Pedestrianization: Kudos to NEDA
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Just last week, the feasibility study for a workable and inexpensive solution that will somehow alleviate the worsening traffic condition in downtown Cebu was completed. Appropriately coined as “pedestrianization”, it shall restrict access to a street to pedestrians only.

This is a positive development.  Moreover, knowing that it takes years or decades for the government to plan projects, the National Economic Development Authority in Central Visayas (NEDA-7), most especially, Regional Director Efren Carreon must be commended for vigorously pursuing this.

Rightly so, because, 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.

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”.  Worse, 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.

So that, it is noteworthy that the NEDA pursued this project. For one, we certainly know that Director Carreon is very much into this project from its inception.  To recall, the idea of “pedestrianization” saw print in this column on July 23, 2018. Such an opportunity to know about this plan was in our (PICPA Summit organizers) dinner with Director Carreon and NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia on July 18, 2018.  It was the night before the opening of the 6th PICPA (Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants) Cebu Summit where Secretary Pernia was our keynote speaker.  It was then that he explained pedestrianization’s significance and advantages.

True enough, in October 2019, NEDA-7 announced that a ?3.5 million study will be undertaken to determine the probable economic impact of making downtown Cebu City walkable. It was awarded to the University of the Philippines Planning and Development Research Foundation (UP PLANADES), which was 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.”

As we always say, the rest is history. The ball will soon be in Mayor Edgardo Labella’s court as NEDA presents this completed feasibility study to the City of Cebu.  Supposedly, in doing this, the city, known for its tourism potentials, will be able to capitalize its competitive edge by showcasing its heritage sites and the neighboring places of interests to tourists.

Supposedly, too, there shall be no delays in the implementation of this project. To recall further, Mayor Labella also had this in mind. 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.

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.

Hopefully, too, 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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