Roadworks are a constant feature of life in the Far South. This is the road to Kalk Bay at night in August 2016

A Critical Evaluation of Bicycling Level-of-Service Tools in a Cape Town mobility corridor

  • Problem or issue to be investigated

In South Africa, cycling has been identified as a transport mode able to offer reliable, low-cost, short-to-medium distance mobility to commuters since at least 1987 (CSIR, 2003), with major updates to cycling policy occurring at regular intervals at national, provincial and local government level.

However, despite consistent attention from transport policymakers, South Africa does not yet possess a tool for the assessment of the cycling environment in terms of Bicycle Level of Service, an international standard of evaluation (Bicycle LoS Tool). In many countries, particularly within the English-speaking world, (specifically the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand), Bicycle LoS Tools have emerged in the last two decades as a powerful tool for creating data about how the built environment acts as a determinant of cycling practices at the suburban, metropolitan and corridor scale.

Bicycle LoS Tools vary greatly in their degree of complexity, from simple online tools designed for laypersons to complicated GIS-based tools designed for transport professionals, and their primary purpose varies from facilitating advocacy efforts to prioritising investment by the state. However, all of the Bicycle LoS Tools considered in this study, have one key element in common – they are tools for the analysis of the built environment in general, and transport infrastructure in particular.

Bicycle LoS Tools are only one tool among many that may be applied to comprehensive analysis of a given area for the purposes of understanding the practice of cycling, and they may be complemented by data collection exercises, flow analyses, safety analyses, bicycle travel demand analyses, GIS-based data collection and network planning exercises, and cost-benefit analyses, inter alia (AASHTO, 2012).

However, the adaptability of Bicycle LoS Tools, and their focus on physical infrastructure, has seen them gain broad acceptance among activists and advocacy organisations as a means by which non-specialists may produce spatial cycling data that resembles that used by transport professionals, thus facilitating community advocacy with a relatively modest investment of time and resources.

This aspect is also appreciated by local governments without ready access to the expertise of dedicated transport professionals specialised in cycling, which describes the majority of non-metropolitan local governments in South Africa. In a low-cycling context such as South Africa, in which specialised expertise is scarce, Bicycle LoS Tools may thus constitute a common language in which cycling practices and experiences can be articulated.

In order to understand the determinants of cycling in South Africa, a stated preference study was conducted among cyclists residing in the Fish Hoek-Kommetjie corridor (the “Study Area”) of Cape Town, South Africa. This study aimed to establish the full range of spatial factors that influence cycling trips originating or ending in the study area, as well as their relative importance. The results of this qualitative study were then compared to the determinants set out in the Bicycle LoS Tools. Where discrepancies were noted between the stated local determinants and those set out in the Bicycle LoS Tools, these were used to draw up a list of recommendations that should be considered in the development of a contextually appropriate South African Bicycle LoS Tool.

The lack of a Bicycle LoS Tool adapted to the South African context therefore represents a missed opportunity to enable stakeholders such as activists, community organisations, educational facilities, and local and provincial government to produce spatial cycling data that can serve as a means of comparison between localities, as a guide to future investment and current maintenance, and as a point of departure for dialogue.

However, all of the national contexts for which Bicycle LoS Tools are readily available for the purposes of this study are high-income countries, with the exception of India. Furthermore, the Indian example is a demonstration tool that, unlike the majority of the other Bicycle LoS Tools in the table, was not commissioned by government and has not, at the time of writing, been adopted by any state or local government.

Any tool intended for spatial analysis of South Africa’s built environments must reckon with their numerous unique qualities, and with the historical forces that have shaped and are shaping them. Among the many differences which obtain between the South African context and the high-income contexts for which existing tools have been produced, poverty, Apartheid spatiality, income and wealth inequality and crime and violence, among many others, have been shown to exert a marked influence on the mobility practices of people in South Africa.

While the academic literature on cycling in South Africa remains limited, it is likely that cycling is affected by the same influences operating on mobility practices in general. As such, the wholesale adoption of Bicycle LoS Tool tools developed for very different spatial contexts is likely to produce results which fail to capture the full range of determinants of cycling that operate in the South African context.

  • Your philosophical/ethical position (briefly) with regard to this type of problem or issue

In post-Apartheid South Africa, efforts to create transport equity have chiefly depended on motorised transport, with non-motorised transport being understood, supported and funded mainly as a feeder mode for public motorised transport. Cycling as an end-to-end mode remains somewhat outside of the policy focus, despite evidence (from the City of Cape Town’s own bicycle surveys, 2011-2015, inter alia) that a substantial portion of cycling trips are end-to-end, particularly as the dominance of traditional employment and service nodes (those best served by rail, for example) has declined in favour of newer nodes across the city.

In most instances, transport equity in this context has thus meant access to public motorised transport. This continue to represent a very substantial expense for low-income Capetonians, including those in the study area (TCT figures indicate the bottom quintile of Capetonians, by income, spent an average of 45% of their income on transport in 2013). Cycling could, with adequate investment and support, provide a much more cost-effective transport mode that also delivers substantial health benefits while reducing air pollution and physical inactivity.

