liveable cities in the Philippines

How closing Tomas Morato to traffic makes a case for better streets for people

Laurice Angeles

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How closing Tomas Morato to traffic makes a case for better streets for people

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Will the proposed pedestrianization of Tomas Morato Avenue spark a momentum for creating more open public spaces for Quezon City residents?

MANILA, Philippines – Visiting Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City almost always means going out to eat. Dubbed the “Restaurant Row,” the avenue is filled with numerous places to dine in or drink. Fancy restaurants, coffee shops, nightclubs, Korean barbecue grills – all these and more can be found in the area. 

The restaurants that cater to various cravings have spilled over into the series of streets in the Scout area as it is commonly known. But it wasn’t always like this.

In between restaurants and cafés are townhomes and apartment compounds, as well as rows of housing units – a reminder that the area was once purely residential.

The transformation of the area stemmed from a sudden commercial boom in the 1980s, according to a paper written by Markel Luna, architect and professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

With people already living and eating on Tomas Morato, the street could be a space for a more vibrant community – friends and relatives bumping into each other, residents engaging in casual conversations, kids playing with each other. The street could be a space where groups have the chance to interact with each other rather than just stay in their own concrete bubbles. 

This is part of the vision of Quezon City 4th District Councilor Irene Belmonte when she proposed the ordinance aiming to pedestrianize Tomas Morato Avenue.

“It’s a future goal of the city, but what we want is at least a Tomas Morato [that is] the center of pedestrianization [in] Quezon City,” Belmonte told Rappler in an interview.

Watch the interview here:

How closing Tomas Morato to traffic makes a case for better streets for people
What’s in the proposed ordinance?

In the filed copy of the proposed ordinance 242 series of 2023, motor vehicles will be prohibited from traversing or parking along Tomas Morato Avenue, until Mother Ignacia Avenue to E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue, every Sunday, from 12 am to 11:59 pm.

Violators will be fined P1,000 for the first offense; P2,000 for the second offense, P3,000 for the third offense, and P5,000 for succeeding offenses. If a driver is caught for the fourth time violating the ordinance, Quezon City will also issue a recommendation to the Land Transportation Office to suspend their driver’s license.

However, these vehicles would be exempted from the prohibition, in the proposal:

  • Fire trucks
  • Ambulance
  • Police vehicles
  • Delivery trucks for establishments within the area
  • Vehicles of residents of the area or their visitors, provided there is proof of residency

The proposed ordinance covers the entirety of Tomas Morato Avenue, from where it intersects with E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue, to where it intersects with Scout Albano Street.

In a consultation in April with Tomas Morato residents, business owners, as well as mobility advocates, Belmonte proposed car-free Sundays on Tomas Morato from 12 am to 11 pm.

road, street, statue, buildings, tower, plants, trees, cards, vehicles
IN QC. The Scouts Memorial in Tomas Morato Avenue is one of its distinctive spots. Rappler photo

The proposal to close off Tomas Morato Avenue to motorists once a week aims to encourage residents to be more active by walking and to begin lowering Quezon City’s carbon emissions. Belmonte also wants residents to enjoy the streets by creating more chances for social interaction and gatherings. 

As it is, Tomas Morato has fairly wide sidewalks. In an article in, the Quezon City local government has developed sidewalks for pedestrians beginning in 2003. But more than half of the width of widened sidewalks are now occupied by business establishments’ parking spaces. And there are areas along the street where only a single person fits along the sidewalk. 

sidestreet, pavement, trees, cars, persons, streetlight
SIDEWALK REHABILITATION. In a paper written by Markel Luna, architect and professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, photos of the redeveloped sidewalks along Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City are presented. The rehabilitation project began in 2003.

Marami pa rin taong hindi nakakadaan sa Tomas Morato (Many people still can’t walk along Tomas Morato),” Belmonte said. “So we want to have an infrastructure development for Tomas Morato to provide…a more enjoyable pedestrian walk.”

Exploring a different experience

A participant in the April consultation told Rappler that mobility advocates showed their support for the proposed ordinance. Business owners, however, expressed hesitation to support the proposal noting that a car-free street might mean less visibility for their businesses.

Luna thinks otherwise. 

“It could mean good business for them in the sense that they’ll be more visible,” the architect told Rappler in an interview. 

Luna, who has dedicated valuable time walking around the entire Tomas Morato-Scout area, generally supports the idea of the proposal. He said that walking would let people discover places that they didn’t know were already there. 

Iba ang experience when you drive and when you walk (Walking gives a different experience from driving). I did this [for] my research. I walked Tomas Morato and the Scout area, and it gave me a different feeling. It felt like I was in touch with everything around me: the smells, the sounds, the sweat,” Luna said. 

“Whereas when you’re in the car, it’s just a blur. You’re just driving. You’re focused on your destination without really thinking about the things around you. You’re looking for parking – that’s what you’re concentrating on.”

What sparked Luna to do his research about the history and needs of the Tomas Morato-Scout area reinforces Belmonte’s vision: that people should have options for open spaces to create more social interaction. 

“When you get to interact with people, you get to know each other, you get to know your commonalities, you get to talk about things that you like or that you dislike,” Luna said.

“Your perspectives will change. Your perceptions will change. People will be more in tune with each other. We can be more connected to each other and we’ll be able to understand each other better.” 

