Friday, May 25, 2012

People on foot do not pollute: revisiting an old new concept


My column in the May 27, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today 

These days, bring up the idea of pedestrianization and your get violent reactions from various sectors – mostly revolving around revenues that could be lost or unfairly gained by others. The closed, or at least narrow-minded business people along Session Road oppose they believe it would result in significant revenue cuts for them. Other concerned citizens, particularly those who are protesting SM’s expansion plan believe that closing Session Road to vehicular traffic would direct people more to the monstrosity up the hill, and that traffic jams that the Central Business District’s closure might even help justify the mall’s plan to build a parking lot at the expense of 182 trees.

First, let us be reminded that pedestrianization doesn’t necessarily mean the complete closure of the road to motorists. There are so many things we can do to make Session Road more pedestrian-friendly without totally banning cars from passing the road. Our leaders must realize that roads are not only for wheeled contraptions – they are also there to accommodate people on foot.

In the last months, Baguio saw millions and millions being spent for road repairs all over the city for the benefit of motorists. While there nothing wrong with this, except of course when the repairs are done not to improve roads that are in good condition but to feed the pockets of corrupt politicians and contractors, but we hardly see any effort coming from our public works officials to improve the conditions of our sidewalks for the benefit of the walking public. In fact, in Baguio, the government policies when it comes to public roads seem to always benefit those who already have more in life.

Take the closure of the two major pedestrian lanes along Session Road – for whose benefit was this done? The motorists – private motorists mainly as jeeps are banned from using Session Road. This was done to the disadvantage of pedestrians who now have to walk the extra hundreds of meters to get to the other side of the road. The whole bottom part of the road, from Mabini down to People’s Park, is now without a pedestrian lane. The huge crowds that gather at the Mabini intersection to cross the road have made it a convenient excuse for the adventurous to jaywalk, while criminal elements such as pickpockets and snatchers have been given the perfect situation to perpetuate their crimes.

Meanwhile, hardly anything’s done to clear the sidewalks of obstructions, further endangering the public who are at times forced to walk on the road.

And if we do completely ban motor vehicles along Session Road, I don’t really believe that this will result in significant loses for the businesses located there. Turning the road into a beautiful, wide landscaped promenade would encourage people to linger in the area, and it’s people who patronize their businesses, not cars.

And a beautiful, healthful Session Road, if turned into some kind of a public park would make it a top tourist and local community attraction, so I don’t think it will drive people to the mall on Luneta Hill. On the contrary, it might even drive them out of it as this would make Session Road a community of home-grown businesses (with a sprinkling of a few franchises) that would complement each other’s operation instead of what it is now – individual establishments competing against, let’s face it - the convenience that a mall offers.

I’m sure there are even more brilliant ideas out there on how to go about re-inventing Session Road, and we hope that our the businesses along the famed thoroughfare would at least be open-minded about it and explore the possibility before immediately closing the doors on something that could be beneficial not just to them, but to the whole Baguio community.

Session Road is choking to death, it's time to let her breathe - and people on foot do not pollute, unlike carbon spewing cars. Unless they litter (as one netizen commented when I posted the thought on Facebook)... but that's for another column.

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