TALK lately has been directed towards Baguio's iconic Session Road.
Unlike most streets named after persons of interest, Session Road is named as such since this is where Philippine Sessions were done. The "stonehenge" atop this road is a tribute to the eight people who sat in those sessions. Nothing else. Much talk was focused on the way the City Government defaced and destroyed that tribute. But that can be another story.
During my time as mayor I asked for urban planners to assist us with regards to Session Road. I commissioned Architect Jodi Alabanza for one peso! He presented a wonderful concept. Another was SLU which also presented a wonderful plan and so with UC, but theirs was more for Burnham Park.
All these concepts were presented in a forum sometime in 2008 before the City celebrated its centennial. In fact without the public's knowledge, we allotted a fund to rehab and widen the sidewalk of Session on both sides.
We even wanted to slightly slope the sidewalk making it appear there was no sidewalk, making it appear also it was now part of the road. Parking would not have been allowed as there were no curb gutters. Except it would have caused a problem during strong rain as water would have run to the stores along the road.
A walk along La Rambla in Barcelona made it clear to me to do something of a pedestrianized Baguio. I felt I had to do something for Session Road during a walk along Nanjing Road in Beijing.
I was fortunate to have been selected twice by USAID to attend the Better Air Quality and Clean Air Conventions in Yogyakarta in Indonesia and Bangkok in Thailand.
It was there where I felt obliged to conceptualize a viable plan for this iconic and historical thoroughfare. One concept was for a study on a tram system. The Spanish Government through Ambassador Bernardo of the Philippines presented the concept but needed NEDA approval.
I just learned Cebu was given a go for rapid transit. Good for them. But that is the problem, it takes so long for NEDA to evaluate and get approval. We both applied for this and only now are they given a go. Hay!
Back to the Spanish plan. It would have showcased trams Baguio used to have in the early years. A group called SBMA, not Subic Bay but the Session Businessmen Association immediately killed-off any idea to change Session Road. I did not stop, I met them halfway. The plan was for a status quo of the downward lane and the tramway upwards and of course pedestrianized.
Another was to introduce the Electric Jeepney, the very one I paraded along our city streets in ‘09 Panagbenga. Senator Pia Cayetano rode shotgun alongside me on a special tour I did for her. She was chairperson of Environment in the Senate thus she was my special guest. The plan was for it to be the only means of transport for "Session Walk" not Session Road.
Unfortunately this means of transport could not meet the requirements for Baguio. The batteries did not last long since we have colder weather than Makati. It also needed a gear to make it go uphill. LTO also did not allow its use in our city streets as it needed a license plate. I used the centennial plates initially. Hehe!
It seemed like everything was not favorable for our City. I had to return the e-jeepney to Green Initiative and Mayor Binay (Vice-President now). Today only Bel-aire subdivision uses the jeepney as LTO continues to disallow it. Ngek!
Back to SBMA, I even assured them their business will flourish as we will regulate the use of the street. Cafes al fresco with overpowering smell of kape ti native was in store for pedestrians. And flower shops. It was only these (coffee and flowers) which were allowed in the plan as they both emitted a good scent.
Part of the plan was also to assign choirs to rotate along stages along the road at certain times of the day or on weekends. A pedestrianized Session Road was proposed for weekends only as a compromise for SBMA.
We did what we could. I hope all these could be initiated anew. I'm just glad some are walking the talk. Would this not have been beautiful? I use the term Beautiful Baguio in all my talks. I still do and always will.
Good luck to every Juan.