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Some issues on walkability in the Philippines

April 2011
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I have written about walking in the past (No Car? No Problem!), and it was mainly about a personal experience I had commuting home one evening. At the time, I had already made the observation that we are generally lacking for pedestrian facilities. We do have sidewalks but most are too narrow for the typically high volume of pedestrian traffic. In cases where there are sufficient width or space, sidewalks are often occupied by vendors. In commercial areas, establishments also have a tendency to encroach on pedestrian space thereby constricting the walkways. This is the predicament in most, if not all, Philippine cities and the result is often that pedestrians are forced to walk along the carriageway, using space that is supposed to be for motor vehicles and effectively causing congestion due to the reduced road capacity. Such are issues pertaining to walkability that touches mainly on the safety, mobility and accessibility aspects of walking.

In rural areas and particularly along national highways, there are practically no pedestrian facilities unless one considers highway shoulders as appropriate for walking. As such, one will most likely find people walking along the shoulders or, should it be the wet season and these shoulders happen to be muddy, along the carriageway. It is not uncommon also to see children walking along the highways since many schools are located along the roads. Such situations often put children at risk, thereby magnifying their vulnerability to becoming victims of road crashes.

Another vulnerable group are senior citizens, who, despite their age, can still be very active and are entitled to mobility just like any person. They, too, deserve facilities that will keep them safe from risks such as wayward public transportation or reckless drivers and riders. Then there are also those who are physically-challenged, people with disabilities who, despite their physical limitations, also have the right to move about. In fact, there are laws with provisions requiring public facilities to be designed according to the needs of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Sadly, pedestrian facilities in Philippine cities generally do not incorporate ramps, guides and other devices that would allow for efficient movement of PWDs.

Crossings are also a big issue considering the statistics of pedestrian involvement in road crashes. Of course, there are two sides of the coin here where, on one hand, hard-headed people still cross at inappropriate locations or say at street-level when there is an overpass or underpass nearby. Such incidences of jaywalking are quite prevalent in urban areas, betraying a lack of discipline that is often in combination with weak traffic enforcement. On the other hand, there are pedestrians crossing along designated locations like zebra crossings but are placed in harm’s way as motorists do not give way.

Heading to the airport last Maundy Thursday to fetch my wife, I took Marcos Highway and saw the many people walking to Antipolo Church, a popular pilgrimage site for Filipino Roman Catholics during the Holy Week as well as the month of May when the feast of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is celebrated. They came from all over Metro Manila but mostly from Pasig, Cainta, Marikina and Quezon City.  It was around 10:00 PM and due to the Holy Week, there were very few public transport (and vehicles in general) along the highway, which is a major corridor to the east. Most of them had to walk along the carriageway considering the ongoing construction work along Marcos Highway for a major drainage and pavement project. Considering the volume of people, they has practically occupied one lane (the outermost) of the highway. Fortunately, because there were few vehicles, the people didn’t have to worry much about being sideswiped as they walked.

I could imagine a similar case along Ortigas Avenue, which is along the original way to Antipolo Church. Perhaps there were even more people walking along that road considering that it passes through densely populated areas of Mandaluyong, Pasig, Cainta and Antipolo as well as the avenue being most accessible to people coming from Taguig, Makati, San Juan and Manila. The Way of the Cross along Ortigas Avenue has been enhanced with the construction of stations along the route that can be used as guides, especially by those who are unfamiliar with the pilgrimage. That way is also wanting for pedestrian facilities and often sidewalks are ill-designed and may even have electric posts impeding the flow of traffic.

To me, the solution to such issues on walkability is quite clear and does not require more than common sense. Obstacles along walkways, for example, need to be removed to ensure that there will be space for walking and ensuring smooth traffic flow. The MMDA deserves a lot of credit for waging an aggressive campaign during the time of Bayani Fernando, when he implemented a “sidewalk clearing” program that effectively returned space to pedestrians that were taken from them by vendors and establishments. The latter mostly did so in violation of the building code that is quite common in most downtown areas. Electric posts also need to be relocated and such may be coordinated with power/utility companies who are responsible for their installation.

On the technical side, there is a need to revisit design guidelines, if any, pertaining to pedestrian facilities. The National Building Code actually has provisions for designing sidewalks but there are none, to my knowledge, about designing overpasses and underpasses. There are no criteria currently being used to determine, for example, the suitable locations for overpasses and to estimate their capacities based on the principles of traffic flow. This, considering that there are actually level of service (LOS) criteria for walkways and other facilities catering to pedestrians. These design guidelines should clearly incorporate safety and accessibility so that the resulting facilities will be for the inclusive use of all.

On the enforcement side, there is nothing new and no surprises that the recommendation would be to have firm, consistent and aggressive enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. For this I may sound like a broken record but it only goes to show that we have not progressed much in this aspect of traffic management. The ningas cogon approach must go and programs should also be directed against those impeding pedestrian flow (e.g., vendors setting up on overpasses) as well as those whose behavior endanger pedestrians (e.g., reckless, undisciplined drivers).

I am optimistic, though, that with the combined efforts of many advocates for road safety, we may eventually be able to improve walkability in most cities in this country. For one, there are already several LGUs who have programs with a vision for them to be a walkable city. Among these are Marikina and Makati in Metro Manila, and San Fernando in La Union. More will hopefully follow the examples of these cities and, who knows, one day perhaps we can walk safely wherever and whenever we wish to do so.


1 Comment

  1. […] the need for pedestrian facilities in previous posts. These include walking as a mode of transport, walkability in the Philippines, and even some personal experiences. There is no doubt about how important pedestrian and bicycle […]

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