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For 9 hours, pedestrians take over Session Road

/ 08:52 PM January 29, 2012

BAGUIO CITY—Roads are made for people, not cars.

With this statement as their rallying cry, a group of Baguio residents and civic leaders on Friday succeeded in convincing the city government and business owners to close a portion of the busy Session Road to help boost the campaign of making the summer capital’s famous thoroughfare people-friendly.

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From 3 p.m. to midnight on Friday, a lane of Session Road spanning two blocks was reclaimed by pedestrians.

Former city architect Joseph Alabanza was joined by environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa, a 2009 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, who explained the significance of pedestrianizing Session Road in a press briefing in the middle of the road.

Oposa said the campaign is similar to the closure of busy streets in Cebu City and Binondo, Manila, so these could be used by pedestrians and allow the roads to “breathe.”

Alabanza said the closure was an experiment and they wanted to solicit residents’ recommendations so they would be guided if the project could be done on a regular basis.

During the road’s closure on Friday, students from Baguio City National High School and local artists danced, played musical instruments and held a poetry reading session for residents while restaurants offered al fresco dining.

Baguio’s old residents, Alabanza said, have good memories of how Session Road became a venue for interaction and socialization in the 1950s and 1960s. The city, then, had less problems on traffic congestion and air pollution.

Those were the days when Session Road was friendly to people, Alabanza said.

“We are here to experience the road without the vehicles. We want people to have interaction. We encourage them to walk rather than use their cars. Walking is healthy,” he said.

Oposa, a prime mover of the Road Revolution program in Cebu City, said their movement promotes the democratization of roads for pedestrians.

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“People who have less in vehicles should have more in roads. There is too much waste of space that is allotted only for vehicles, to think that out of 100 people in the Philippines only three of them have cars. Mas masarap maglakad (It is better to walk),” he said.

“We are not closing the road but we are opening it to people. We are restoring the sense of community when everybody is watching for everybody else,” he said.

Alabanza said calls for the pedestrianization of Session Road started in the early 1970s, when the number of vehicles in the summer capital was way less than the about 100,000 public and private vehicles now plying its streets.

Baguio City, which covers more than 5,000 hectares, was designed by American urban planner and architect Daniel Burnham in the early 1900s for 25,000 residents. By 2011, the summer capital’s population had ballooned to more than 300,000 people.

The recent campaign to open Session Road to pedestrians was sparked by the renovation of a Catholic Church-owned building along the road.

The Catholic Vicariate of Baguio renovated the Puso ng Baguio building to bring fresh investments and bring back foot traffic to Session Road.

Session Road used to be the center of homegrown enterprises until the early 2000s, when a shopping mall chain began to draw business away from the central business district.

While business owners are wary of the concept of pedestrianization, some residents offered ideas on how Session Road should be improved to bring back the sense of community.

“We want clean air in Baguio and flowers and plants hanging in [front] of the buildings along Session Road instead of [business] signages,” said resident Catherine Arvisu dela Rosa.—Desiree Caluza

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TAGS: Baguio City, pedestrianization, Philippines – Regions, Session Road
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