"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
Humanity walked anywhere they went since time immemorial. Probably, it preceded the establishment of civilizations itself. The wheel and the domestication of animals is a great leap in the improvement in the transport of people in settlements, but it did not diminish the worth of walking as a mode of transport. From the Fertile Cresent, the Orient, the city states of Greece and Rome and until the Middle Ages and the age of Revolutions, walking reigned supreme in making contacts in the people in the city.
Cities then were compact, mixed land use and is not spread out in different directions greater than a mile. This ensures the 30 minute travel time to the city center, whether by walk or by caravan.
Then came the vehicles. Trains can move many people and goods in greater distances in lesser time. Though the rails cut off some communities (the word “the other side of the tracks”), it did not greatly diminish walking’s role as a mode of transport but it spread out the urban area beyond the traditional 30 minute walking time. And then came the Cars, Henry Ford might be hailed as a genius who worked for everyone to have a car by mass producing it, but might be also villified by indirectly causing the traffic and global warming we have more than a century after he successfully mass produced the cars.
A community where everyone has a car to drive and drive to work, to shopping and going everywhere is a typical American community. Low density wide urban sprawls in suburbs were made to support these communities. Wide roads, and freeways where designed for these communities. It was when the car reigned supreme that walking as a mode of transport declined.
The decline of walking started the decline of cities. Cities became less livable since then. Vehicles pollute the environment, contribute to noise pollution and separates communities.
Vehicles pollute the environment. From the factory to the car-owner, the vehicle is a sure liability to the environment. Imagine how many tons of fuel have been burned to produce a car? Imagine how many more tones of fuel the car uses for a 10 year lifetime? How about the spare parts of a car? More than an asset, owning a car is more of liability, considering all the costs of purchasing, operating and maintaining the unit. Does the salesmen of Car Showrooms tell that to you?
Vehicles contribute to noise pollution, consider the noise of the machine, their horns and the noise their tires make. Are you more deaf now?
Have you seen communities cut off by high ways? By impeding human crossings in highway, it separates communities that might have been close knit before that concrete hardened in time might develop separately and will eventually become separate entities. The separation of communities is the most dangerous negative aspect of our addiction to speed.
Consider Padre Burgos, the Main Avenue of the central Manila, before it was a nice road with shade trees, gentle street crossings connecting Intramuros to the rest of Manila. With traffic thoroughly increasing, flyovers were constructed to directly link the road to Jones and Sta. Cruz Bridge, increased to 4 lanes or more, trees originally serving as the shade of pedestrians and a dramatic entrance to Luneta were cut. Even the underpasses are not attractive since homeless people sleep there at night, the users’ safety is questionable with this setting. With the chaotic traffic serving as the entrance to the supposedly the tourist and historic center for all of Metro Manila, the chaos that is P. Burgos Drive is the new moat the separates Intramuros from the rest of the country.
Today, walking has been reduced from a mode of transport to a recreational activity, as few amenities are available for ordinary people to walk from one point to another. Only affluent communities have a means to walk. Even at short distances, everybody drives a car. A research puts Filipino tolerance to walking at 300m, horrendously lower than other countries. This means Filipinos walk to where they are going at a maximum distance of 300m, after that they have to ride already.
Our penchant for a ride and the availability of many modes of short distance transport (pedicabs, tricycle and jeeps) might be a factor. But the inefficiency and the inexistence of pedestrian facilities for walking (sidewalks, shades, trees and public toilets) might be a more probable reason. Local planners leave out pedestrian transportation in favor of vehicle mobility because of the need for speed. Only the affluent have the resources to maintain a car. Walking is accessible from the upper classes down to the lower and poorest classes. A town planning practice that totally favors vehicles than people is if not undemocratic, is only perpetuating social inequality on the road.
The ultimate goal of urban planning is livable cities, and the ultimate goal of transportation planning is efficient transport of people and goods. Transport at breakneck speed is not necessarily efficient, and a heavily populated city is not necessarily a livable city.
A livable city is a walkable city, but not all walkable cities are livable cities. To define a walkable city that is also a livable city, certain components must be considered. A walkable city that provides adequate and safe sidewalks but not a clean and sanitary environment is not certainly a livable city. A walkable city that provides a clean and sanitary environment but not adequate sidewalk is not a livable city. Therefore, a livable city must have both adequate and safe sidewalks and a clean and sanitary environment. Do the streets of our cities pass both standards?
New Urban Planning movements has been answering our automobile dependency problems, including the return to the traditional and 19th century mixed used compact city styles. Recently, researches confirm the relations between the automobile oriented lifestyle to obesity, relations between neighborhood desirability to walkability. From the vehicles, people is now the focus of the neighborhood designs. Some roads had been returned to the people. Researches on the walkability of cities with respect to the facilities provided are now being opened up.
Walking is also a human experience, just like vehicle travels. Walking must give the traveler, a myriad of revelations. In short, the traveler rediscovers the place and himself while he travels. Thus, building a sidewalk alone is not enough to provide pedestrian comfort.
Walkability has multi-disciplinary components. For overall walkability of cities to be measured, infrastructure, congestion, connectivity, ease of crossing, aesthetic quality, safety against road accidents and petty crimes, and the environment is needed to be taken account. Bringing more fun in walking is not merely solved by providing a wide sidewalk. That is why nice and strong sidewalks are needed, that is why police visibility is needed, that is why shade trees are needed, that is why pavement markings for pedestrians are badly needed, that is why driver education on pedestrian courtesy is needed, that is why total traffic demand management is needed, that is why a metrowide speed limit 24/7 is needed. We have to ensure that the walking environment comes with harmony with the automobile, built and the natural environment for our cities to live again.
To bring back walking as a mode of transport from a mere recreation is a hard task, as everyone is ingrained with the mentality that “having a car is cool”. It takes an initiative from the citizens and the government taking action and solving the problems hand in hand to provide walkable, and ultimately, livable cities.
The problem with the Metro Manila traffic mess is not that traffic moves slow and vehicles are too many at rush hour. It is rooted in our notorious penchant in getting late. Yes, Filipino time is the culprit for our traffic inefficiency. We don’t plan and prepare our trips efficiently, we have the tendency to rush in travelling. We will never solve our traffic problems unless we see time as a resource that is limited, hence we waste time like it is infinite.
But the problem is, our leaders have SUVs and drivers, the multinational car companies promoting car use here, but promoting efficient transport in their homes countries and the ordinary mass of people taking tricycles, jeeps and pedicabs in trips less than a kilometer. This negative mindset from both the upper and the lower classes keeps us from attaining the sustainability our world needs. Until our habits are changed, I’ll keep my pessimism here and seeing the Metro Manila as a livable city an impossible dream.