Walkable cities, walkable communities to address climate change

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FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

In the documentary “The Inconvenient Truth,” former US Vice President Al Gore discussed scientific facts behind global warming. He explained how it has already begun to affect our environment, talked about the disastrous consequences if the world’s governments and citizens do not act, and shared what each individual can do to help protect the Earth for the present and future generations.

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The documentary is an eye-opener. It graphically depicts that global warming is the biggest challenge we face today. Scientists observe that we have just ten years to avert a catastrophe that could destroy the world’s climate system—including killer heat waves, torrential rains and flooding, and other extreme weather factors. Climate change is so serious that it is imperative to realize that climate change is everyone’s concern. It can bring catastrophe to the only planet that sustains us. To avert such a catastrophe, we need to address the matter. Daunting as it may seem, everyone can make a contribution. Simply walking from home to work every day can make a big difference.

Goals and objectives
There is need to promote walking as the first choice or mode of transport for people’s awareness. This will reduce carbon emission from cars and combat climate change. By increasing the efficiency of pedestrian movement, it improves pedestrian access and pedestrian infrastructure. Walking also helps improve air quality by encouraging pedestrian rather than vehicular trips, as well as pedestrian safety and convenience through the implementation of sets of policies and laws that would favor walking as the first choice of transport mode

Improve the quality of streets by working with the local government units and develop design proposals and use these recommended improvements to improve pedestrian circulation in our cities. Metro Manila, as with the rest of Philippine cities, is generally designed for the car. This situation does not provide for a pedestrian friendly environment. Manila is one of the most polluted cities in the world and is unfriendly to pedestrians and commuters. The city’s workforce spends about 1,000 hours a year in traffic, with three to four hours a day average. Most live in the outskirts of the city so walking is not an option. Regrettably, our cities developed to a pattern wherein there is segregation of places of work from places of residence.

Currently, in the cites, there are provisions for sidewalks although they are generally unfit for walking or for use of pedestrians due to encroachment or occupancy of street vendors, ill-placed utility provisions and obstructions such as barangay outposts, fire hydrants, trash bins, lamp posts, newsstands, and vendors. Other sidewalk obstructions include elements that are associated with building use, loading bays, parking area, garbage awaiting collection, and retail displays.

Walking as first mode of transport
All journeys start with walking, the basic mode of transportation since time immemorial. Before a person becomes a motorist, he has first to be a pedestrian. Over the past decades, the transformation from walkable to automobile-oriented communities has resulted from a set of policies that promoted the use of automobiles over other modes of transportation.

To encourage the private sector to create pedestrian-friendly environments, there should be a provision for mixed-use developments to shorten distances between homes and places of work, leisure, worship, and learning. By integrating pedestrian policy into infrastructure, transport planning and overall land use development, designating certain areas as “pedestrian-only” areas, and recommending “carbon-neutral” facilities (i.e. solar- powered lights, stairs instead of escalators, natural ventilation instead of air-conditioning). There should be a consideration in changing and adapting stricter and higher national standards for pedestrians, as well as incentives for private developers to adapt more pedestrian-friendly developments. In other parts of the world, like in Brussels, Bogota, and Jakarta, they allocate certain days as “no-car” days, encouraging people to take public transport and/or walk to their destinations.

Key success factors for “hard” measures to work
While walking is a natural human form of mobility, the environments that people have to traverse vary. When introducing pedestrian access to areas with non-existing pedestrian access, an acceptable modal split among transport options should be implemented. Pedestrian infrastructure for the sake of building such access, without appropriate implementing policy, would lessen effectiveness of infrastructure.

Pedestrian facilities should not exist for and by themselves but should consider that people take other forms of transport to get to their destinations. Importance of the “first 400 meters” and “last 400 meters” of pedestrian travel (400 meters being the average tolerance level of a Filipino pedestrian)

Anecdotal surveys state that Filipinos walk for only 400 meters or approximately a five-minute walk. To encourage Filipino pedestrians to walk longer distances, elevated pedestrian walkways need to be provided with benches or even small shops. These will create a more relaxing or leisurely walking

Walking is the cheapest and cost-free means to get to a destination. Although proper infrastructure should be provided for pedestrians like sidewalks and elevated walks, such should be at minimal construction cost-less than constructing roads and bridges. Also, by walking, we get to meet more people and are in direct contact with the environment. We can walk anytime. We don’t need to wait for available transportation.

Climate change is a pressing issue that we must all ace on—not only the few or the people in power. No matter how daunting the challenge is, if everyone is united to act and do his share, nothing is impossible. It takes the right amount of education and awareness so everyone can arise to the challenge. Like all other journeys, the journey to combating climate change starts with a single step—and walking; a pleasurable, healthy, and cost-free means to reach one’s destination. All we need is to encourage everyone to walk by providing the appropriate infrastructure and architecture that meet international standards, proper education and promotion, and a set of policies and laws that would favor walking.

NOTE: This is a reprint of the article submitted to the AmCham Business Journal, June 2009

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2 Comments

  1. WALA AKONG ALAM na LUNSOD dito sa METRO MANILA na may WALKING PATH or JOGGING PATH na pwedeng ipagmalaki sa mundo, sa ASIA man lang….

    NAKAKALUNGKOT na halos lahat ng disenyo ng city landscape, MANILA, QC, PASAY, TAGUIG at MAKATI, even ANTIPOLO, TAGAYTAY at BAGUIO ay VEHICLE ORIENTED…”WALA KANG MALALAKARAN, jogging path man lang…KUNG MAYROON MALALAKARAN, DELIKADO ANG BUHAY MO, KUNG DI KA MAMAMATAY sa POLLUTION, SASAGASAAN KA…

  2. Any behavioral change only seems to happen when there a series of incentives and disincentives to motivate people. What incentives can be used to encourage people to live close to their work and to discourage people from commuting? Significant tax credits or penalties would help. Pedestrian pathways and bicycle lanes in a park like setting would encourage people. Requiring motorists to have garages and outlawing of parking on streets would help to transform the city into a more pleasant place to live. Alternative energy modes of transportation should be required within certain green zones in the city. Citizens eco consciousness should also be boosted through education and media.