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Taking back the streets

by Reina Garcia

One of my favorite childhood memories is riding my shiny silvery-green bicycle (hand-me-down, as my older sister got the coveted red BMX bike) around our subdivision with my sister and cousins. We spent many a day outdoors: racing our bikes, making mud pies, playing Chinese garter. Learning how to balance while riding a bike without training wheels was the simplest and purest form of joy and freedom.

Nowadays, the streets in the cities are ruled by cars, buses, jeepneys, and tricycles. Kids rarely play in the streets; aside from the dangers of being hit by automobiles, there is the lure of the computer, the iPad, and the PSP2.

What happens though, when people take to the streets and take the streets back from automobiles?

Last September 30, I found myself in Caruncho Avenue in Pasig City, walking leisurely in the middle of the road, amongst other pedestrians and people, kids, students, families on all forms of bikes: two-wheeled, three-wheeled, mountain, folding, rented or owned. Caruncho Avenue was

the place to be for Pasiguenos that early Sunday morning: it was the 2nd street in Pasig City to be declared as Carless or Car-free every Sunday.

Carfree_2

A Car-Free Day is an organized event in which cities close off major streets or avenues to all forms of motorized transport to encourage citizens to get together and walk, jog, run, bike, skateboard, rollerblade, play and relax in the streets. The benefits are multi-fold: aside from the reduction of traffic, reduction of air pollutants which harm the health and carbon emissions which contribute to climate change, a Car-Free Day encourages people to get out, unplug, and nurture the sense of community that seems to be getting rarer nowadays. Car-Free Day advocates also hope that such events would lead people to realize the value sharing of road space and public transport and be wiser in the choices they make in getting from one place to another.

Cities around the world have been celebrating Car-Free Days for more than a decade now; while it remains to be a fairly new concept in the country. Pasig City pioneered the activity in the country, starting with F. Ortigas Jr. Road, and now in Caruncho Avenue. Soon, a similar initiative will be launched in Makati City, in celebration of Clean Air Month in November 2012. Watch out for further announcements!

Back in Caruncho Avenue, the mood was festive. Booths lined the street, selling food, eco-friendly products, souvenirs, and reusable bags. For those without bikes, a bike rental booth ensured more than enough bikes on hand. The team from Inclusive

 

Mobility

was also present to showcase outstanding mobility projects from around the country (one

of which was the eJeepney!). Experts and enthusiasts from different sustainable transport and mobility organizations met, chatted, and exchanged notes and cycling stories; and everyone left Car-Free Day with the hope that more cities around the Philippines would follow suit..

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