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Make more walkable cities

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Walkable cities are not new.  There are many of them around the world, most of them becoming tourist attractions because of their Old World charm, or efficient modern facilities, or serene nature landscape. Many Filipinos who have visited a walkable city in Europe, US, or Asia, talk about being impressed at how simple it all looks – to create pedestrian-friendly facilities to allow people to walk to work, to school, to market, to church, or to visit friends.

In the Philippines, walking is not a very popular activity and people blame that on the hot weather.  Who wants to walk to work, or to church, for example, if one will get there all sweaty and uncomfortable? Thus, walking is generally viewed as an exercise activity where sweating is acceptable.

But many people who can do something about making pedestrian-friendly cities have not given up on planning walkable cities, or at least parts of it.  Ever since we can remember, architects, city planners, government officials, even politicians, have advocated walkable cities, starting with having carless days in parts of the city centers and neighborhoods.

The most recent government initiative on this can be seen in Intramuros, Manila, where several streets have been closed to vehicle traffic for many months now.  As construction work progresses, the results can now be experienced. Some streets, especially where heritage structures are located, are now only for pedestrians, while other streets have permanent bollards to separate lanes for pedestrians, bikers, and motor vehicles.

It’s time for Intramuros to be a walkable area.  Local and foreign tourists can appreciate the stories behind the old structures only if they are walking, without the risk of getting sideswiped by vehicles.  The challenge to barangay officials is to keep the tricycles from the pedestrian lanes, and the vendors from the sidewalks.

Making walkable cities is not only a matter of paving the roads and putting markers to separate the lanes.  It also needs action from the local government units (LGUs), especially at the barangay level, to enforce ordinances to maintain the walkable nature of that part of the city.

There are many examples of walkable cities in the Philippines that citizens have talked about in traditional and social media and in local forums.  Among them are Marikina, Pasig, and Makati.

Marikina’s wide sidewalks shaded by trees, and it being the one of the first to implement bike lanes, has been praised to encourage walking.
Ortigas Center in Pasig City closes major streets every Sunday to vehicle traffic to encourage residents to walk and enjoy the flea market which is often organized in the area.

Makati City has been acknowledged as a walkable city for its wide sidewalks, elevated pedestrian walkways, overpasses and underpasses with escalators, and many beautiful parks.

City planners have been stating the benefits of a walkable city again and again for many decades. One, it will ease the traffic problem since more people will leave their cars at home. Two, it will reduce air pollution. Three, it will boost the economic activity in the community since walking will encourage people to buy from local entrepreneurs.  Four, the charm and history of the city will naturally attract tourists and grow a tourism trade unique to the area. And last but certainly not the least – walking is good for the health; it is a simple exercise that prevents the onset of diseases, among them obesity and cardiovascular disease.

All that can happen when the streets are made for walking.

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Credit belongs to: www.mb.com.ph

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