KNYSNA NEWS - It was an invidious situation from the onset. And after years of forewarning by concerned citizens, tragedy finally struck on the dangerous thoroughfare that clefts through the Knysna CBD, when 73-year-old Jackie Stroebel was hit by a passing truck and died on the scene last Friday 22 November at about 15:00.
Knysna police confirmed the incident on Friday stating they had "opened a case of culpable homicide" and that according to the available information "the woman and her husband crossed the road when she was hit by the vehicle".
Utterly distraught after her "very sudden death", the victim's family was too upset to elaborate on the case on Tuesday and expressed a wish to spend time alone, but said the funeral would take place on 29 November.
The incident reopened the knotty can of worms concerning the only town on the entire South African seaboard which is forced to accommodate a highway cleaving so crassly through its CBD.
"How many more people have to die before something is done?" asked one Margot Paulson in a letter to KPH this week (see Page 18), decrying the fact that lorries drive so recklessly through the town.
It's a bitter old bone of contention and many residents blame the lapse in Knysna's former bucolic status primarily on the consistent juggernaut of vehicular behemoths thundering through town. It was because of this that residents of the formerly relatively laid-back coastal haven perked up noticeably when plans for a bypass first surfaced in the 1970s.
Hopes for a diversion hit a pothole in 1989 when the then mayor of Knysna, Kathy Sass, used her casting vote to turn down the rerouting of the national freeway. But the problem, and the hopes for a possible solution, did not go away. Knysna journalist Jo-Anne Bekker reported in the Cape Times in 2004 that the town council unanimously supported an urgent construction of a bypass around the town in conjunction with the SA National Road Agency (Sanral).
Other than the bottlenecks that develop during holidays and the heavy trucks it brings through the town every day, the N2 presents a hazard to the poorest residents, Knysna councillor Ricky van Aswegen said at the time.
By mid-2006, Bekker reported on IOL that the "process of determining whether a four-lane tolled highway will be built to bypass this burgeoning Garden Route town is well under way."
A statement by Grahamstown's Coastal and Environmental Services (CES) responsible for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) indicated five possible options with three recommended for further investigation (see sidebar on Page 2).
By 2009, a lobby to develop two one-way streets along the Waterfront to improve the traffic flow in town (the current Waterfront Drive) was gaining ground as opposition swelled against the proposed toll-road bypass. Qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted by economic experts Imani Development to ascertain what the effect of two new toll stations would be on Knysna and its surrounding towns (a west-bound one at either Groenvlei, Buffelsvermaak or Eastford, and an east-bound one at Springfield or Brackenhill on the Plettenberg Bay road).
It was found that although there was consensus that Knysna needed a highway detour, there was strong opposition to the tolling of intra-municipal traffic.
Sedgefield residents would suffer a "high" impact from tolling, no matter which route was chosen, and the people of Knysna would experience a "moderate" economic impact either way, the study found, according to Natasha Joseph reporting in the Cape Times in May 2009.
"Mitigation measures proposed include a significant reduction in toll fees payable by local residents and even their exclusion from paying toll fees," Imani Development wrote in its section of the report, according to Joseph.
There was also strong opposition by retailers in Main Road who believed they would lose custom if the route was diverted.
The economic cost-benefit analysis indicated the Waterfront Drive option was the least favourable at the time and would result in "significant negative impacts on Knysna's economy", it stated.
But according to Joseph's summary of the report, "the findings of the fieldwork did not support perceptions that a toll highway would have negative impacts on property or retail prices, nor did they support the argument that Knysna would lose business as road users would bypass the town''. In fact, "sectors such as tourism would do much better, with a reduction in congestion (in Knysna's CBD)".
Although this option was eventually implemented, many people in Knysna now bemoan the fact that Waterfront Drive is still not being utilised for the purpose that it was actually designed for: to divert larger vehicles from the main road through town.
Maura Andrew, a senior consultant with Coastal and Environmental Services, said there were "major environmental problems" with the bypass routes skipping the CBD altogether, Joseph reported. "Coastal and Environmental Services found that it was very difficult to make a recommendation on which of the two routes should be chosen, based on the direct environmental impacts," Andrew said. "Both of the routes have major environmental problems, particularly for the western section. "Consequently, the potential cumulative impacts should also be taken into consideration, as well as the long-term planning and growth scenarios for the Knysna area, when the environment authorities make their decision on the project."
Ironically – so shortly before the tragic accident which cost the life of Jacky Stroebel last week – the Department of Environmental Affairs, in a response to an application for authorisation from Sanral, issued a refusal in April this year of the project to build a bypass.
In a statement to KPH on Monday, Knysna Municipality said: "Sanral cancelled the N2/bypass without consultation.
"The matter was brought to a standstill due to the Knysna/Sedgefield toll-road connection, which would have negatively impacted the residents of Sedgefield. The Garden Route District Municipality is now driving the bypass agenda since it affects the municipalities of George, Knysna and Bitou."
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