This fascinating route is the result of an exploration trip to find the best route from Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs to Mitchell’s Plain, where we would join the Open Streets car free day. While only 21 km, the route transverses diverse landscapes from the leafy upmarket suburbs of Claremont to the verdant farmlands Philippi.
OUT OF THE ‘BURBS
The ride started at the park-and-ride site at Palmyra Junction train station. From here we set off through the sheltered leafy streets of suburban Claremont. As we rode down the length of Rosmead Avenue, I was struck by how cycleable it is, and how it gives access to a large stretch of Claremont through its wide shoulder and, for those times when you’re just not going to take a chance on a fast-moving approaching lorry, hopable sidewalks.
DISCOVERING CAPE TOWN’S FOOD GARDEN
As we turned onto Ottery Road, the landscape opened up into the fertile farmlands of Philippi, where last week I heard from Nazeer Sonday, an activist, community leader and farmer, that the area is now producing around 60% of all Cape Town’s vegetables, even as the rest of the country suffers through the worst drought in a generation. Of course, through a car window, all of this would have been nothing but tinted scenery; on our bikes, the scents of crops, fynbos and manure changed every few minutes, and it was easy to greet and be greeted by the passersby.
On a windy Sunday, Philippi was very busy, with farm stall vendors waiting out the afternoon and young equestrians taking horses through their paces. Despite the busy roads and lack of bike lanes, bicycles were being used extensively as a cheap way of moving people and freight around the far-flung settlement.
THE HUMAN SCALE
When I drove a car as my only form of transport, I remember that every person or animal or object on the road dissolved into various categories of obstacle, and nothing more. My only responsibility was to my own ride, and my only objective was to collapse the time between departure and arrival to the minimum. What happened on the way was only a movie playing through the windows.
A bike ride to Mitchell’s Plain shows how much detail and interest a somewhat slower form of transport can take in, as a side product of moving through human landscapes. This feeling grew stronger as we left Philippi behind and, rather abruptly, entered Mitchell’s Plain where the vast Westgate Mall looks out onto farmland. Everywhere, human activity – people running small shops and cafés from open garages, or talking to one another on kerbstones or benches, or waiting for taxis – was crammed into residual space left over when the needs of cars had been met.
This experience holds true in a bird’s eye view, which is how suburbs like Mitchell’s Plain were designed – neighbourhood units cut into large squares by fast, wide roads for cars, that take a lot of local knowledge to navigate on foot. Despite this, drivers were more courteous, with several waving to us as we went, and there were many pedestrians and a lot of pedestrian life. We reached our destination along one end of a fairly new bicycle and pedestrian lane, and the Open Streets event is set to take place.
This will be an opportunity for Mitchell’s Plain residents to ask whether all this pedestrian life – games of street cricket, gossiping with neighbours and friends, selling fruit and vegetables from a stall, or unloading household goods from a bakkie for sale – doesn’t deserve more than the very margins of our streets.
Thinking back to a quiet Mitchell’s Plain street where it was safe to play, and where cars were relegated to a subservient position in the streetscape, and to how lively and full of people that street was, shows that we are ready as a city – and have been ready for a long time.
⇔ 21km DISTANCE
∧ 83m ELEVATION GAIN
≡ Road TERRAIN
⊗ Download Route MAP& GPS
MUST KNOW & TIPS
- The start point at Palmyra Junction, offers easy access to the Metrorail Southern Line as well as car parking facilities, so you can park your car and cycle from there.
- We only suggest cycling this route with a group as part of the route runs through an isolated farming area.
MAPS & GPS
Download route from Strava to use on mobile/GPS
Photographs © David Malan and Brett Petzer