Tomas Morato Avenue was once what advocates wanted it to be. According to Luna’s research, weekend markets or tiangges and events with temporary commercial stalls had been held in the open spaces in the area during the 1950s until the 1970s. People had visited the area to shop but it also had become a spot for neighbors to interact with each other.

cars, roads, street, motorcycles, machines, persons,
DOMINATED BY CARS. Despite its wide sidewalks, Tomas Morato Avenue is ruled by motor vehicles. Rappler

But Luna admits that car-free Sundays on Tomas Morato would face challenges. For one, unclogging one portion of an area might clog other portions in turn. Logistical matters such as deliveries and garbage collection would be a problem, where big trucks might park along the neighboring streets in the Scout area in front of people’s residential spaces. 

Luna added that the proposed ordinance is not yet the most ideal setup. Cars would again fill the street for the rest of the week after Sunday; and a simply closed-off road is still different from a more permanent open public space specifically designed for pedestrians. Overall, access would still be limited.

“But, hey, it’s better than nothing,” Luna said. “I think it’s a first step to [making] people feel how it is to be in a car-less community.”

Should the proposal be approved, Luna said it would be the time that the Quezon City local government could check the repercussions of the ordinance and treat it like a testing period where the challenges should be addressed.

Luna also emphasized the value of transition. All changes must be gradual because people need time to adjust. Starting the pedestrianization effort only once a week, Luna said, is a good move.

Pushing for pedestrian inclusion in cities

The Tomas Morato pedestrianization ordinance coming into full fruition is something that bike and mobility advocate Alyssa Belda is excited about. Belda, 24, has been a resident for almost all her life in the South Triangle area, which is a good walking distance from the Scout area.

Belda participated in Belmonte’s April consultation and has been passionately pushing for the proposed ordinance. 

“I grew up here. I’ve lived here [for] almost two decades…. I’ve seen it change. I’ve seen it go through the cycles and motions of [the] different restaurants coming and going. So this was really personal to me as well,” Belda told Rappler in an interview. 

Belda sees the bigger picture: She believes that initiatives like the Tomas Morato pedestrianization shape the people’s culture and their opinions about pedestrian infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of road safety misconceptions na, for example… ‘o, ikaw, pedestrian ka lang, kotse ‘yan, anong laban mo? (You’re just a pedestrian versus a car)’ But we need to learn how to assert our space. And I think this is one of the steps forward,” Belda said.

But more than her self-interest, Belda, as a mobility advocate, puts all other types of pedestrians in mind. She constantly worries about her younger sister, who’s more at risk of getting into car accidents in the streets of Quezon City because of mobility issues. 

“I think being a mobility advocate is about advocating for the different choices [that] we should have – different choices in how we want to get around,” Belda said. 

“We need pedestrian spaces, not just for…health, not just for [the] climate, but also because it is the right to inclusion in the city.” 

For Luna, having more open public spaces for pedestrians in the future is possible, as long as there is coordination between national agencies and local government authorities.

“It’s possible but you have to start somewhere. When you apply a solution to one area, dapat sabay-sabay ‘yan with other solutions (When you apply a solution to one area, it should be simultaneously done with other solutions),” Luna said. “All developments should be in sync.”

Luna pointed out that an open public space would be more accessible if paired with a good public transportation system. This, in turn, would encourage people to walk or commute to destinations rather than driving in cars. 

“It really depends on the will of the government. It really depends on how they think of it as an urgent matter. If they’re very vigilant about what the results are, it can be done in no time,” Luna added.

Belda is happy that Belmonte, a government official, is leading the initiative. She notes that the councilor does not easily fold when stakeholders raise their doubts. And for Belda, this shows Belmonte’s political will.

Belmonte will be holding more consultations regarding the Tomas Morato pedestrianization, this time with the public. She hopes that there will be minimal negative feedback.

“Closing Tomas Morato every Sunday [will really put] Quezon City on the map,” Belmonte said. “If we can do it [on] Tomas Morato, [a highly commercialized street], we can do it [on] some other street in Quezon City.”

Belmonte is partnering with Rappler to expand the public consultation process for the ordinance. Rappler will be using its Rappler Communities app and aiDialogue platform to hold multiple virtual consultation sessions with residents, workers, and business owners in Tomas Morato Avenue and nearby areas, and the public at large. The insights and sentiments learned in these virtual consultation sessions will be turned over by Rappler to Councilor Belmonte, the rest of the Quezon City Council, and Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.

Learn more about the Rappler virtual consultation sessions and how to join them here.

For the meantime, Belda, together with her younger sister, looks forward to a Sunday where they could easily walk to a pedestrianized Tomas Morato to dine after house chores and errands.

Ang mahirap lang talaga…mag-hold hands kami [ng kapatid ko] while walking,” she said, noting the narrowed sidewalks on Tomas Morato. “Hopefully, [along car-free sidewalks], makakapag-holding hands while walking na kami.” 

(It’s difficult to hold hands with my sister while walking. Hopefully, along car-free sidewalks on Tomas Morato, my sister and I could finally hold hands while walking.) –

Conversations about our streets and how people use them is part of the goal to #MakeManilaLiveable. Rappler has partnered with civil society groups to push for quality of life in Philippine cities, one city at a time. Learn more about the movement here.

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Laurice Angeles

Laurice Angeles is a digital communications specialist at Rappler, where she also interned as part of its research unit. She likes to explore the connection between science and communities through stories.