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‘Car-centricity kills cities,’ says expert

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The Philippines has long grappled with issues related to public transport. Commuters have been desensitized to the realities of mass public transportation: kilometric queues, overcrowding in public utility vehicles, and snaking through purgatorial traffic just to get to work and back. -- Image via PhilStar/Michael Varcas

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of public transport systems to external shocks, and this is providing cities an opportunity to rethink urban mobility. “It should be the hero, not the villain,” said Catarina Heeckt, a Policy Fellow at the London School of Economics, on mass public transport being the backbone of urban life.

“Car-centricity kills cities,” she added. “In Europe, we are rolling back the worst excesses of the car in our cities, but it is much easier to simply not design cities around cars to begin with.”

The Philippines has long grappled with issues related to public transport. Commuters have been desensitized to the realities of mass public transportation: kilometric queues, overcrowding in public utility vehicles, and snaking through purgatorial traffic just to get to work and back. 

“Roadways are inefficient primarily because they are designed for car priority, which has the lowest throughput of all designs,” said Anthony Siy III, head of transport of Pasig City, which deployed a bike-sharing program for frontliners and health workers on March 19, soon after the declaration of the first enhanced community quarantine. The city is also revising standards for bicycle parking provided by private buildings in Pasig. 

“Bicycle parking is incredibly important and one of our recent projects was to install 30 bicycle racks throughout the vicinity of Pasig City Hall complex, creating 180 new bicycle parking spaces,” said Mr. Siy. “This will be continued in 2021.” 

While cycling improves mobility over short distances, it cannot entirely replace public transport. Ms. Heeckt recommended rethinking how limited urban street space is utilized.

SIDEWALKS ARE FOR WALKING

Another important component in urban mobility is the use of sidewalks and other such open spaces. “We start and end all our commutes by walking, but very little is invested for pedestrians and bicycles,” said environmental planner and landscape architect Paulo Alcazaren, who pointed out that sidewalks in the metro are used for everything else but walking. 

Mr. Alcazaren gave examples of pedestrianization and open space improvements in the country, including those in Makati Central Business District, Bonifacio Global City, Manila Baywalk/Cultural Center of the Philippines Esplanade, and Iloilo Esplanade. “Cycling in Iloilo is a chicken and egg case. Once bike lanes were created, people took them up. Dozens of bike shops sprung up. Most households in Iloilo now have one to two bikes.”

Iloilo’s local officials were of a singular political will when it came to these changes, Mr. Alcazaren added. “It’s one reason why Metro Manila has challenges. There are 17 political wills—18, including the national will—but it can be done.” 

“Urban Mobility in the Philippines—during and after COVID-19” was organized by Liveable Cities Philippines and the League of Cities of the Philippines. — Patricia B. Mirasol

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