STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - July 3, 2018 - 12:00am

(/pe’destreen/) - Part 1 (Streets are for people)

Over the weekend, there was news about a young lady getting hit by a pick-up. She was crossing a multi-lane road and was waiting along the lane marking of the last lane when she was hit. While we all feel sorry for the girl, many of us would tend to blame her; why did she cross that fast-lane road? Wasn’t there a “skywalk” nearby (the usual reaction)? But this should invoke a deeper introspection on “why” we think this way.

When we insist that cities should be for PEOPLE and not for CARS, we always get the customary “of course, doesn’t everybody agree?” Aren’t we living in a modern, civilized, and democratic world? But we think we’re okay because our mindset was already cast in our upbringing. We take it for granted that streets are for cars and other vehicles to use while people who walk should find a way to work around them. In fact, we become proud when we provide skywalks and even provide escalators in more advanced cities.

But let us allow ourselves to critique our own mindset – the cultural and social norms that we grow up with. Why do we build skywalks? Oh, so people can cross the street. But they have been crossing the street in the past – a distance of, say, 20 meters. And now they need to walk 200 meters, climb up the stairs and walk 20 meters to the other side, climb down and walk 200 meters more. A total of 240 meters, which they could have walked 20 meters before. But it will affect traffic! … Aha!

Cities have been around for more than 5,000 years, but up until a little more than 100 years, city streets were built for PEOPLE. Paintings of centuries past and blurred primitive black and white images of the last century prove this to be true. It was the emergence of the “automobile” in the last century that changed this. Now, society, or at least the ruling elite in it, wants the streets for CARS. We just find ways how to accommodate other people, ESPECIALLY those who don’t own cars, by building these elaborate structures.

Take a look at the sidewalk along Osmeña Boulevard. Notice how wide and how spacious they are. But at some intervals, they are suddenly cut off by 6 to 8- inch depressions TO ACCOMMODATE driveways or side streets. Why should we depress the sidewalk? Oh, to make it easier for cars and their kin so that they will have a smooth drive. What if somebody is on a wheelchair? Oh sorry, but it’s more important for cars to have smoother rides than your grandmother on her wheelchair. Even for somebody fit and healthy, everybody should have a nice SMOOTH walk along our cities. DPWH should reconsider this the next time they revise their Highway Planning Manual.

This is a societal mindset we are guilty of. Many cities of the world have already recognized this and are serious in their corrective measures. Let’s just hope cities in the Philippines would stand up to the challenge soon.

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