Mobility for All: Let’s HIKE!

 

As part of its Freedom Spaces Initiative, CLD and FNF Philippines conducted #CommutersNaman: Karapatan ang Mobilidadan online forum centered on the Magna Carta for Dignified Commuting, last February 28.

 

Landscape architect Paulo Alcazaren and Ira Angelo Cruz of AltMobilityPH, an organization dedicated to making transport sustainable and inclusive, served as speakers of the forum. Active transport specialist Karen Crisostomo and Riz Supreme Comia of Move As One Coalition served as reactors; and Cristina Batalla of GoodGovPH served as moderator. 

 

According to Cruz, the majority of streets in the Philippines are allocated for motor vehicles. Even new roads do not allocate for active transportation (walking, cycling, biking, and personal mobility devices like electric kick scooters) and public transportation. A study revealed that 88% of households in Metro Manila do not own private vehicles. This translates to a huge majority that rely on active and public transportation and public transportation being tricycles, UV expresses, jeepneys, buses, rail, etc.

 

Despite this reality and the establishment of the National Transport Policy (NTP), creation of new roads, streets, and highways remain to prioritize the minority of car owners. One example, Ira showed, was the Bonifacio Global City bridge that opened in mid 2021. Although the road is spacious, there is no allocation for pedestrians nor bikers by original design. Roughly 40% of areas in a city are dedicated to public roads, that does not even count private roads and parking lots. This prioritization of the minority of car owners results in the lack of conducive sidewalks, substandard and dangerous bike lanes if any, and the stripping away of commuting dignity on a daily basis. 

 

Because of limited space, government must not, and should not, anymore spend on the creation of car-centric roads. It will only increase car dependency, creating an induced demand phenomenon: people are encouraged to drive, the state of active and public transportation declines, roads are congested, government is triggered to build more, and the cycle continues.

 

“The best way to move people, not cars, with the most efficient piece of space is by promoting active and public transportation,” Ira stressed.

 


Ira’s group drafted another Commuter Bill of Rights or the Magna Carta for Commuters to start correcting years of neglect of urban planning and mobility. In a nutshell, the bill prescribes:

 

  • A public transit service available every 500 meters and access to it really helps lower card dependency. 
  • Waiting time at bus stops should not exceed 10 minutes during rush hour. We need to prioritize public transportation in terms of road space so that public transport can cover an average of 15 km/h.
  • Sidewalks must have a dignified size of 2.5 meters minimum. 
  • Bike lanes that can allow two bikes. One, this allows for overtaking but also allows for bidirectional options for big roads like EDSA, C5, Quezon Avenue, or even the elliptical road that makes it very difficult for bikes counterflow or cross the street 
  • Consideration for persons with disability and special needs, senior citizens, and children. 
  • Introduction of policies that design cities for people. Programs and facilities that encourage active transportation. not just permanent protected bike lanes, but end of trip facilities such as bikes parking, showers, etcetera.
  • Policies that are also promoting public transportation. 
  • Proper and updated information of public transportation, very basic. Chanted routes, service hours, fairs. Up until this day, we resort to asking people on the street from the manong of the building we came from. 
  • Proper consultation and representation. Public hearings that are announced ahead of time and scheduled at the time that are most appropriate for stakeholders. 
  • A dedicated Office of Commuter Affairs not only for complaints but for proper representation of the welfare of ordinary commuters. 


Meanwhile, landscape artist and urban planner Arch. Paulo Alcazaren stressed that the problem of mobility also stems from a lack of political will among policy makers and people in government. The traffic problem in the Philippines is mainly caused by the lack of safe infrastructures and conducive spaces.

“We try to solve [the mobility issue] by trying to find the symptoms and not the cause, like carpooling,” Arch. Paulo said.

Fortunately, after decades of proselytizing with the need for pedestrian systems, we’ve been able to get some measure of success in a number of Local Government Units and specific spaces and places in the Philippines. Arch. Paulo showed the Makati CBD pedestrianization. To retrofit what used to be a very car-centric planning for the CBD, Arch. Paulo and his team included 1.1 kilometer of elevated walkway, 600 meters of tunnels, 7 kilometers improvements of at grade sidewalks with 1.5 kilometers of it covered. 

 

They also re-did the whole Ayala Avenue, adding native trees to improve the lighting and increase the capacity of the sidewalk for carrying pedestrians. Retrofitting the entire CBD to corners gives opportunities for additional tree planting shade and seating which is very important in public areas. Arch. Paulo’s design of CBD won an award from the Design Center of the Philippines and is being replicated throughout the district.

“This has been done in all major avenues. As you see it can be done. It has been done,” Arch. Paulo reiterated.

 

“The sad thing is that all these, there are people willing to spend 900 billion on things like this which will not solve any of the congestion problems or the traffic which is the symptom of the lack of a comprehensive transport system,” Arch. Paulo added. 

 

Karen Crisostomo echoed this and emphasized the need to listen to people who live and work in the community. City leaders must have the political will to realize the proposals of citizens. 

 

Likewise, Riz Supreme Comia, as a public transport advocate and grade school teacher, touched on the safety of public transport. Back in college, on her way to take a final exam, she was harassed by a male passenger who sat beside her. Nobody believed her and some even blamed her for the clothes she wore. 

 

Riz also recalled the time when her pupil Princess, a cute, skinny, but diligent kid, was absent in class. When she asked Princess’ classmates, they said she was in a tricycle accident. Riz was shocked, not just of the accident, but also of normalcy of such instances among her students. Marco, another pupil, had to skip class to help collect scraps of plastic and metal to be sold at the junkyard because his father could not drive their jeepney anymore due to community lockdowns.


Transport is even more challenging for people with disabilities and special needs. Riz shared the experience of her friend Eli who was deaf. Eli preferred to ride the LRT, MRT, and P2P because they had fixed stops and he did not need to interact with people. When lines are long and he has no other alternative, Eli takes the UV Express, writes down his destination to the driver, and hopes for the best.

“Things like these seem to be normalized for us commuters but this shouldn’t be the case,” Riz emphasized.

 

“We must demand from our lawmakers a dignified commuting and mobility system. We must demand that investments, funds, and efforts be given to this problem because it is our right.”


The discussion then pivoted to a more in-depth analysis of the country’s transport problems. 

 

Dignity in commuting comes with consistent and humane user experience. Ira pointed out that policy makers should put user experience at the core of transport problems. Because the user experience is horrible, people aspire to buy private vehicles. Thus, the cycle of symptom, and not cause, of the problem starts.

Arch. Paulo added how the location of terminals are mainly influenced by politicians and developers, not by professional consultants who actually weigh in the solutions. There is no effective urban planning at the start. Ideally, before allowing infrastructures and buildings of mixed uses to rise, public utility systems must first be fixed. But in the Philippines, the exact opposite is done. Local geopolitics also dampens the process; add the eighteen layers of the national government, DPWH, DOT, RPPA, MMDA, etc., and you will not have one clear vision that everyone follows.

“It’s a problem of governance in the very end,” Arch. Paulo emphasized. 

 

Riz urged the public to organize to contribute — organizations can attract more people to voice out their concerns and uphold their rights as commuters. Education concomitantly follows.

“Let’s change the mentality of children who dream of owning cars. Instead of saying, ‘when I grow up, I’ll buy a car,’ why not say ‘when I grow up, I want to buy a bike.’ That’s kid-friendly, educational, and holistic,” Karen Crisostomo concludes. 

 

Mobility, after all, is a right! Our cities should be HIKE: human-centered, inclusive, kid-friendly, equitable.

Watch the whole event here