Cycling, especially as a medium-distance commuter mode in South Africa, can confer freedom to move through the post-Apartheid city on those for whom movement is most difficult, time-consuming, expensive and limited. In a very real sense, the right to cycle thus confers the freedom of the city or enacts Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’.

It is for this reason that I have oriented my career towards the study of cycling in South Africa.

  • Broadly, the types and potential uses of the proposals that you expect to put forward (e.g. aimed at policy debate, local action plan etc)

The study is intended to produce a list of recommendations towards a contextually appropriate Bicycle Level of Service tool for the study area, and, by extension, for Cape Town and South African urban settlements more generally. Taken as a whole, these recommendations (which, pending the outcome of the focus groups, may be illustrated with spatial examples) would provide a currently lacking framework for the development of a much-needed spatial analysis tool. The immediate priority for further research (potentially at PhD level) would then be the development of a Bicycle Level of Service tool for South African cities.

  • The theoretical field/s likely to be most relevant to your project

Field Theory, Cycling Sociology, Automobility Studies.

Capture d’écran 2016-08-09 à 13.16.50
A close up of Adrian Frith’s race distribution map of Cape Town (2011 census) shows some of the spatial disparities occurring in the study area, and which are characteristic of Cape Town as a whole, and of Apartheid urbanism in general.

The area of study constitutes the combined boundaries of the Census 2011 Main Places Fish Hoek, Noordhoek and Kommetjie. These roughly coincide with the boundaries of Wards 64 and 69 as shown in this map, along with the portion of Ward 61 that is contiguous with Fish Hoek.

  • The central questions to be investigated

Central Research Question


What determinants of cycling practice within the study area do not currently feature as criteria within Bicycle LoS Tools developed outside South Africa, and how might these be included in a contextually appropriate South African Bicycle LoS Tool?

Subsidiary Research Questions

  • To what extent are Bicycle LoS Tools developed outside South Africa comparable to each other?
  • To what extent are cycling determinants (that do not feature as key criteria in Bicycle LoS Tools developed outside South Africa) addressed in other analytical tools that may be deployed alongside Bicycle LoS Tools in these contexts?
  • To what extent are Bicycle LoS Tools an appropriate tool for the study of cycling within the South African context?
  • To what extent are Bicycle Empowerment Centres and commercial cycling shops representative of the cycling public?
  • The tasks involved

This study may be divided into four primary tasks and their supporting tasks:

  1. Conduct a literature review on the research topic, including in particular a survey of existing Bicycle LoS Tools.
    • Produce a composite Bicycle LOS Tool that incorporates all of the parameters and determinants measured by all of the tools considered (e.g. lane width, presence of bicycle infrastructure, posted vehicle speed, presence of active shopfronts, land use mix, road safety statistics, etc.)
  2. Conduct a spatial analysis of the study area, involving a desktop study of the area and first-hand reconnaissance of the area by bicycle, as well as observations of cycling practices.
    • Source GIS and other spatial data for the study area.
    • Produce visual and cartographic aids from GIS and other spatial data, to assist in interviews and focus groups.
    • Conduct a review of existing data provided by the City of Cape Town
  3. Conduct a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups held at Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BECs) within the study area, as well as at a commercial bicycle shop within the area. Semi-structured interviews were chosen in order to ensure that space was provided for unprompted information or discussion – which is appropriate because existing cycling research in this context is so limited many unknowns persist at the most basic level. The choice of focus groups was made in order to prompt a more spontaneous discussion in which the researcher was decentred, and in order to make better use of language professionals (an isiXhosa-English interpreter).
    • Transcribe and translate these interviews (from Xhosa and Afrikaans).
    • Code these interviews in accordance with Field Theory precepts.
  4. Writing and submission of study.
  • Research method/s to be used

Bicycle Level of Service tools:

These are, in themselves, a method for spatial analysis.

Cycling Sociology:

Foundational concepts in this fairly new field would serve as an ethical and conceptual framework to the study, particularly the work of cycling sociologist Rachel Aldred (2010; 2012; 2014; Aldred & Jungnickel, 2014; Aldred, Woodcock & Goodman, 2015). Other insights into discourse analysis from the emerging field of automobility studies (Edensor, 2004; Böhm et al., 2006; Blickstein, 2010; Furness, 2010; Wells & Beynon, 2011) will also serve as a more general grounding for the terms in which a car-centric built environment may be discussed.

Preliminary interviews:

Preliminary meetings were held in order to gather information about the current state of cycling planning within the study area and within the City of Cape Town in general, to a greater extent than could be determined from published sources.

Semi-structured interviews:

Semi-structured interviews are a commonly used method in qualitative research that offer a particular advantage over other interview methods in fields where there is little existing research, and in which an overly structured interrogation risks foreclosing hitherto unknown avenues for discussion and disclosure (Longhurst, 2010). Semi-structured interviews in such cases are also useful in formulating questions for focus groups (Bryman, 2012).

