Cape Town Without The Foreshore Freeways

Cape Town’s Foreshore freeway strangles the city and cuts it (and its people) off from the Port and water’s edge. With a comparison to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, Gareth Pearson questions what would happen if we did away with the Foreshore section of Nelson Mandela Boulevard altogether.

When Capetonians talk about the freeway along the Foreshore, there’s a good chance it involves a joke about the mysterious unfinished sections. It’s not the unfinished sections that I care about, it’s the entire thing.

The footprint of the freeway as well as the land in between each section is wasted, restricting the development of this lifeless area of the city. There have been a number of interventions proposed, as mentioned some time back in a post  by Andrew Boraine. More recently, the City of Cape Town, is proposing a 3 storey parking building to sit between the freeways, to support a new tower, as part of the Convention Centre expansion.

There is often talk of sinking the freeway below ground, a monstrous project not disimilar to Boston’s Big Dig. Sure, this is an option, as with any project it has its advantages and disadvantages. But what if the freeway was removed entirely? What if it was replaced with a tree-lined boulevard that accommodates public transport, bicycling, and walking?

It’s very easy to quickly shut this idea down as one visualizes the hoards of single-occupant vehicles trying to enter the city. How will motorists effortlessly get to the bottom of Buitengracht Street and on to other parts of the city? The big question here is whether the city would cope with a lower-capacity roadway in place of the freeway.

Enter The Embarcadero, San Francisco’s boulevard that runs along the water’s edge. The roadway is lined with trees, and is shared by trolley cars, bicyclers, pedestrians, and motorists. This was once the route of a double-decker freeway, that like Cape Town’s Nelson Mandela Boulevard, cut off the city from the water’s edge.

The earthquake that shook the city in 1989 forced the closure of this vital artery into San Francisco. One would think that the sudden closure would have caused havoc, and that it would have needed to be repaired and reopened. The city soon realised that it was coping just fine as citizens adapted to the situation. The damaged freeway was removed to create the inviting boulevard that is there today.

San Francisco’s Ferry Building strangled by the Embarcadero freeway before the 1989 earthquake that led to its closure.

The Embarcadero today – a tree-lined boulevard that invites citizens to the restored Ferry Building and the water’s edge.


There are 4 comments

  1. Marc Joubert

    I’m intrigued by the possibilities of what could happen if the freeways
    were removed entirely. The city was originally designed to welcome
    travelers arriving by sea, hence the design of the Heerengracht
    fountains and boulevards. Then things changed, the apartheid aesthetics
    took over and we landed up with a huge strip of concrete cutting us off
    from the sea. (And the hideous Customs building and other
    monstrosities). A couple of well designed parking garages, and an
    effective shuttle service up and down Adderley, Loop and Long might help
    with inner-city congestion and parking, and with the addition of some
    parks and open spaces, we might feel properly like a port city again.
    The article on San Fransisco raises some intriguing
    questions. Could we do without the freeways? Intriguing
    thought. The harbour used to be a social hub of Cape Town, while now
    that whole foreshore area is dead and ugly. Can you imagine what it
    would be like without the freeways?
    If San Fransisco got it right, maybe we can too. And not having to do
    those corners near Culomborg in the wet, ever again, would be a good
    thing. Those expansion joints are killers.

  2. John

    I for one think there is a severe shortage of freeways, you cant stop the fact that CT is expanding and the way the municipalities are building freeways with their idiotic enhancements is just plain ludicris and unfathomably idiotic. They love taking a two lane road and inserting a three lane bit just to choke it further up the road into a two or sometimes one lane road. Take the new M5 off ramp from the N1, such a freakin waste! Also Cape Tonians need to wake up to the idea that Cape Town needs to start thinking liek Joburg, that Bellville and Durbanville are viable expansions for business, so much potential out that way for development but no Cape Tonians want to cling to their teeny tiny little spot in the shadow of the mountain, even just getting to Houtbay, llundudno or Campsbay can be a huge pain because you are forced to use small little byroads, the whole freeway design is just a huge mess and CT is busy choking it own progress into the future by still trying to hold onto a very small piece of land. Joburg is expanding rapidly because it uses the freeways to give quick access to all its areas

  3. Retief de Villiers

    Another case study of a city that had a similar set of freeways, separating the city from the shore and has spent a significant amount of money to demolish and bury the highways, is the so-called Big Dig project in Boston USA. I was there when the freeways still stood between the city and the shore. They were horribly ugly steel structures, but have now all been demolished and the freeway buried. The Big Dig project was the most expensive urban construction project ever undertaken. The space where the freeways stood are now public parks joining the city with the coast in a pedestrian friendly manner. We need to think about the foreshore freeways in imaginative ways and we should not ignore the option of even demolishing them They are luckily not as ugly as the Boston structures, but all options should be considered.

Comments are closed.