21 Sep, 2016

Sharing the Spruit Trails

We spoke to Next Step Consulting, recently appointed by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) to conduct research into a management plan for the popular Braamfontein Spruit, to accommodate mountain bikers, runners and walkers, who are currently clashing on the congested Spruit trails. – BY ROXANNE MARTIN
Q: What is the motivation behind the project?
The Braamfontein Spruit has one of the longest inner city, urban single-track trail systems in the world. The popular walking paths were already formally mapped and recorded as early as 1970, but since around 2000, we have seen exponential growth in recreational mountain biking on the Spruit, and now we see more and more trail runners. There are several variables that make management of the trail systems challenging, including the consideration that the trails are accessible from countless entry points, which means it is impossible to control who accesses them and for what purpose.
With one main trail and so many users, problems occur, such as collisions, criminal activity, pollution, litter and environmental degradation, but with so much potential to become a world-class multi-use recreational facility, the JCPZ has taken the bull by the horns to work on managing the area. The first step is creating a trail management plan, with emphasis on the word plan at this stage – as with anything, funding needs to be available to implement a plan.
Q: How will the new management plan prevent clashes between cyclists, runners and walkers?
One of the key things is that there is a lack of understanding between users of a shared resource. Other countries that have historically had resources like these tend to have more of a culture that has developed around trail systems and park use. There is an understanding, for example, that in an area where people enter a gate, you should slow down – whether you are running or riding – as it’s likely you’ll be going faster than someone just entering the park.
Some feedback points to the fact that one user group thinks the other is self-entitled, and vice-versa, which points to a clear lack of comprehension about how to treat another user. The words ‘common decency’ are often used, but there is a skewed interpretation of what that really means. Assuming that everyone will simply understand how to treat each other is problematic, and this is fundamental to shared use spaces. Some people are also against rules and regulations.
Best practice internationally is to manage conflict and risk on trails through management and physical methods. So a management method would be introducing rules and regulation and using education projects to spread them, while a physical interpretation would be putting signage up or putting in a physical method to slow people down, or making some sections “No Ride” or “No Walk” zones. In Europe these are effective methods, because when people break the rules, their experience is actually unpleasant.
Q: Will the management plan create employment on the Spruit?
One of the key aims is to outline enterprise development and job creation opportunities, and a large part of the Phase 3 report is an Operational Business Plan and Financial 
Analysis, which includes a large scope of 
possible ideas for job creation. We think two obvious opportunities would be around supporting trail maintenance, as well as a security system on the Spruit.
Q: What is the plan to deal with vagrants on the Spruit?
While solving such a large-scale socio-economic issue is outside of the scope of a trail management plan focussed on recreational trail use and commuting, the informal settlement communities are certainly high on the list of concerns that Spruit users have raised. We have done research into the sub-groups within the informal settlement (construction workers, rubbish collectors, rubbish sorters, recyclers), as it is necessary to understand why they are choosing to live there in the first place. We feel we now have a good understanding why they are there and the problems that result from their continued presence, and we’re beginning to understand the institutional structures that need to be engaged with to create a sustainable solution.
Q: When will the plan be put into action?
Implementation will depend on a number of things, including funding. Presently it seems the most sustainable funding solution would be a plug-in model of private public partnerships, volunteerism and business generation along the Spruit. Events like the Hollard JUMA and JURA have proven the potential for enterprise development and income streams that could fund the management of the trail network.
Q: What do you need to make this plan a success?
What we really need is buy-in and support from all user groups, a willingness to engage with new ideas and systems, and a willingness to foster a culture of shared trail use. We believe that this willingness is already there… the trick is in letting people know how to use the trails with basic rules of engagement, and that will go a long way to reducing conflict.