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  • Writer's pictureZiggurat Realestatecorp

Unwalkable Metro Manila

It should be a matter of national shame that Metro Manila was ranked "least walkable" in a recent survey of 53 cities worldwide. In a walkability study by Australian insurance firm, Compare-The-Market, 53 global locations were compared. Metro Manila was in last place. This should be an important "wake-up" call, because all of us are pedestrians and every journey starts and ends with walking.


Most walkable Cities in the world
Most walkable Cities in the world

In the Philippines, millions of trips every day are entirely by walking. If walking is difficult, uncomfortable or unsafe, it means that a person may not be able to exercise his or her basic rights or meet basic needs, such as finding employment and obtaining food, health care or education. People prefer to live in places where it is easy to walk to jobs, services and markets. A country that has poor walkability will be unattractive for tourism or investment.


How did we get to this dismal situation? Unfortunately, the Philippines has not complied with its own regulations on sidewalks and has not invested much in quality pedestrian infrastructure. The general absence of proper sidewalks prevents many of us from walking to our destinations, even to places nearby. On most city streets, sidewalks, where they exist, are not safe for walking, filled with holes and obstructions and impossible for a person using a wheelchair, stroller or on crutches to use. A common obstacle is the electricity or telephone pole sticking out of the middle of the sidewalk. Many sidewalks have been illegally converted into car parking spaces.


Most unwalkable cities in the world
Most unwalkable cities in the world

Our cities and towns have become unbearably hot because trees and greenery were replaced by concrete and asphalt, enhancing what we call the "urban heat island effect." But this harmful trend can be reversed. With trees providing a canopy over a road, ambient temperatures can be lower by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. A sidewalk shaded by trees can be walkable even at midday. We can shape our urban environments so that they remain walkable amid climate change.


Oftentimes, poor walkability is the result of prioritizing the movement of cars over the movement of people. A common example is the removal of ground-level pedestrian crossings so that there is no need for vehicles to stop for people. When pedestrian crossings are removed, pedestrians have to walk longer distances in order to safely cross the road. If a footbridge replaces a ground-level pedestrian crossing, the impact is also negative for people on foot — they have to climb stairs and walk much further.


Those unable to climb stairs then face an insurmountable barrier. Footbridges are often dark and unprotected at night, exposing pedestrians to greater risk of getting mugged or assaulted.


And then, there is the bad behavior of most drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians, even at "zebra-striped" crosswalks. When walking is unsafe or unattractive, it also discourages use of public transport, because walking to a jeepney or bus stop or train station is often needed. Accordingly, poor quality or missing sidewalks compel many to rely on private motor vehicles which, in turn, exacerbates traffic and pollution and contributes to poor public health outcomes.


If the government is serious about according highest priority to pedestrians and cyclists in the hierarchy of road users, as it has declared in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, here are specific recommendations for making the Philippines a more walkable place within the next three years:

 

Spend more for active transport and accessibility. An executive order should be issued requiring national and local agencies to allocate at least 10 percent of their annual road/bridge infrastructure spending for the rectification and expansion of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and to ensure compliance with all accessibility laws.


Restore the No Contact Apprehension Policy (NCAP) and focus on violations that endanger pedestrians. Pedestrians felt much safer when NCAP was operational. Positioning cameras at pedestrian crossings will change driver behavior at pedestrian crosswalks. Speeding and "red-light beating" at intersections will also be reduced once NCAP is working.


Install raised crossings in front of every school. A raised crossing will make a street so much safer for all kinds of road users. There should be no road where students on foot are endangered by fast-moving motor vehicles. A raised crossing installed on all roads fronting schools will ensure that vehicles slow down for pedestrians.


Implement the mandatory 20 kilometers per hour (kph) speed limit for crowded streets required by Republic Act (RA) 4136. RA 4136 (The Land Transportation and Traffic Code) requires that the maximum speed limit should be 20 kph "through crowded streets, approaching intersections at 'blind corners,' passing school zones, passing other vehicles which are stationary, or for similar dangerous circumstances" [Section 35(b), Article 1, Chapter IV of RA 4136]. "Crowded streets" are any busy road with many popular destinations frequented by large numbers of people. Enforcing this law will save thousands of lives annually.


Restore sidewalks illegally converted into parking spaces. An executive order should instruct every national agency and local government to restore sidewalks illegally converted into parking spaces and to penalize parties responsible for such violations.


Encourage every barangay to have at least one car-free "people's street." If every barangay could have a car-free "people's street," it would not only offer a safe, pollution-free active transport corridor, it would also provide much needed public space in every community that could serve as a public park for exercise, play and community gatherings. Shade trees could be planted to make the entire neighborhood cooler.


Enable citizens to report anti-pedestrian violations to authorities using mobile phones. The government should create a mobile phone app whereby violations of any law related to pedestrian welfare can be reported by any citizen to relevant authorities with pictures and location information attached.


Plant more trees and greenery along every sidewalk. Every LGU should launch a sidewalk tree-planting program to provide ample shade and water retention on every street. Of course, the tree species should be carefully selected, favoring Indigenous species, trees with good shade, and those that will not damage sidewalk surfaces over time.


Remove footbridges and restore at-grade pedestrian crossings. Replacing footbridges with ground-level pedestrian crossings will make our streets safer, more inclusive and people-friendly. The demolition of footbridges (what many progressive cities worldwide have done in recent times) would be a clear signal that the government prioritizes pedestrians and persons with disability over cars.


Enrique Penalosa once said "High quality public pedestrian space is evidence of a true democracy at work." By any reasonable standard of walkability, the Philippines is failing — and it is affecting every aspect of our lives. In the list of infrastructure priorities, walkability needs to be at the very top.


Source: Manila Times

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