Our city is facing an exciting prospect, albeit a scary one for some; the completion of the Foreshore Freeways. However as Brett Herron, Councilor for Transport at the City of Cape Town, has pointed out, this may or may not be as roads. So before one jumps to conclusions, assume all options are on the table.
I find myself in an awkward position. Being a huge fan of elegant, huge infrastructure as well as a livable, walkable urbanism pundit; it’s tantamount to loving having a tan, but hating summer. This however, may afford me the interesting position of being able to contemplate the options from this schizophrenic-urbanist perspective.
Before we look at options, we need to analyse what linking Table Bay Boulevard (elevated freeway) with Helen Suzman Boulevard aims to achieve; is it an expansion of freeway capacity or the elimination of a choke-point? Capacity expansion would be to widen the N1 from the M5 to Durban Road from 3-3lane to 4-4lane configuration; Elimination of a choke-point is the upgrade of Koeberg Interchange. The difference lies in creating additional infrastructural capacity as a whole versus identifying areas where current capacity is restricted at certain junctions and interchanges, which undermines that capacity.
The traffic signals on Lower Buitengracht is such choke-point; the Foreshore Freeway Completion is therefore a choke-point elimination project. With the project defined, the question is to build or not-to-build.
The proponents argue this would streamline traffic flow around the city, allowing city-bound traffic to use surface roads, without the additional pressure of Atlantic Seaboard-bound traffic trying to negotiate its way through this, the fastest growing part of the city. The opponents argue freeways would further isolate the city from sea, creating a CBD-Waterfront disconnect. It could involve unsightly, additional overpasses with pedestrians and cyclists coming second in this plan, in a city promulgating public- and non-motorised-transport. Opponents go further, proposing the demolition of all the Foreshore Freeways from Christiaan Barnard. Proponents argue in a growing city, this would create traffic chaos up the N1 and N2 freeways respectively, as road capacity is reduced.
What are our options then? Considering all pros and cons, the best option would be to eliminate any risk of
disrupting traffic to a burgeoning CBD, as well as disrupting the further pedestrianisation of the city-bowl. This is the cut-and-cover tunnel option. This is by far the most elegant and appeasing option to all involved, albeit the most expensive option by a country-mile! This involves burying all the freeways from Christiaan Barnard, under Table Bay Boulevard and Lower Buitengracht and emerging again on Helen Suzman. Sydney embarked on the 2.1km Cross City Tunnel project under existing buildings, costing them A$680million between 2003-2005. Our needs would be for a 1.75km cut-and-cover tunnel under roadways. A rough estimate adjusted for inflation, lower SA building costs, exchange rates, technical difficulty and distance, it could cost Cape Town between R3.5-5billion to build. Given a blank cheque, I’m certain this would be the city’s preferred option; however, given the costs, the likelihood of this option being taken is slim.
The second option is a limited completion of the scheme, bridging only gap between the elevated Table Bay Boulevard freeway at the CTICC, across Lower Buitengracht, linking to the incomplete flyovers at Helen Suzman Boulevard. If this option is considered, I would recommend going all-out! Rule of infrastructure and architecture: if you can’t hide it, flaunt it. Capetonians are not good at this. Most want everything to be understated for fear of offending the mountain. However, if you are to bridge such a vital gateway into the city, it better be done as an architectural masterpiece and not an unsightly freeway overpass. Raising the clearance height of the bridge would also make the space below safer, brighter and more suitable as a public space. This option may even allow for the slight reduction of Lower Buitengracht’s capacity, allowing for more public-space and public-transit/NMT lanes.
Using the two-lane Nelson Mandela Bridge as an example at 295m, built at a cost of R120million in 2003, an estimate of the cost for our 400m, 2-2lane freeway bridge deck today, could run into R280-400million, depending on design.
The third option is demolishing the freeways altogether and going San Francisco’s route used on the Embarcadero. However, one major difference between our situation and theirs is that the Embarcadero Freeway was a link between the northern CBD and the Bay Bridge, not the only freeway route into the city. The traffic implications of demolishing our elevated freeways may be more profound, as it is the consolidated route the N1 and N2 takes into our CBD. This option would open up large areas of the Foreshore to additional public-space and humanise the area. This is probably the least expensive, visually pleasing option. However, without a city-wide revolutionary shift towards public-transit, the additional congestion on, an at-grade only Table Bay Boulevard, may scupper any attempt to humanise the area.
The forth option is to leave it as is. Although some may deem the unfinished flyovers as a monument to an automobile-crazed policy of the 1960’s, I do not suggest this option. Not every structure is heritage-worthy or tells a necessary story. This is one such case in my opinion. It’s an eyesore in the most beautiful city on the continent and whatever story it tells, it’s better told in archives than as an urban blight.
The fifth option is completing the freeways as intended, linking all the incomplete flyovers on incoming Eastern Boulevard (N2), linking with the incoming N1 at Christiaan Barnard; completing the inner-viaducts along the entire length of the elevated freeway, eventually linking with Helen Suzman Boulevard. I would also not recommend this option. The internal viaducts, within elevated Table Bay Boulevard are overkill and would almost definitely make this area dark, unsafe and unsuited to any at-grade activity. Completing the flyovers as a simple freeway overpass at Lower Buitengracht would do a similar number on the link between the CBD and Waterfront and be woefully unattractive.
These are just the infrastructural options and obviously, some innovative ideas like sky-gardens may also come to the fore.
So, now you decide… what option do you prefer? At least the City of Cape Town is still open to suggestions. Hopefully we get an attractive answer to the burning question that does our World Design Capital 2014 title proud.