It’s been months now since I’ve had a car. Lost old reliable to Ondoy last year and decided to commute part-time (I still drive when I’m with the wife.) to work. Sometimes, I am able to get a ride from officemates to our subdivision’s gate but that doesn’t happen often considering my work hours.
One night, I decided to walk home from SM Marikina partly out of necessity and partly out of choice. Of course, it can be argued that I made the choice out of necessity or that it was a necessary choice given the circumstances but these are just semantics. The choice to walk and the choice to commute is something that was essential to re-establish a routine I came to know and appreciate when I was still a student both here and in Japan – but mostly in Japan where I lived for some time.
I used to walk a lot during my stays in Japan. It’s always a delight to take long walks as long as the environment is conducive. I started walking when I stayed in the University dormitory that was a kilometer away from my laboratory. I also walked when I got off the train station to get to the church. This was no easy task considering that Sacred Heart in Yamate was located atop a hill. I could tell then that I was healthy as I didn’t have to make stops as I negotiated the steps to the cathedral.
When I transferred to an apartment (or mansion as the Japanese called it), I walked more from the nearest train station to my laboratory. Again, since the university was essentially on top of a mountain, the walk to school was a workout of sorts. I usually covered the distance without any stops but aided apparently by a piece or two of candy that I consumed while trekking. At times, the candies would be replaced by cold drinks during the summer and hot chocolate during the winter. I remember the hot can turning cold even before I reached the comfortable warmth of my laboratory. Of course, the walks back to my homes away from home was always the easier, mainly downhill and usually with the company of friends who were similarly heading home and using the same train station.
I enjoyed my walks in Japan mainly because the environment was conducive to walking (and commuting). The design of the steps, the pedestrian crossing facilities and the sidewalks, not to mention the driver discipline and courtesy in that country allowed for safe walks. Proof of this, I believe, is seeing a lot of children and elderly people walking (and commuting).
In contrast, it was both smoggy and noisy along Marcos Highway. I always had to watch out for vehicles that might sideswipe me as I walked near the carriageway when I ran out of sidewalk or foot path. I was lucky that it didn’t rain that night. I can only imagine walking in the rain and most parts of the foot paths transformed into mud. If so, I could also imagine that people would have to walk on the carriageway, risking life and limb to speeding jeepneys and reckless trucks. And in Philippine streets, I know for a fact that private cars aren’t that good either. You just assume that they won’t be joyriding and looking for people to splash water from the puddles forming on the road.
People who are supposed to find solutions to our traffic problems should try walking and commuting to see how bad traffic and our transport systems are. People who walk would always be able to notice what facilities are needed to enhance the experience and to ensure that walking would be a safe, enjoyable and healthy activity. Road safety audits, after all, are not performed while riding a vehicle but while traversing the length of the road and making detailed observations of its features. Such details will allow the auditor(s) to recommend specific measures based on well-grounded assessment. It is a lesson I know from first-hand experience both as a pedestrian and a road auditor. Perhaps it is a lesson a lot of people would be better of learning and applying. It is a lesson that will probably make our lives better and our cities a nicer place to live in.
In the inaugural speech of Philippine President Noynoy Aquino, I and my colleagues were pleasantly surprised hearing him start with an item considered to be a pet peeve among multitudes of Filipinos – the use of sirens and blinkers. In fact, the reference to sirens as “wang-wang” puts it in the proper context where use is actually abuse. The “wang-wang” has been a symbol of how many of our government officials as well as those who perceive themselves as entitled have abused our traffic systems to get their way at the expense of others that they seem to believe have much lesser values of time compared to theirs.
Many who have been forced to surrender their sirens and blinkers state various reasons for doing so, including being professionals who needed to be in certain places at certain times. Among these are medical doctors and lawyers who have always claimed to be in a hurry, in the process of addressing emergencies of both the real and the imagined kind. While there are other opposing views on this, I firmly believe that the same people totally missed the point regarding the new president’s stand against “wang-wang” and his current personal crusade against beating the red light, counter-flowing, and the use of sirens by his own presidential convoy.
The statement should be pretty clear that only emergency vehicles may use sirens especially because they are responding to matters of life and death. These include ambulances, fire trucks and official police vehicles that should have distinct sounds according to international standards. The distinction is important for people to be able to recognize what type of vehicle is attempting to come through. But more importantly, the statement is also to show everyone, whatever his place in society may be, that the days of abuse are past and that this administration will do its part to bring back decency in our roads starting with the drive against “wang-wangs.” It is also actually an excellent case for leading by example, and one that hopefully can be sustained by P-Noy and adopted by his officials. For our part, we should make our own contributions and practice more discipline when we drive, commute or even walk along the street. It is not an exercise in futility but rather an exercise in humility and productivity – a demonstration of our commitment to change and help this country become great again.