Early this year, two pro-pedestrian movements were petitioned for to the Philippine Congress: the road-sharing scheme and the bike bill. Their provisions were not entirely new to our ears, but rather, it was a wake-up call on how city planning has strayed from its original purpose as a people-oriented city into a car-oriented one. In fact, the architects, planners and designers of Palafox Associates have been crusading for walkable, bikable, and livable cities since 1989. The road-sharing scheme envisions a 70-30 division in all major roads: 70 percent prioritizing the pedestrian and 30 percent for a more organized and efficient transport system. The bike bill, meanwhile, aims to promote good health and increase awareness on environment protection installing bike lanes on all major thoroughfares. These are all pro-environment, pragmatic measures towards more walkable and livable cities, one that I hope, will spur pedestrians to finally redefine their travel behavior and mindset towards alternative modes of public transportation. However, given the almost glacial pace at which our government works from Concept towards Commitment, Construction, and Completion, how long will it take before we see the fruition of these movements?
The threat of increased fuel prices actually act as a paradoxical opportunity to compel the public to walk, bike, or use self-propelled modes of transport to reach their destination. This should be seen in a positive light so as not to reinforce the local population’s dependency on using fossil-fuel energy sources.
Thus, at the dawn of the 21st century, there has been an increased interest in an active, healthier lifestyle, participation in cultural events, and a call for amenities for the pedestrian and year-round outdoor activities. When I was at Harvard Graduate School of Design, I came across a study that walkable, bikable cities with efficient public transport has helped decrease obesity levels and heart attacks in Boston, compared to the car dependent Los Angeles. “If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull,” says The Death and Life of Great American Cities author Jane Jacobs.
The functional purpose of a sidewalk and a curb, writes Sigurd Grava in his comprehensive book Urban Transportation Systems, was to protect pedestrians from the consequences of horse-drawn wheeled traffic, which had grown immensely in volume and impact. At that time, crossing major streets became a dangerous adventure as horses and heavy wagons were frightening to most people. This century-old portrait is no different in our cities today.
The appearance of modern architecture decades later brought with it new concepts in pedestrian space. A different approach has also emerged under the label of new urbanism (also referred to as neotraditional planning, pedestrian precinct, or transit village concept) promulgated by A. Duany and E. Plater-Zyberk. This calls to restore primacy to pedestrians within residential and commercial districts, recognizing that motor vehicles create conflicts, but, instead of seeking to segregate people in ‘safe’ environments, it asserts that automobiles should be made to behave and that streets should accommodate all movement, particularly walking, with no interference or dangers.
An average Filipino pedestrian can travel 1.6 kilometers in 15 minutes. If our cities have well-designed and dedicated lanes for bikers and pedestrians, a Filipino pedestrian can traverse the 24 kilometer length that is EDSA in 233 minutes (roughly 4 hours). On a bike, where the regular cycling speed is about three times the walking pace (6 mins per 1.6 km), a pedestrian on a bike can ply EDSA in 40 minutes.
In Metro Manila, only the brave dare to use the bicycle to get to their destination–many are afraid of using a bicycle because of its vulnerability to traffic accidents. By installing bike lanes, it narrows the motor vehicle portion of the roadway, indicating that drivers need to watch out for other road users, increasing driver attention and forcing them to slow down. This, I believe, is crucially needed in our cities. Drivers speed because the roads are designed to encourage them to do so. According to a Public Life Survey conducted by Gehl Architects on New York city in 2007, bicycle lanes have a general traffic calming and safety effect. Total traffic fatalities in New York have reached historic lows at the same time that the cycling network has reached its largest extent. Controlling for other factors, serious pedestrian crashes on streets with bike lanes are 40% less deadly as crashes on other streets. Thus, the geometric design of the urban street should be inclusive–one-third for trees and landscaping, one-third for pedestrians and bicycles, and one-third for vehicles.
Redesigning EDSA or any major city thoroughfare to assimilate bike and pedestrian lanes will be a monumental task, but every city needs a plan flexible enough to include future immediate changes and focusing on the long-term plans that are people-oriented. It must look forward but see development opportunities at eye level.
We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors: we borrowed it from the future generations. Urban residents, whether it be a child, student, employee, or senior citizen weaving through the congested pedestrian lanes to get to school, have the right to walk and bike safely. After all, a walkable, bikable city is not just a healthy, environment-friendly city. To quote Arch. Jan Gehl, “Do not look at how many people are walking in the city, but look at how many people have stopped walking to stay and enjoy what is there.”