SOMETIME in 2003, I had a car accident in Mango Ave. (now Gen. Maxilom Ave.). My car got hit squarely on the driver’s side by an AUV trying to make a right turn from the left lane – and of course, I had to be on the right lane! Anyway, I love walking so that episode gave me an excuse to try walking to and from my office ( from JY Square area to Raintree Mall area). It was a good 45 minute walk and opened my eyes to the plight of the pedestrian – local or tourist – who tries to walk around the city.
That was 2003. To make things more interesting, I decided to go walk around again this year and included downtown as well. And, no surprise – from 2003 to today, 2012, not much has changed:
1. I see that there is no consistency to the wideness of our sidewalks. Some are two meters wide (but most of it is usually taken up as vending space, to the detriment of the pedestrians), some are only one foot wide, or worse, non-existent! Worse still, some walls of residences or establishments actually ate into the sidewalk leaving the pedestrian no choice but to put him or herself in harm’s way by walking on the street itself where being sideswiped by a vehicle is a high probability.
2. In a lot of areas, only the curb is left to serve as a path where people could walk on. In still other streets, there is no sidewalk at all, leaving the pedestrian, again, exposed to vehicular hazards. I sometimes felt like participating in extreme sports whenever I had to dodge cars/jeepneys/trucks when I had to walk on the street or crossing it!
3. Depressions and/or potholes near the curb become cesspools when it rains. One pass by an unsuspecting driver and people on the side of the streets are bathed in brackish water!
4. I also noticed that except for the uptown area (Robinson’s vicinity) and some parts downtown, beat patrolmen of the PNP or Citom are absent. And if they are present, most of them stay in one place. I was hoping they would be walking around for visible security and thus would make pedestrians feel safer.
5. Garbage sometimes gets uncollected and if it is collected, remnants of the waste stay behind, emitting a foul odor. And these garbage bags, some of them open, would be on the sidewalk, street corners and wherever people find it convenient to just throw their waste. To make it worse, large, green garbage bins have been placed on the sidewalk or on the curb, emitting even more odor and preventing people from safely (and pleasantly) walking through.
6. Garbage and vendors aren’t the only obstruction on the sidewalks. Telephone exchanges, electric poles, signage, cables, an out of place plant and trees that take up the whole sidewalk, cars (yes, cars) or other vehicles and, as I’ve mentioned earlier, concrete walls of houses eating into the sidewalk are among other obstructions (the Tesda wall in Salinas Drive especially deprives pedestrians of a safe walking lane).
7. Vendors and “pungko-pungko” are a perennial sidewalk hazard and could be placed in some other area spacious enough for them to be out of pedestrians’ way and legal enough to serve their clientele at the same time.
I remember Cebu was once voted the eighth most livable city in Asia. Livable, yes, it’s as livable as any city but walkable? Hmmm…. I think the city should be clean and safe as well to be truly livable. The only parts of the city where I felt good to walk around, besides Cebu Business Park and I.T. Park, are Osmeña Blvd. from the Capitol to Fuente. Sidewalks are adequately wide and mostly clean. Trees line the walks and the boulevard so it’s pleasant even when the sun is out.
I’m not an expert on urban planning (or sidewalk construction for that matter), but by simple observation and common sense you would infer that having clean, safe streets and sidewalks, and enforcement of the laws regulating them, would at least have the following benefits:
More people walking around means less traffic. And less traffic means less energy consumption, less road rage, less noise, less anything negative related to vehicular traffic. Cleaner and safer streets with effective law enforcement mean less crime, and yes, less everything related to crime. A more livable, walkable city would increase property market values because, let’s face it, more people want to live in a city that is clean and safe thus creating a demand for real estate. There would be less flooding. More people walking may encourage the local government to provide convenient and covered walks where appropriate. It would be nice protection against heat and rain. A clean and safe city environment also encourages local businesses to flourish – especially those that depend on pedestrian traffic – and would be a welcome factor for even more investors to come to Cebu; and finally, clean, safe and friendly city streets and sidewalks attract one of Cebu’s most important economic friends: tourists – they’ll stay longer and keep on coming back.
In sum, Cebu’s sidewalks could contribute in a big way to Cebu’s livability and economy but there seems to be a heavy bias instead for vehicular traffic (which is also making the air more and more polluted) rather than pedestrian traffic, in the sense that roads get more maintenance attention than the sidewalks. There are obviously more people than vehicles so why aren’t pedestrian lanes and sidewalks given more care? A great example is the beautification of the sidewalks on Osmeña boulevard. Can we have more of that?
With high gasoline prices these days, I’d like to be able to walk around more and I suspect, a lot of Cebuanos would, too. Maybe, after our sidewalks and streets are clean, other aspects of the city will start getting cleaned up as well. Let’s get the pride – and walking – back into charming Cebu!