Two fairly modern inventions have drastically changed how cities were planned and designed, and how the urban landscapes looked. The invention of elevators gave architects and engineers the opportunity to build taller buildings. But with the mass production of the automobile in the early 1900s, it dramatically changed how people regarded their journeys and how roads were built. The roads widened and became longer to make way for the induced demand brought about by automobiles.
Of the numerous studies made on the correlation of traffic congestion, all results point that those cities with the least congestion are often cities that provide the best alternatives to alleviate it.
Great, accessible streets
How we use and look at automobiles have long since changed since it was invented in the late 1800s. According to a New York Times article in 1971 on the evolution of car use, it has evolved from its primary use as a tool into a mass transportation device, a courting chamber, a badge, a sex symbol, a gasoline guzzler, a death trap, to what the writer calls an “everyman’s island in the urban sea.”
In the Philippines, only 2% of the population own cars, but our roads have been built in favor of them. We have forgotten about the pedestrians, bicycles, trees and landscaping, and public transit to share the road right of way.
In a joint report made by UNEP and the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, they found out that road transport accounts for 17% of the world’s energy related carbon dioxide emissions and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is also responsible for up to 90% of urban air pollution. More than 1.3 million people are killed every year and more than 50 million are seriously injured; 90% of which is in the developing world.
In the Philippines, pedestrians are forced to walk on roads because the walkways are dominated by vendors, parked cars, and police and barangay outposts. They contribute to traffic congestion by limiting space for other forms of transportation.
Gated subdivisions, meanwhile, have created superblocks at the cost of inaccessibility for pedestrians, motorists, and residents of surrounding communities. However, gated subdivisions can have negative impacts in the form of segregation in both a physical and social sense if not managed in an appropriate manner. Developing gated communities isolates the residents from any interaction from the surrounding areas and reduces the traffic flow, creating a more separated neighborhood.
Orbit Street in Bel-Air 2 Village, Zobel Street in San Miguel Village, and Rockwell Drive at Rockwell Center opened their gates to other vehicles going to/from the Makati CBD areas at certain times of the day to help ease the traffic along Makati Avenue and J.P. Rizal. Other gated subdivisions like Wilson Street in Greenhills also opened up their roads so that private vehicles need not go through EDSA, but we have yet to see our gated military camps to do the same.
Then, in 2008, Executive Order No.744 was issued, which aimed to devote half of all roads to motorized vehicles and/or Filipino-made transport systems, following the simple principle that “those who have less in wheels must have more in road.”
Security by Design
However, allowing public access through gated communities raises the issue on security. By maintaining a significant level of security through the continued usage of security guards, regular visible police patrols, neighborhood watches, we can assure and get the full support of the residents. Also, it helps rewarding the Home Owners Associations of gated subdivisions in their cooperation towards the road sharing schemes.
Moreover, by employing Security by Design, the so called “eyes on the street” concept promulgated by journalist Jane Jacobs, it incites mixed land use developments to encourage diverse activities throughout the day and therefore a more diverse community. This involves the promotion of safe and accessible public spaces and parks. Elsewhere in the world, residences in Boston, Massachusetts have windows that overlook the street to promote security. Blank walls should be avoided since they are aesthetically unpleasing, reduce the security on streets and contribute to heat-island effects.
There should be a strong relationship between buildings and the sidewalk environment by establishing specific street level development standards and incentives. Street walls, facade transparency, blank walls, screening of parking / buffers, street landscaping and furniture and overhead weather protection / canopies and arcades should be regulated.
To de-clutter sidewalk vendors, street vendors should be provided with more formal retailing equipment and booths in order to help sell their products, provided by the local governments to incite the character of their respective cities.
In Bogota, former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa changed the transportation system to alleviate traffic congestion by restricting parking. In the Philippines, we can apply Smarter parking management together with the other traffic management strategies. Instead of imposing minimum parking requirements the government can establish parking caps or maximums in certain areas similar to Boston, Portland and New York City. Parking requirements should be guided by transit availability and urban design context where the development is situated. The government can also introduce special transit zoning districts where parking requirements are cut by 20% near transit stations such as the LRT and MRT.
The concept of “shared parking” can also be promoted where developers can coordinate with other nearby buildings with underutilized parking facilities to reduce minimum requirements. This has been successfully implemented in Maryland, Colorado, and Massachusetts.
A coherent parking strategy should be formulated to manage the policies and pricing of on- and off-street parking to avoid overcrowding at the less expensive on-street parking and underutilization of off-street parking.
By charging a price for on-street parking, like San Francisco’s SF Park and New York City’s ParkSmart program, additional revenues for the city can be generated which can be returned to the community by enhancing public services and improved streetscapes.
Parking strategies should be included in transportation plans to complement the strategies for the attainment of air quality standards, congestion management strategies, and livability initiatives.
Walking the Talk
For our project in San Juan City, we proposed that the existing gated residential subdivisions need to be gradually opened for increased and enhanced access whilst maintaining the level of security its residents expect. Removing gated subdivisions from the city and any associated problems can be tackled in several different schemes; however each needs the cooperation of its residents and local government.
Since our transport mobility framework proposed that all the necessary services should be accessible by 400 meters to all San Juan residents, we proposed a development of designated stops at strategic areas for public vehicles to organize traffic. Stops should be located not more than 400 meters apart. Lay bays should also be developed at the public utility vehicle stops to ensure the smooth traffic flow and avoid abstracting vehicular flow.
For San Juan, we proposed the gradual opening of all closed gates and roads to allow the easement of traffic flow. This will be achieved during phases over a course of 1-3 years in order to allow the local residents to adjust and amend. The first phase will consist of opening up main roads and gates at certain intervals during the day, for instance during busy shopping hours and rush hour. The second phase shall incorporate a by-pass system, like that of Bel-Air 2 Village Orbit Street and San Miguel Village F. Zobel Street in Makati , where access is permitted for non-residents for 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. Gradually eliminating the restricted zones this will eventually lead to the phasing out of closed roads.
“A developed country is not where the poor people have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation,” says former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa. By integrating congestion strategies and traffic management schemes into each city’s land use plans, it will create a sense of community, improved accessibility, and a more active public realm.