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I’ve been working at the office semi-regularly again, which means I’m back to living the high-octane, swashbuckling, risk-riddled life of a Metro Manila pedestrian. Just last night, for instance, I wound up with two injuries while walking in the rain, dodging puddles and uneven ground alongside a lot of other people making their way home. The first was a bloody split toenail when my foot smashed against one of those rough concrete cubes used to “save” parking spaces – because most sidewalks here are for cars, not people. The second injury was a cut straight across the back of my hand from an old metal sheet serving to fence in an empty lot.
My injuries, however, are cute compared to the many other, greater dangers anyone who dares to travel on foot here has to face. Death, at the risk of sounding dramatic, is always a possibility. Crossing streets – even ones with traffic lights and pedestrian lanes – has to be done as quickly as possible because of unpredictable motorists; footbridges are steep, slippery, rickety hills open to the harshest elements; telephone poles take up the entirety of some sidewalks (or whatever sliver of concrete they deign to call a sidewalk), forcing you to walk directly on the road or get crushed by other people. The list is endless. Walking outdoors is a near-fatal game of hopscotch-patintero, with noise and carbon monoxide thrown in to raise the stakes.
But what’s more terrifying is how immune we’ve become to this. I understand that this issue is just a drop in the sea of problems Filipinos flounder in, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. Our willingness to endure inhuman conditions just walking from Point A to B is, in fact, reflective of our willingness to endure even greater inhumanities – from the daylight robbery that is our tax system, to cold-blooded murder in our neighborhoods.
It’s important, then, that in the upcoming elections, we also focus on who we’re voting for in local positions, especially our mayors, as they have the power to directly ensure the quality of our thoroughfares.
In one specific instance that I will never forget, the current mayor of the city I live in recently tore down a horrific footbridge from the previous mayor’s era (and by horrific, I mean it had broken escalators for stairs, took up the entirety of one sidewalk, caused flooding when it rained, provided no access for PWDs and senior citizens, had no roofing, and basically made a 20-second crossing a 7-minute nightmare), and replaced it with a properly planned intersection that gave pedestrians just as much priority as motorists. That footbridge had been the bane of my existence – and I’m sure of many other people’s – for years and years, and to witness it scrapped and replaced with something actually humane was an enormous improvement on my physical and mental well-being.
(The mayor who took down that footbridge is up for reelection this May. May karma work its wonders. May citizens practice common sense.)
But seriously, it’s sad how the bar has been set so low for us. The ability to cross a street without getting run over, or to walk on a sidewalk that was actually meant for people, is not supposed to be something we celebrate; it’s supposed to be the bare minimum. And it’s ridiculous how so many candidates for local positions make grandiose promises like free, fast, city-wide wifi or the complete eradication of drugs, when citizens can’t even walk outdoors without risking their lives.
On your way to the polls on May 9, most especially if you’re footing it at least some of the way there, take a good, hard look at the sorry state of the streets and roads you’re on. We have to stop putting up with this, and the first step is to make sure that we have leaders who understand the insult of the unwalkable sidewalk, the barefaced threat of the uncrossable street, and how resolving these is not a favor they are granting upon their constituents, but an act of duty and conscience. – Rappler.com