Our crappy transport system: Cruel to the handicapped
Seeing a man in a wheelchair navigating his way through Katipunan Avenue traffic reminded me of why the battle for sustainable transport must be waged.
It was a typical weekday evening. Cars on Katipunan Avenue were squished together. I was in one of them. The stoplight ahead of us blinked green so all the cars rushed ahead. At the edge of my vision, I caught something light green moving along with the cars.
The man in a light green T-shirt was in a wheelchair at the edge of the car-dominated road also trying to beat the traffic light. Seeing him was a punch to the gut.
Here I was in the comfy passenger seat of an air-conditioned car. What must it be like out there with only your wheelchair between you and the road?
Having biked several times around Metro Manila, I had an idea. I could imagine the smog entering his nostrils, making it irritating to breathe. I could imagine the dust from the road, blown upwards by the cars, getting into his eyes and mouth.
And what about the pot holes, garbage and wet puddles that get in his way? They aren't much of a bother for those inside a car but for him, they could spell disaster.
Roads for humans
It's hard enough having to live with a disability. Being disabled and not being able to afford a car and other forms of assistance is probably even harder.
And here is our crappy transportation system making things even worse.
The man was a tiny speck in a sea of cars. He was at the very edge of the road, almost at the gutter. It would be right for anyone to say, he should not have been there.
So why was he there in the first place? Because Philippine roads do not have good sidewalks. Because Philippine roads are all about cars and not people. Because Philippine roads do not provide space for people in special conditions, people like manong in a wheelchair.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was off to a good start when it announced plans to require sidewalks for all road projects in the country. But a few days later, they said they had to reduce their original proposal of a 4-meter sidewalk requirement to a one-meter sidewalk requirement.
The watering down of such a revolutionary initiative was made at the request of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
What does a one-meter sidewalk look like? It's a type of sidewalk that can fit only one or two people walking abreast at any given time.
In the Philippines, cars park on such sidewalks. Sometimes, as in the case of Katipunan Avenue during rush hour, sidewalks are assimilated into the road becoming an 8th lane.
Sidewalks in the Philippines are also not continuous. They are interrupted by electric posts, potholes or sewerage.
The sidewalks we have now are not friendly to those with handicaps. When the sidewalk ends in an intersection, it drops at a sharp angle to the street instead of being gently curved for the benefit of those in wheelchairs.
The man in the wheelchair was rolling right beside a sidewalk near an Ateneo de Manila University gate when I first saw him. He was not on the sidewalk. He chose the road. I don't blame him.
A form of violence
I believe our transportation system is one of the most obvious forms of structural violence being inflicted by Philippine society today.
The system is built to favor those who have over those who have not. Those who can afford cars get a king's slice of the road while those who don't even have enough for a taxi fare get a sliver.
How different from more progressive systems like that of Singapore where car owners are burdened by their choice.
You want to own a car in Singapore? You have to pay extra when you buy it and then pay a toll everytime you go around the city with it.
In contrast, Singapore's pedestrians enjoy wide sidewalks separated from the road with neatly-trimmed bushes and plants. Commuters get to ride in large, comfortable trains from well-managed train stations that are easily accessible from any part of the city.
Fixing our transportation system is not only about making all things equal. It's a moral imperative. It's about mercy and compassion. It's about structuring our society such that those who have less are given more.
The most disturbing thing about seeing the man in a wheelchair was not watching him fight for space on the road. It was seeing how experienced he was in maneuvering his wheelchair through the traffic.
He obviously does this kind of thing every day. He probably isn't as bothered by the fumes and the dust. He's probably not scared of the much larger cars around him at all.
But it shows how long he's had to put up with such a cruel system. He's learned to accept it, to live with it, because life's unfair, right?
To tolerate violence as the normal state of affairs. That scares me. That should scare all of us. – Rappler.com