WALKING: A TRAFFIC SOLUTION
NEDA commissions a study on the impact of pedestrianizing parts of downtown Cebu City
Walking could be the most practical solution to Cebu City’s traffic woes and could boost economic opportunities.
National Economic Development Authority in Central Visayas (NEDA-7) Regional Director Efren Carreon said that the agency is commissioning a study that will test the economic impact of pedestrianizing the historical business hub of the downtown area in Cebu City.
Pedestrianization would entail closing the streets to vehicles and encouraging people with business in these areas, to walk.
Carreon said promoting walking as a mode of mobility, especially in business centers such as the urban area would be a “physically healthy, economically beneficial and environment friendly” way to address the traffic.
Open to discussion
Cebu City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete said the city is open to discuss the possibility of pedestrianizing its business district in the downtown area.
He, however, said that pedestrianizing an area does not mean completely barring the entry of motor vehicles.
“Yes, [we may have to close the streets] but it depends. In some cities, it’s partial or time-based. We’ll see,” Villarete said in a chat message sent to Cebu Daily News.
Villarete, who advocates the use of bicycles in the city, also said pedestrianizing the city will likely be to complement biking.
Villarete heads an advocacy among City Hall employees that promotes biking from home to work.
Villarete himself bikes to work from his home in Barangay Guadalupe, traversing interior roads to avoid the traffic congestion at the main roads.
“Pedestrianization is only a fancy name like another sterile term-non-motorized transport (NMT). The truth is, walking and cycling are not alternative modes of transport, they’re the default mode,” Villarete said.
“We’ve been doing that long before the present modes of transport were developed. And yes, walking and biking are almost synonymous,” he added.
The NEDA-7 commissioned study, Economic Impact of Pedestrianization of an Urban Space in Metro Cebu, which will cost P3.5 million, will cover a .30 square kilometer portion at the heart of the city which will involve 15 street sections and a total road length of 4.59 kilometers.
The test area includes the historic areas in downtown Cebu City, such as areas near Barangay Parian, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Magelllan’s Cross, Plaza Independencia and Fort San Pedro.
The study will entail a forecast cost-benefit analysis of pedestrianization in this urban space, analyzing economic prospects of the area with and without pedestrianization.
Stakeholders such as pedestrians, entrepreneurs and employees of business within the study area will be interviewed.
Among the factors that will be evaluated by the study are the possible changes in sale and revenue of businesses assuming that the area will be pedestrianized, compared to the absence of pedestrianization, quality of air, property value, local taxes, visiting tourists and health care costs due to motor vehicle emission-related diseases.
The study will also be sourcing information from related ongoing and completed studies sanctioned by the Cebu City government, Department of Public Works and Highways and other agencies.
NEDA-7’s proposal also gained the support of the business sector.
Businessman Robert Go said he supports the plan to pedestrianize the downtown area of Cebu City, adding that it is also being done in other parts of the world.
However, he said, there has to be proper urban planning for the area as this would mean that public utility vehicles will have to be relocated outside the affected area.
“That needs a lot of political will. That will affect a lot of people. Colon is the main artery of jeepneys, like the whole of Colon is a terminal for everybody to go to the north, the south, and the outskirts of the city,” said Go, president and CEO of Prince Retail, which has a branch near the Cebu City Hall.
“So if you close that, where do you go? It’s not impossible if there is proper urban planning. That needs a traffic plan. It can be done, but it’s a big project and it is good,” he added.
According to Go, closing streets from vehicles is already being done especially with the night market during Christmas season where streets like Legaspi, Borromeo, and Colon are closed to traffic for certain hours.
He admitted that businesses in the area will be affected.
But it can be a good idea since this is also being done in other countries where heritage areas are closed off from vehicles and are only open to pedestrians.
Go, president of the Philippine Retailers Association-Cebu Chapter, said he would want to look into the actual and specific plans for this plan as soon as the study is finished.
Meanwhile Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) President Antonio Chiu said this concept is in place in major cities in the world.
If properly done, it can become a central attraction in Cebu where people meet and feel safe from being hit by a car or motorcycle.
The air quality will likewise improve and could lead to the area becoming a major shopping and eating zone.
Carreon said the study is set to be awarded before the year ends and is expected to be completed in the middle of 2019.
The results of the study would determine if expanding pedestrianization would be feasible in other areas in the region.
“Walking from one destination to another is really very good — healthy, good for the economy, environmentally good. We are coming up with the study para naa gyod tay reference nga kini siya maayo nga alternative (so that we will have a reference in saying that walking is a good alternative),” Carreon said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Carreon said that while many studies in other countries have indicated that pedestrianizing the urban hubs actually result to more economic activity, the study that they will commission for Cebu City will serve as a reference in claiming that non-motorized transport “is a very good alternative.”
“If you have noticed, in many developed countries, they are promoting pedestrianization especially within the urban places. Nganong manakay pa man gyod ta nga pwede man ta maglakaw which is healthy para nato, healthy for the environment. And many studies have indicated that mo-increase ang economic activities kung maglakaw ang mga tawo,” he added.
Carreon also said that although infrastructure is necessary to decongest existing roads, the public must realize that limitation in space needs to be considered.
The economic manager said the public must also be open to change their behavior and perspective in mobility.
“Personally, I look at pedestrianization as a very good alternative to moving or mobility… The common response man gud nato sa traffic is infrastructure dayon. Construct dayon and widen roads but there is a limitation to space. Even if you have all the money in the world if you do not have the space, unsaon man na nimo ang money? The other way is changing behavior,” he said.
Pedestrianizing Cebu City’s downtown area, however, is not a new concept.
In 2011, a group of 75 Architecture students from the University of San Carlos (USC) presented a masterplan to open “heritage streets” for pedestrians.
The masterplan covered Colon Street and other heritage sites in the area including near Barangay Parian.
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