Wednesday, 29 February 2012

MAGIC? Watch the disappearing sidewalk!


In South Africa, public sidewalks which are usually provided as part of Single Use Zoned suburbs, almost always become overgrown extensions of suburban property owners' private gardens. Subsequently, pedestrians are most often forced to literally walk  in the streets and in so doing, have to compete with motor vehicles, causing a substantial risk to them and an increase in pedestrian accidents and fatalities.

The root of this practise of treating suburban public sidewalks as extensions of private gardens, stem from an unfortunate culture of public ignorance regarding the actual purpose of the suburban public sidewalk, which has been carried over from generation to generation.


Suburban public sidewalks are provided for a reason. They are not meant to become overgrown obstacle courses, in the form of extensions of private gardens, further restricting the already inadequate provisions of pedestrian facilities within the suburb. The private garden should end at the property boundary. The sidewalk is public space!! It does not belong to the property owner! And if vegetation should form part of this public space, then it should be by means of properly integrated landscaping, which will enhance the overall street scape and the public's use of the sidewalk and permit it to be used for what it was intended... pedestrians and cyclists. The suburban public sidewalk in the video clip below, almost gets it right...

The sidewalk below on the left, is approximately 6m wide and a complete waste of usable public space. It can quite comfortably accommodate cars parked off the street either at 45 degrees or parallel, plus a cycle lane and a pedestrian walkway and landscaping. It should look a lot more like the sidewalk on the right, which is a good example of a well-integrated sidewalk., allowing for parking off the street, a cycling lane and pedestrians.

Ironically, suburban private property owners go to extremes to "beautify" these extensions of their private gardens on public property, often spending a fortune on items such as irrigation, actually believing that they are making a positive contribution to their suburb. Can there be a more senseless thing to do, wasting large amounts of one of South Africa's most sparse resources, water, on such a pointless practise.


The sad reality is, that it is not only private suburban property owners whom do not comprehend the actual purpose of the public sidewalk, but very often the local municipalities as well and very often they themselves defeat the whole purpose of providing a sidewalk, by the absolutely dumbfounded act of placing signage poles, trees, barriers etc right in the middle of the walking surfaces of sidewalks. Could these signs not have been placed adjacent the walking surface with an arched overhead support? The two photos above left and right, are of the same location, but taken at different times of the day. The protruding bolts on the inside of the barrier, projecting right into the walking surface of the sidewalk, could cause some serious injuries, not to mention the signage post, slap bang in the middle of the walking surface of the "sidewalk", especially given that the pedestrian / cyclist is effectively forced to squeeze in between the post and the barrier!? And to make matters worse, a landscaping company, thinking that it is enhancing the suburb, has now placed fragmented rock and a thorny shrub to the left of the post, making it impossible for a cyclist and very difficult for a jogger to negotiate down this strech of sidewalk, especially when blinded by the headlights from oncoming traffic early on a winter's morning and not being familiar with the area. Landscaping, unless well integrated with the sidewalk, should stay off the sidewalk!!

The practice of walking in the streets, as opposed to on the sidewalk, has now become so ingrained into the South African culture that, even when the odd walkable sidewalk is provided, pedestrians still walk in the streets. Thus, after years of being denied access to sidewalks, the average South African pedestrian now no longer recognises the purpose of a sidewalk, when it presents itself.

Below are more examples of mindless suburban planning, or the complete absence of planning. Should you have more evidence of the disappearing sidewalk in your suburb, please forward them to us.


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