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OPINION: The country needs walkable cities, ASAP

OPINION: The country needs walkable cities, ASAP

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  • Commuting in the Philippines isn’t just difficult. It can also be costly, time-consuming, and dangerous
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Commuting in the Philippines is hell in the shape of an extreme sport. Wherever you are in the country, using public transportation as your primary means of mobility puts you at an extreme disadvantage. But even if you own a private vehicle, rapidly fluctuating gas prices might dissuade you from driving. 

The perils of public transport

From queueing up for hours on end to stuffing yourself in whatever PUV you can find, commuting takes away time, effort, energy, and money. Commuters gather in hordes daily—without a reliable schedule for any type of public transport—just for a chance to get to where they’re going. 

The agility course that is public transportation is also about to get a hell (pun definitely intended) of a lot more challenging. The jeepney strike, increasing prices of fuel, and the onset of the rainy season have become added obstacles to get from point A to point B.  

Even TNVS (transport network vehicle services), which aren’t actually considered public transportation, are struggling with the demand. Booking any of the services in a timely manner is almost impossible during rush hour. I personally know people who have resorted to using carriers like Lalamove or Grab Express to get around. 

Screenshot from Grab App’s Grab Car home screen

Providers like Grab are using the commuting nightmare to push for more of their vehicles on the road. Adding more vehicles may seem like a solution, but it’s a band-aid one at best and will aggravate the situation further down the line. 

Though the pandemic is still here, the amount of people back on the roads has made it operatively over. Our streets can no longer keep up with our volume or our mobility requirements. 

What we need are easy, safe, and reliable ways to get around—ideally, with our own two feet. 

The case for walkable cities

The lack of accessible mobility nationwide is inherently anti-poor. Not everyone has the luxury of owning a private vehicle or finding cost-effective, timely, and safe transportation. But even if everyone had access to private transportation, it would further clog up roads and increase carbon emissions. 

Alternatives like biking or scooting around the city is an option, but it can also be dangerous to say the least. Though unpleasant, walking to destinations is also possible. Tiny to non-existent pedestrian lanes, lack of crosswalks, and pedestrian overpasses inaccessible to persons with disabilities make it a challenge for people to get around without paying for transportation. 

Our roads weren’t built for people. They were built for cars.

Build build build… walkable cities

With the impending change of administrations, there are bound to be changes in priorities. The “Build Build Build Program” is one of the current administration’s flagship initiatives aimed at improving the country’s infrastructure. The program’s goals are to “yield robust growth, create jobs and improve the lives of Filipinos.”

If the new administration were to carry on with the former’s “Build Build Build” projects, they need to “Build Build Build” pedestrian-friendly ways to get around the city. This calls for a different approach in creating structures for the public. Highways, skyways, and other vehicle-centric infrastructure will only add to the plight of commuters who already suffer from the injustice of their daily commute. 

What should be prioritized instead are accessibility-friendly walkways, actual sidewalks with actual space to walk, green public spaces, bike lanes, crosswalks, PUV stops with decent facilities, and rest areas. 

According to incoming tourism secretary Christina Frasco, there should also be an emphasis on tourism infrastructure to help the economy recover from the pandemic. In the same vein, the new administration should also prioritize walkable infrastructure to help inter-city and same-city tourism. 

We don’t need more highways, we need safe areas to walk, bike, or even skate around. Mobility is a right, not a privilege. 

Nolisoli.ph © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.

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