Dignity, equal access and mobility in the urban landscape-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Saturday, October 27, 2012
THE theme –and clamor – for access within the urban landscape is a recurrent one, revived every October by resolutions from elderly citizens serving as city officials for a day. This year, they came up with several proposals on the same topic: restoration of the blue lanes for them and the differently-abled, until recently called people with disabilities.
Being a dual citizen (Filipino and senior) for two years now and having to live with pain that connotes social stratification (gout for the rich, arthritis for the middle class and rheuma for the indigent like me), I retrieve this piece last year:
I can’t go to Session Rd, unless I walk, ride a car or a taxi. Baguio’s inclined main street – and even city hall - is not accessible by jeepney, that Filipino innovation in mobility. Not even by bicycle, which is also banned along many of our streets for being perceived as a traffic hazard or obstacle to motorists or those driving cars.
That’s the reason I’m with bicyclists in their appeal for the repeal of what Sun Star Baguio headlined as an “ancient ordinance” of the city barring motorcycles, tricycles and bicycles within the city’s central business district.
Not because I don’t have a car. I also don’t own a bicycle, much less a tricycle or a motorcycle. Yet, the way it is, the laws seem to favor those with cars, some of whom complain there are too many pedestrian lanes blocking their smooth cruise.
The reasons I heard seven years ago from Dr. Enrique Penalosa, a fellow of New York University who also served as a one-term, three-year mayor of Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. In an international conference on “Life in the Urban Landscape” in Gothenburg, Sweden, mayor Penalosa came up with the following one-liners:
“A city is made for people – not for cars.”
“Throughout history, there were more people killed by cars than by wild animals in the jungle.
“I’d respect a 40-dollar bicycle as much as I respect a 4,000-dollar car.”
Mayor Penalosa established bicycle paths and sidewalks out of respect for pedestrians and those who couldn’t afford to ride taxis or buy cars. He imposed carless days for car owners, yet developed for everybody a very efficient bus rapid transit system called Transmilenio, with each bus having a seating capacity of 60 to 90 passengers.
“I’d like to see the bank executive sitting beside the laundrywoman inside the bus,” he said.
When car owners protested the car-less day regulation, he put the issue to a referendum. Eighty three percent of the voters gave their nod to car-less days, quite understandably because Bogota, which is a mountain city, is like Baguio. Like Baguio, it has more people without cars.
Adding salt to his presentation, Dr. Penalosa flipped some slides. “Here’s our highway for private cars,” he explained, showing a highway with potholes. “Here’s our highway for all buses and all types of vehicles,” he said, showing a well-maintained avenue.
He didn’t say it, but Dr. Penalosa would go to and from work in his coat and tie aboard his bicycle. At the end of his presentation, the hall reverberated with a thunderous standing ovation.
What Dr. Penalosa did was to provide his fellow residents equal access, mobility and space within the urban space, specially to the majority of the over a million souls who didn’t have vehicles of their own.
Here in Baguio, the original number coding ordinance banned all types of vehicles, whether they are public conveyances or private cars, during certain days of the week based on the last digit of their license plates.
Soon, however, exemptions to the number coding were now and then being given to private cars. Exemption lasted for days, weeks and even a month while taxi and jeepney operators and drivers continued to comply with their “rest days”.
The now-and-then lifting of the number coding scheme to favor supposedly tourists (but actually including local private car owners) is, according to mayor Mauricio Domogan, “affecting our credibility (as city officials)”.
The mayor said he is studying whether to recommend scrapping of the ordinance that, now and then, is applicable only to passenger jeepneys and taxis.
Mass transport federation head Perfector Itliong Jr. told me Baguio has about 7,000 taxis and about that number of passenger jeepneys. He swears the city has close to 30,000 cars.
With that ratio, there is wisdom in restricting private automobile use so car owners can sit beside you or me inside the jeepney or ride a cab at least once a week. With that arrangement, we’ll have less private vehicles parked for eight hours along Session Rd., leading to better traffic flow.
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Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 27, 2012.