A first round of semi-structured interviews will be conducted with the proprietors of both BECs and with the proprietor of Regal Cycles. The primary aim of this round will be to gain an account of cycling practice within the area from the perspective of entrepreneurs who were professionally invested in cycling practice. The secondary aims of this round will be to derive a list of potential participants the focus groups. It is noted that the BECs and commercial shop are located, respectively, within the two dominant settlement patterns in the study area – low-to-middle-income and medium-to-very-high density, and middle-to-high-income and low density, respectively.

A second round of semi-structured interviews will be conducted with the three proprietors with the aim of clarifying any ambiguities or further questions arising from the first round, and finalising lists of focus group participants, the final makeup of which will be decided jointly between the author and the proprietors.

Focus groups:

The focus groups will be composed of customers of the BECs and of Regal Cycles, as well as cyclists known to the proprietors. Two focus group meetings will be held at each BEC, with participants divided between the two by age group: those under 25 and those over 25. Participants will be divided between the two focus groups in this way in order to maintain a group size of approximately 10, due to physical constraints related to the venue size and access to visual and cartographic aids. Age will be used as the dividing criterion on the recommendation of the proprietors, in order to promote free participation in a cultural context in which age cohorts are strongly related with social standing and seniority (will verify this in semi-structured interviews).

The selection criteria for inclusion in the focus groups are that participants must be:

  • Active cyclists (having used their bicycles as transport at least once within the past month)
  • Area cyclists (having travelled outside of the immediate neighbourhood by bicycle within the past month)
  • Destination cyclists (having travelled to a defined destination by bicycle for a non-recreational purpose)

The decision to exclude non-cyclists from the study was motivated by the fact that the Bicycle Level of Service concept is a measure of the actual rather than the potential experience of cycling, and thus depends on existing cycling practice rather than latent demand for cycling, as with other approaches tools.

Focus group sessions will be voice-recorded and transcribed; the resulting data will inform the results of the investigation.

  • Time allocated to each task

Desk study: May-early June

Spatial analysis: May-early June

Preliminary interviews: May-late June

Semi-structured interviews: late June-early July

Focus groups: mid-to-late July

Coding, transcription, translation: early to mid-August

Writing: mid-August to late September

Production: early October

  • Main theoretical texts and/or case material

AASHTO. 2012. Guide for the Developement of Bicycle Facilities, 4th Edition.

Aldred, R. 2010. “On the outside”: constructing cycling citizenship. Social & Cultural Geography. 11(1):35–52. DOI: 10.1080/14649360903414593.

Aldred, R. 2012. Incompetent or too competent? Negotiating everyday cycling identities in a motor dominated society. Mobilities. 8(July 2015):37–41. DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2012.696342.

Aldred, R. 2014. A Matter of Utility? Rationalising Cycling, Cycling Rationalities. Mobilities. 0101(November):1–20. DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2014.935149.

Aldred, R. & Jungnickel, K. 2014. Why culture matters for transport policy: The case of cycling in the UK. Journal of Transport Geography. 34(early):78–87. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2013.11.004.

Aldred, R., Woodcock, J. & Goodman, A. 2015. Does More Cycling Mean More Diversity in Cycling? Transport Reviews. 1647(July):1–17. DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1014451.

Blickstein, S.G. 2010. Automobility and the politics of bicycling in New York city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 34(4):886–905. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2010.00914.x.

Böhm, S., Jones, C., Land, C. & Paterson, M. Eds. 2006. Against Automobility. Blackwell.

Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CSIR. 2003. Pedestrian and Bicycle Facility Guidelines: Engineering manual to plan and design safe pedestrian and bicyle facilities. (Draft 1.0).

Edensor, T. 2004. Automobility and National Identity: Representation, Geography and Driving Practice. Theory, Culture & Society. 21(4-5):101–120. DOI: 10.1177/0263276404046063.

Furness, Z. 2010. One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Longhurst, R. 2010. Semi-structured Interviews and Focus Groups. In Key Methods in Geography. 2nd ed. N. Clifford, S. French, & G. Valentine, Eds. London: SAGE Publications.

Wells, P. & Beynon, M.J. 2011. Corruption, automobility cultures, and road traffic deaths: The perfect storm in rapidly motorizing countries? Environment and Planning A. 43(10):2492–2503. DOI: 10.1068/a4498.

  • Research/professional reports

City of Cape Town Bicycle Strategy, 2011

City of Cape Town Integrated Transport Plan, 2013-2018

City of Cape Town Cycling Strategy (forthcoming: June 2016)

  • Maps (subjects and scales)

City of Cape Town NMT data (already provided to author)

Men cycling home at 5pm, on the M65 near Masiphumelele [Source: Author]
Men cycling home at 5pm, on the M65 near Masiphumelele [Source: Author]