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Creating pedestrian-friendly urban spaces

As part of our efforts to make our cities and communities sustainable, which is among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to make urban spaces that are safe, inclusive, resilient and green. This includes making these spaces walkable through safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure.

Aside from ensuring the accessibility to basic needs and services, governments must also include strategies that will encourage walking and cycling over private motor vehicle use, which can be done through the creation of car-free zones and pedestrian-friendly urban spaces.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), among the most walkable cities in the world, which were ranked based on how close people are to pedestrianized space, are Hong Kong, Moscow, Paris, Bogota, and London.

WEF cites the study Pedestrians First, a report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which measured walkability based on the needs of young children and their caregivers, since they have greater mobility challenges. This means, if they and their caregivers can walk around the city easily, so can most people.

The report also enumerated several ways that walkability can benefit both cities and citizens: walkable cities are equitable because walking is free; walkability is good for the health since walking is a form of exercise; also, walkable neighborhoods can help build closer communities.

Moreover, walking is good for the environment as it does not cause pollution nor emit greenhouse gases (GHG).

According to the United Nations Interagency report for second Global Sustainable Transport Conference published in 2021, transport is responsible for about a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Also, based on UN statistics, the average annual carbon footprint per individual is 5.9 tons. Living car-free can reduce this annual carbon footprint by up to 3.6 tons.

While it is not simple to transition to a car-free living, reducing dependence on it can be done gradually. For instance, there can be areas in cities that can be designated as car-free zones.

In the Philippines, this is being practiced in some areas on specific days, like in designated car-free zones in Makati City, Pasig City, Filinvest City in Muntinlupa City, and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig City. The City of Victorias in Negros Occidental is also implementing a car-free day every first Monday of the month by designating car-free zones where entry and operation of vehicles are restricted or completely prohibited.

In recent years, there also have been efforts to make our roads and communities bike-friendly.

The 6.94-kilometer Laguna Lake Expressway that was launched in 2018 under the “Build Build Build” program, features a three-meter-wide protected bicycle lane. The Cagayan de Oro (CDO) Coastal Road, Davao City Coastal Road, Leyte Tide Embankment Project, Pasig River Flood Control Project, Tagaytay Bypass Road, Bacolod Economic Highway, Antique Esplanade, Sorsogon Coastal Highway and Boracay Circumferential Road, have been built with bicycle lanes.

The ITDP, in its report, also stressed that walkable cities do not happen by accident. Walkability should already be in mind when planning and designing urban spaces.

Governments must also understand that walkability and transit work together. Creating a sustainable city must have walking, public transit, and bicycling all working together. Governments must create policies and invest in infrastructure that would allow these three forms of transportation to work in synergy.

Promoting, supporting, and advocating for walking, cycling, and other sustainable mobility options might be a simple act, but it can actually have a lasting impact on our communities, and on our planet as a whole.

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