I’VE been teaching at The Manila Times College for almost a year, and I must say that one of the perks of doing so is that it requires me to travel from Mandaluyong to Intramuros at least once a week.
For many that long drive seems stressful. I’ve found that when traffic lights are in order, drivers are following road rules, which also means the Manila Traffic Police are doing their jobs (one of the kindest traffic police I’ve encountered by the way), so that the drive itself is quite enjoyable.
I had always chosen to park in front of the Manila Cathedral, because it’s one of a few spaces where there’s actually a functional sidewalk, one that’s shady and large enough for pedestrians. And then I’d walk the rest of the way to The Manila Times building, if not to the nearest Starbucks, the neighborhood ukay-ukay, or to a restaurant further down General Luna.
For a little over a month now the Intramuros Administration (IA) has implemented road and traffic schemes to make The Walled City “more pedestrian-friendly” (BusinessMirror.com, 8 Mar). The IA asserted that since 1973, the pedestrianization of Intramuros had already been suggested; they recognize though that, in the present, banning vehicles altogether is just impossible.
I get the rationalization behind making any space, any town, any city pedestrian-friendly. And certainly and absolutely our heritage sites deserve more care and must be saved from pollution and congestion that human traffic (in vehicles and otherwise) inevitably bring. But it boggles the mind that the IA actually thought the first step in doing this was to make one-way roads out of General Luna and all other roads that frame Manila Cathedral.
Too one wonders which pedestrians this decision truly cares for. Because while making General Luna a one-way street gives people more space to walk toward Manila Cathedral, how does this protect the greater number of pedestrians down the stretch of Muralla? Oh yes, that is where vehicles are directed to turn, which also makes one wonder: aren’t the walls down Muralla, and the schools and buildings on that street, heritage sites, too?
If the task was to be more pedestrian-friendly and to protect heritage, why choose one street over another, one set of pedestrians over another?
Makes me think that this whole pedestrian-friendly project is really about being tourist-friendly. Who cares after all for the students who ply the streets of Muralla every day, when there are tourists who want to see the San Agustin Church on General Luna?
It seems to me that the first step the IA should’ve taken was to make sure that vehicles have a place to go, other than down another street filled with students walking and milling about at any given time. Was it not important to ask where the vehicles would go once we campaigned for less of them inside Intramuros?
And what of the fact that while there are sidewalks down General Luna, there are barely any sidewalks on the smaller side streets that have now become parking for vehicles? It is difficult to blame them for parking on streets already so narrow, forcing pedestrians to walk in the middle of the street – because IA did not think about parking lots for people who drive to work in Intramuros every day.
Across the General Luna and Victoria entrances to Intramuros, there are no safe parking lots. And when I say safe, I mean a sense that it is being guarded. When I could park in front of the Manila Cathedral, and then for a while in front of the BPI Building, the manongs who I’d pay would be there until I came back to leave.
Behind The Manila Times building is a parking lot, one that does not even give you a parking ticket when you enter, and which does not volunteer to give you a receipt when you pay.
Not getting proof that I actually drove into that parking lot in my car, one wonders how they can make sure that no one will just open any car parked there and drive out. Yes, they’d have to stop to pay for the P40 bucks parking fee, but they don’t need to prove that they own the car they are driving out of the lot.
I’m no pedestrian, but I don’t deserve to be treated so badly by IA either. If the filled parking lot today (Friday) was any indication, there are enough of us who work in Intramuros who drive cars, who deserve to be given the benefit of safety for our vehicles.
Once we get out of our cars, we become the pedestrians that IA wants to be friendly to. But there is nothing that makes one feel safe about walking the streets of Intramuros, beyond the streets that frame the tourist spots they hold in such high regard. There are no functional sidewalks, and pedestrian lanes are few and far between – and rarely followed by vehicles.
It’s like telling me to leave my car in an unsafe parking lot that does not even give out parking tickets, so that I can walk down the streets of Intramuros that are not pedestrian-friendly either.
Yet it takes so little to lessen the vehicles that ply Intramuros and make it a haven for bikers and pedestrians. Make the streets safer, and build parking lots from which we might bike or walk to work or school. Right now all they’ve done is make this heritage site more difficult to navigate, and alas, even less safe for pedestrians – tourists and otherwise.
New street signs that are trying to be witty? Those don’t help at all. Or maybe those are actually signs of the times, a signal of the kind of thinking that went into this campaign for a tourist-friendly Intramuros –
Vehicles: One Way.
Pedestrians: Every Which Way.