streets not roads:
rethinking our streets (1)

We remember cities mostly by their streets. A high street or a major commerce corridor imparts to us our lasting impressions of a city. So there is Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Picadilly Circus in London, Times Square in New York, Tsim Sha Tsui in Hongkong.

Streets are the largest publicly owned spaces in any city and also take up the majority of land use. Typically 30-35% of a city's land area is devoted to streets.

Streets are the lifeblood of any city and convey commerce and people from home to office to factory. Streets are also the infrastructure web that defines a city -that connects districts and functions and serves as wayfinding. More than buildings or monuments, streets carry what Kevin Lynch calls the image of the city.

Streets, like cities, also persist. Unless interrupted by war or catastrophe or bad urban planning, a city will retain the fabric of its streets through the centuries. Rome has kept its fabric -so has Jericho and Jerusalem -so has Istanbul and Cairo.

Streets that serve cities well serve many functions -and conveying car traffic is just one of them. Streets move people -on foot, on bikes, in cars, in buses. Streets provide public storage for private goods (parking). Streets are exchanges -where people can meet, sell goods, explore the city. Streets are environmental channels - generating pollution or moving rain and stormwater - or providing trees. Streets are free public event spaces for fairs, concerts of mass demonstrations.

Which is why it concerns me that the MMDA, as part of its home city improvement bent, is undertaking a road improvement program. (Starting with Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City.) -I'm not sure whether it's 7 or 9 (older reports say 9) but here's the gist of what they want to do:

"MMDA's "Seven Major Roads" program, an integrated infrastructure development program focusing government resources in the improvement of seven major transport corridors, namely ; Commonwealth Ave., R10, C5, EDSA, Quezon Ave., and Marcos Highway.

Improvement of these seven major roads includes road widening, geometric improvements, sidewalk rehabilitation and various street furniture."

I'm not complaining about the effort -i'm complaining about the bias for roads vs. streets.

Roads are for cars. Streets are for people (including people in cars).

The logic of Metro Manila's streets has, for far too long, been dominated by auto-chauvinism. Motorized transport -particularly cars, are seen as the primary use of streets. Sidewalks have been sacrificed to the roadway (road widening) and then pedestrians are derided for spilling onto the road. Pedestrians are forced to accomodate cars - by corraling the sidewalk with fences and using overhead crosswalks instead of at-grade crossings.

This is not surprising seeing that the opinion leaders are probably all car owners/users. Also because our public transport system is built on motorized transport (and driven by weird logic of the boundary system).

If we are to recover our metropolis, if we are to make it livable, we must begin by reclaiming the lost functions of our street.

(more on this to follow)


ed said...

about the matter of reclaiming the functions of our streets, id like to commend the walking tours led by carlos celdran and ivan mandy. taking them should be required for city planners.

wysgal said...

It’s nice how other cities they even have three lanes on all their roads/streets --- for cars, bicycles and people.

In Denmark I believe the ratio of bicycles to people is 2:1. And everyone rides a bike there from businessmen in suits to women in dresses.

Alas the heat, humidity and pollution is a deterrent of sorts to biking for would be bikers in Manila …

juned said...

I like meandering through the streets in my spare time. You see a lot of things. How people live their day or how early in the morning the jeepneys line up along the old COD Department store and pollute the air with their diesel engines. Hopefully someday this will be rectified. But again travelling through the streets has its share of pleasant surprises :)

Urbano dela Cruz said...


ditto on the Carlos' and Ivan's walking tours. what i'd also like to see are walking tours (in any city) to show not only the historical buildings but also what makes a city work or not work.


maybe the weather is a deterrent. but if we designed shady sidewalks, would that at least reduce the number of short car trips?


you walk in the shoes of Jane Jacobs and William Whyte! a city is experienced best on foot.

bogchief said...

I agree with you. Walking home from work leaves me feeling oppressed. I hate having to take an underpass just to cross the street. For this alone, I have to devise routes that allow me to cross at street-level - even if that means walking a bit farther. I'd rather put up with ignorant drivers who threaten to run me over.

Even biking around the city, which I do only on weekends, is very difficult. All the talk about adapting streets to accomodate bikers hasn't developed into any appreciable improvements being made.

I still love my city, though.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


before I left for gradschool, I was seriously considering forming a "Metro Manila Pedestrian Society" or an organization that pressed for the rights of walkers. (Like give us decent sidewalks, particularly around mass transit please!)

Quick Links

Notable posts on the metro