Urban Street Gazer: Pedestrian safety: Tyranny of thoughtless planning (1)

“Man follows the line of least resistance, and it is this prime law that has to be understood and regarded in all questions relating to the improvement of traffic. Any scheme not in accordance with this primary law may be put aside.” (H.W.D. Stone, Principles of Urban Traffic, 1916, p.6)

Cities are created by people and made up of people and all things attached to it dependedon people; without them cities are nothing but an abstraction and certainly will not exist. A city grows, progresses, and develops because of them – the pedestrians. Pedestrians are the most important component in city building and significant consideration in place-making. They are the huge foot traffic that fills the restaurants, diners, shops, supermarkets and department stores, schools, public transports, public markets,carenderias during noon brakes, food stands, government and private offices, and for some purposes they serve as eye on the streets for reason of safety to mitigate barbarism on the roads.

Sadly, these human beings who are the primary actors and providersof vitality to urban centers such as Davao City are the least of the concerns of city planners and private profiteers. They conspicuously ignore the safety of pedestrians – the people who serve as the essential element in city building – and relegate their significance to the sidelines. Obviously, despite being a virtually crime-free city, the people on the city streets in any given time are unmindfulof the dangers they constantly face. The adage “if no one complains, then there’s nothing to fix”seems to be the guiding mantra of knee-jerk government planners.

As a general rule in urban traffic management, both ends of a pedestrian crossing must be free from any obstruction to ensure of unimpeded and free flow of people crossing the street. Quite a number of locations ofcrossing lanes in the city are either anti-pedestrian or utterly unsafe characterized with thoughtless planning. The placement of pedestrian crossing located along the junction of JP Laurel Ave./Sta. Ana Ave. is an extreme example of disservice and sheer disregard to pedestrians, yet hundreds of people use this lane every hour. Knowingly or unknowingly, the 5 giant electrical posts of Davao Light including a traffic light post ,which are located right smack at the one end of the lane, and the provision of a movable metal barrier which is right next to the posts,are horrendously unsafe to pedestrians.

It would be prudent for the city traffic agency to either remove the electrical posts (which I doubt if they can) or the most workable design would be to provide a wider pedestrian refuge at the center island and move the pedestrian crossing (at the northbound lane) with one meter distance from the electrical posts. This would even add aesthetics to the otherwise uninteresting roadway. The third choice is to close the crossing lane by permanent metal barrier and direct all pedestrians to use the pedestrian overpass. Any scheme among the three options would necessarily be justifiable. Doing any of these options is really an expression of putting the pedestrians first in terms of traffic safety. In this instance, it is safe to say that the “line of least resistance”was properly observed even in this minutest yet very significant episode in urban traffic planning and management in Davao city.

This altruistic attitude towards the pedestrians is replicated in most city streets. This case is just one of the numerous acts of thoughtless planning about how pedestrians suffer from road space inequities. If one has patience and time to stroll around the city, there are some more pedestrian crossings with the same case given above; some pedestrian crossings that ends up facing high concrete fences and walls with no elevated sidewalks,some are obstructed with iron stand announcing the barangay officials, and some inner city thoroughfares that do not have established pedestrian crossing yet every hour hundreds of people are crisscrossing those roads. The least of the things that these issues can be addressed is to simply re-design these pedestrian crossings to create an environment of livable streets to the benefit of the city builders – the pedestrians.

Davao city is fast transforming into an automobile city due tounrestrained urban expansion and real estate development in sub-urban areas as well as in rurban (rural-urban) locations. Conceivably, it is a prodigious time for the city government to address these issues and other related concerns in both transport planning and traffic management before these dynamic transformation and developments take the past city.