Welcome to Inquirer Mobility

When we see the word “Mobility,” the immediate images that our minds conjure are that of planes, trains, boats and automobiles. Add to that the occasional sprinkling of motorcycles, bicycles and modern-day technology’s latest contribution to our evolving sedentary lifestyle, e-scooters.
For years, these have been the main modes of transportation for people to get around the city. And while it is easy to associate our ability to move from one place to another with the machines that were designed and built to make mobility easier, we cannot deny that every journey starts and ends with us walking.

It’s walking distance only
For many Filipinos, this term is understood as a location that can be reached comfortably by foot. While the length of time, prevailing weather and the quality of pedestrian access may affect one’s definition of “comfort,” the fact that this phrase is used as an adjective to describe how far away a place is only proves that the most basic unit of measurement for long distances reverts back to the time it takes to walk it.
Environmental Planner Paulo Alcazaren has been a long time advocate of pedestrian mobility. Through his many pedestrian-friendly projects in Makati Central Business District, the Ortigas CBD, the Greenway under construction in BGC, and the Esplanade system in Iloilo City, Alcazaren has proven that having the mindset of moving people, not cars, is one of the key solutions to the worsening traffic conditions in Metro Manila.
Like many landscape architects, urban and environmental planners, and professionals who are experts  in designing cities and habitats that find a crucial balance between sustainability and human comfort, Alcazaren has been critical of the recent infrastructure programs aimed at reducing vehicular traffic.
His recent posts on social media bring forth the perception that the government, both past and present, is only seeing the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem that is besetting the metropolis. And for the umpteenth time, it is irrational urban planning and the lack of a comprehensive public transport system that is killing the metropolis.

More lanes, shorter travel times?
To many, the Skyway system, a project conceived in the 1970s, is being hailed as one of the real solutions to Metro Manila traffic. Except that it probably will not be, especially when those who use it will have to pay a premium for the convenience. And already SMC knows this will be the case.
It is now pushing for a Bus Rapid Transport system to use the Skyway Stage 3. It knows the extra capacity of the overhead tollway, owing to people not opting to use the Skyway system because of the high toll fees, will be best utilized with buses plying the route. But how much will this proposed Point-to-Point route cost the commuter?
And when SMC announced last year its intention to build the Pasig River Expressway, or PAREX, many motorists rejoiced at the prospect of cutting down their travel times from the eastern and western sides of the capital region. On paper, it would seem that the mere fact one can skip a big portion of EDSA to get to Marikina or Antipolo is enticing enough for many to hop on the bandwagon. That is until they are charged toll fees. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when a private corporation bankrolls a project.
Alcazaren, and other environmental planners, are not so impressed by PAREX as well. “81-Billion for elevated highways for cars but we cannot provide safe, clean, weather-protected, children/senior/PWD-friendly pedestrian bridges? Who is doing the math on this?,” shared the Environmental Planner on his Facebook page.
He adds, “Why does our pedestrian infrastructure look like post-apocalyptic settings of a country under tyrannical rule, where politicians pocket the people’s money when it is supposed to go to building better environments for all citizens, not just those driving in cars?”
Even the recent announcement that the Pasig River will soon experience the dredging it deserves care of SMC and the PAREX project only hides the fact that this is necessary for the columns and pylons of PAREX to be firmly planted on the river bed.
For environmental planning experts, building more roads, and elevated ones at that, is probably the last solution the government should be thinking of to fix traffic and urban decay. Its impact on the environment, aesthetics, and the quality of life of city dwellers will be worth a study or two. And if the tearing down of elevated expressways in many cities and countries around the world in favor of greener and more people and environment-friendly alternatives  is any indication, then these tollways will have a limited shelf life. Perhaps they would be good enough for a Return of Investment for the investor, and then some.
In a metropolis deprived of an efficient means of public transportation over the past four decades, are overhead tollways the only real solution? Remember how we start and end our journeys by walking? Are there other ways to make the most basic mode of mobility more comfortable so that more people actually end up walking, or even riding bicycles, to their destinations?

A solution so obvious
It turns out that there are cost-effective and environmentally sustainable alternatives. Again, the experts share their views. “The Pasig River is 25 kilometers long and has only 20 bridges (three are for trains). None are dedicated pedestrian bridges,” explains Alcazaren. “You can build at least a dozen pedestrian bridges for the cost of one vehicular bridge. The same is true of pedestrian bridges over EDSA yet almost all of the infrastructure is still vehicular. The cost of the PAREX would be better spent on human infrastructure! It’s people who need to be mobile …not cars!”
The Iloilo Esplanade project, along with the city’s dedicated and segregated bike lanes, are real world examples  of how, through proper planning and design, people can become more mobile, while at the same time appreciating a higher quality of living. The transformation of Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, South Korea from a congested overhead highway on a river  into a scenic public recreation space is yet another example of what happens when people are given importance over cars.
Imagine replicating these shining beacons of people-first infrastructure along the banks of the Pasig River for a change? Alcazaren contends that the cost of creating and beautifying the mandated 10-meter easement along Pasig River, plus the construction of at least 12 pedestrian and bicycle-only bridges along its 25-kilometer length will only cost half as much as the planned PAREX build. “It will increase the park area for the metropolis to the level of New York or Singapore. It will enhance mobility for everyone, not just those with private cars.  And it will allow many more people walking and bike access to an open space,” foresees Alcazaren.
If you have travelled to cities such as Melbourne, Singapore, Seoul, and many others that have changed their thinking about mobility, then you will notice that more people are actually walking and appreciating the sights and sounds of the city. Why? Because they can.
Metro Manila does not have to become a cesspool before it rediscovers its lost beauty. We can transform it now. We know where to start, we have the expertise, and we have the money to do it all. The question is, when will we take the first step?

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