How to work on a walkable city like Singapore

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer November 13,2019

I just returned from a short trip to Singapore last weekend, and what really struck me was the sheer number of people who walk to work, whether in part in conjunction with a train or bus ride, or straight from their residences a short distance away from Singapore’s main business district. It’s just as hot and humid in Singapore as it is in the Philippines, but people walk prepared. It was raining when we arrived so people were carrying short foldable umbrellas, a light rain coat and a face mask for the busier areas with cars, something we can all do.

If Metro Manila could only improve pedestrian access in and around the various cities, then more people would be willing to walk, thereby helping to decongest traffic. It’s a life choice for sure, and inconvenient thanks to our unpredictable weather conditions, made worse by pollution. But it is workable. Bear with me, and let’s see what can be done.

1.) Remove all obstructions on sidewalks. Our sidewalks are still littered with so much garbage, literally. The sidewalk clearing operations of the MMDA are a great initiative, but areas not under the MMDA’s jurisdiction should follow suit. Clear the sidewalks of all garbage, illegal stalls and vehicles parked. Then we’d see less people walking on the roads as they avoid all the clutter on the sidewalks.

2.) An organized master plan for utility poles and street signs. The national government should release standards on the placement of street signs and crucially, utility poles which are situated right smack in the middle of sidewalks. Our sidewalks are already narrow by global standards, and these obstructions will only make it narrower, forcing pedestrians off the sidewalk, and onto the roads. This endangers pedestrians and to traffic further. There’s so much focus on road widening, but why not make it easier for pedestrians to stay where they should be, which is the sidewalk?

3.) Better street lighting. Night time is perhaps the only time when most Filipinos would consider walking. But a lack of street lighting makes things difficult, and encourages criminal elements to roam free as they will be harder to identify. Along with increased street lighting, we need better Police-PNP visibility, an increase in CCTV cameras, plus better road & traffic signs in favor of pedestrians. Better law & order on the roads will encourage more people to walk especially at night during the mad rush going home.

4.) More tall and large trees. On wider sidewalks, planting more trees will help immensely. Trees absorb greenhouse gasses and create a natural sound barrier to absorb noise pollution. During the day, they provide a natural shade for pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. The MMDA has decorated some of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines and flyovers with vertical or hanging gardens which is good. But we need more trees for a more practical benefit to pedestrians.

5.) More trash cans. If there were more public trash cans positioned along busy pedestrian routes, people would litter less and keep our streets clean, and make walking even more attractive and less disgusting for short walks.

These are all small steps, and it might not make a massive difference in traffic. But for the individual willing to walk rather than drive or commute, their quality of life will improve considerably because they will get home sooner, spending more time doing what is really important, rather than being stuck in traffic.

Ideally, the future of city / township developments will make walking for pedestrians easier, safer, more convenient & ultimately enjoyable. Cars are important. But dwindling resources, increased pollution and the massive traffic jams mean we should also adapt, evolve and be pragmatic about their use in the long term. And keep driving truly enjoyable that way, rather than simply slogging in traffic.

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