Pedestrianization, etc.: A must for highly urbanized cities
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - October 14, 2019 - 12:00am

The traffic congestion in Metro Cebu is becoming too unbearable. So that, in whatever forum, regardless of its purpose, Cebu’s traffic concerns will always find a way to sneak in.

Having these scenarios for several years now, we heard several proposals from stakeholders. Some sectors even suggested to instead ban private cars, not cargo trucks, on the streets at peak hours.

However, as is customary, when a proposal comes along, generally, two possibilities may happen. Depending on one’s inherent biases, it is either given a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down”. Worst, locked in a fierce exchange of thoughts, protagonists and adversaries (like honest-to-goodness citizens and politicians) will even go to the extent of hurling accusations or even invectives just to make their points heard.

For instance, for many years now, apart from the overpass/underpass construction issues, we have been witnesses of the seemingly unending debate on what is the more appropriate transport system for us. Proponents and supporters were all at it countless of times. As has always been, while Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) advocates underline its cost and ease of implementation, LRT proponents are batting for its reach and stressing that it is the most appropriate solution.

Knowingly or unknowingly, these inherent qualities have made us non-conformists.  Consequently, we have become a race where even if some proposals are sound and have far-reaching benefits, we never cease to present other alternatives. As a result, projects (like mass transport systems) that may have solved traffic congestions remained frozen. If there is any consolation, it is that consensus among proponents of embracing a mass transport system.

This time, another proposed project will be put to the test. To recall, just last week, the City of Cebu, through Mayor Edgardo Labella announced that “it is going to pursue the planned “pedestrianization” program in the vicinity of Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.”

Supposedly, in doing this, the city, known for its tourism potentials, will be able to capitalize its competitive edge by showcasing this heritage site and the neighboring places of interests to tourists.

It is good to hear that Mayor Labella is again pursuing this initiative. As put forward, he broached this idea when he was still councilor. However, just like what happened to other proposed projects in the past, it never materialized. This time though, as mayor, hopefully, the project will finally see the light of day.

It is also noteworthy that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-7) is largely involved in this project. For one, we certainly know that NEDA-7 regional director Efren B. Carreon is very much into this project. To recall, in our (PICPA Summit organizers) dinner with Regional Director Carreon and NEDA Secretary Pernia in July 18, 2018, the night before the opening of the 6th PICPA (Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants) Cebu Summit, he explained to us the significance and advantages of “pedestrianization” (the “restriction of access to a street to pedestrians only).

True enough, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-7) announced that a P3.5 million study will determine the probable economic impact of making downtown Cebu City walkable. Awarded to the University of the Philippines Planning and Development Research Foundation (UP PLANADES), it is tasked to “determine the probable economic impact of “pedestrianization” in stakeholders based on identified parameters such as local revenues, business activities, environment and foot traffic problem.”

Thinking aloud, this idea deserves a closer look.  For one, “pedestrianization” of congested streets could be a very effective, inexpensive and sustainable solution to our traffic woes.  Devoid of smoke-belchers, people (tourists and locals) will go there by foot and in droves.

Moreover, separated bicycle lanes should be considered as well in streets that shall not be considered in the “pedestrianization” project. Truth to tell, other countries that have implemented it have already reaped their desired benefits. They’ve practically made cycling (bicycle) “a much safer and more attractive option”. Their separated bicycle lanes are “dedicated bike lanes with concrete medians and planters, bicycle parking corrals, or vehicle parking lanes that divide them from vehicle traffic”.

Furthermore, there is a need too to widen our streets’ sidewalks. With trees providing the shade, commuters might find some great feeling of comfort and the benefit of walking for health reasons. Knowing fully well that bike riders won’t be using the sidewalks, pedestrians will find these walkways very safe as well.  So that those who are just a kilometer away from their desired destinations may just have to take a stroll than take public utility jeepneys, buses or even their private cars.

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