There are 20 modes of urban transport: walking, bicycles, tricycles, motorcycles and scooters, jeepneys, taxis, buses, share-a-ride or UV Express, light rail transit, subway, waterborne modes, aerial cable cars, interisland shipping, and airports and seaports, among others. Urban mobility should prioritize walking, bicycles, and all kinds of high-occupancy public transport like light rail transit and bus rapid transit. The automobile, the most inefficient mode, should be the last priority. Remember, once you leave your vehicle, you are a pedestrian.
In 2018, the JICA study estimated that the cost of traffic in Metro Manila is P3.5 billion per day. If you compute, even just 5 hours a day of your economic life x 40 years of economic life, you would have wasted 10 years of your life in traffic. Mobility in cities is defined as being able to access one’s needs and places for living, working, studying, shopping, and leisure through environment-friendly and affordable transportation options.
As the population continues to grow, so does the demand to move people, goods, services, and ideas. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia, Europe, and the US, more and more people have been consciously choosing to be mobile without their own vehicles. This is the result of cities and businesses working together to advocate and implement smart mobility programs. In fact, people who live in these cities have been proven to have a higher quality of life in spite of living in a highly urbanized setting. Smart mobility is changing the way we move from one place to another through cleaner, safer, and more efficient means. Smart mobility improves safety, resulting in reduced injuries and fatalities, and it is highly affordable and functional for all.
Following model cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, we need to make walking, cycling, and public transport as the preferred options for mobility needs — attracting people to patronize these more than using private vehicles. After the OPEC oil crisis of 1973, cities like New York widened sidewalks and put up bicycle lanes on the outer lanes of the road carriageway. One of New York’s well-known and successful examples was the transformation of Times Square. It began with the simple and cheap scheme of closing off parts of Broadway to cars years ago. Today, it is a successful “Pavement to Plazas” project and a well-known pedestrian plaza, urban park, and retail destination.
An indicator of a First World country is to see leaders in government and business walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work. Former United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron is known for riding the tube regularly. The former mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, also took the train several times a week. Not only did they commute but they also encouraged other members of government to do the same. In Scandinavian countries, leaders of government and businesses use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.
This scenario is extremely different from our situation in Metro Manila where patience and endurance are necessary to bear poor road conditions, congested traffic, and long lines of public transportation systems. Since the 1970s, Metro Manila was already experiencing traffic, transport, and road problems. Moreover, we have not progressed from the practice of “intramuros” (i.e., inside the walls) and “extramuros” (i.e., outside the walls), which encourages discriminatory and exclusionary zoning and shuts out the poor and middle class. For example, Makati, our foremost central business district, is surrounded by low-density, exclusive, and very expensive gated communities. Most of Makati CBD’s employees are priced out of the housing stock. This imbalance in housing, jobs, and other opportunities is prevalent throughout Metro Manila. What worsens this scenario is our unbalanced road corridors that were designed with high consideration for vehicles rather than creating a more balanced integration of pedestrian, cycling, and vehicular mobility.
At Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group, we follow the design principle of “⅓ for people, ⅓ for vehicles, and ⅓ for landscaping.” A complete street design aims to enhance traffic safety, promote efficient movement for all modes of transport, support environmental sustainability, and stimulate economic activity. We envision our cities to be well-connected, accessible, walkable, bikeable, safer, cleaner, and healthier. We want to shift away from the car-oriented system and introduce a more balanced integration of pedestrian and vehicular mobility with adequate green spaces.
With the need to observe physical distancing during the pandemic, walking and cycling have become ideal and convenient modes to get around, and both are healthier, environment-friendly, inclusive, and less costly. Moreover, according to health experts, adults need to take at least 10,000 steps per day and get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week to stay healthy.
For our architectural designs, urban plans, and urban designs for waterfronts and main thoroughfares, we propose esplanades, elevated pedestrian walkways, and pedestrian bridges with bicycle lanes that are inclusive and accessible to all, regardless of ability and age. Through these infrastructures, pedestrians and cyclists have a designated and safe space to traverse. Moreover, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure must be well-lit, have vibrant urban design, greenscapes, and resting areas, so more people will be encouraged to use these frequently.
A well-connected city lessens reliance on private vehicles because everyday essentials are within walking or biking distance or are conveniently accessible through public transport from people’s home. The availability of transit-oriented developments and buildings that have nearby terminals offering different modes of public transportation will make traveling enjoyable and hassle-free for people. If safe, clean, and well-connected pedestrian and bicycle networks and extensive green spaces and tree cover are integrated with efficient public transportation systems, our cities can achieve modal split. A high modal split means more people would rather take public transportation or opt for other modes such as walking and biking because of the convenience and availability.
Today, we have been given the opportunity to design streets and road corridors to be more people-centric instead of car-centric. By adding more vibrant walkable and bikeable environments and ensuring the safety of our public transport modes, we have a better chance of attaining healthy, secure, and environment-friendly urban environments that can last well into the new world order.