter footfall that will be unlocked by the City’s investment in public transport.

The point is that TOD has the potential to transform the Bellville CBD from a dilapidated area traversed by commuters only to get from point A to B into a new, vibrant and connected urban landscape where commuters utilise the new surroundings for amenities, socialising, shopping and even living.

The purpose of TOD in this instance is therefore to create a sustainable living environment and economy in the Bellville CBD – initiated by the City through investment in public transport and followed on by private investment in new developments in the immediate vicinity and surroundings of the public transport infrastructure.

Reimagining the Philippi East transport node

The City will, over the next five years, undertake major construction projects in preparation for the roll-out of Phase 2A of the MyCiTi service to the metro-south east.

Philippi East has been identified as one of the major transport hubs within this transport corridor – and several other future corridors. As such, the MyCiTi station to be constructed on the corners of Govan Mbeki and New Eisleben Roads in Philippi East will be larger than the Civic Centre station in the Cape Town CBD in terms of the number of trunk bus docking platforms. This station will be a key transfer point with at least six MyCiTi trunk routes dispersing from there in the future. This station will therefore attract thousands of commuters, and we want to unlock the value of the commuter footfall through TOD principles.

By this I mean that the City wants the MyCiTi station in Philippi East to be much more than a transfer hub for commuters – we want to turn this area into an interactive space where commuters can shop, socialise, and do business.

A good comparison would be to imagine the MyCiTi station in Philippi East as what you would experience at any airport while you are waiting for your flight: while you wait for the bus, you can shop or socialise within the station building. Adding to this, we also need the surrounding public and private developments in Philippi East to be integrated with the public transport infrastructure; to provide MyCiTi commuters with outdoor and indoor activities; and to create housing opportunities.

So how do we intend to do this? Imagine a double-storey MyCiTi station with glass panels – modern and sunlit – with commuters strolling inside. See the buildings, possibly shops and restaurants, on top of this station, made possible by the air rights allocated to developers to build new developments above the station building.

Imagine shopping centres and office buildings on either side of the station and commuters accessing the station via an air bridge crossing Govan Mbeki Road. Envisage the stormwater retention pond nearby as a small lake or waterfront, filled all year to cater for water activities and other social amenities. Picture the new affordable and mixed-income housing developments, parks and squares surrounding the waterfront.

Visualise this precinct five years from now: see the MyCiTi buses driving along the dedicated red road towards the station while the other traffic travels on the elevated Govan Mbeki and New Eisleben Roads; see how transport, living, working, socialising, shopping and fun are integrated and interconnected within one area.

It must be clear from this vision that Philippi East will benefit immensely from the City’s investment in public transport infrastructure and private sector development. First of all, it will spur economic activity and boost job creation, providing more opportunities to more residents in this area. Secondly, local residents and commuters will also benefit from new and improved public transport, new housing developments, and lower transport costs as they will be living closer to work and social amenities.

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