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DOWNTOWN BACKLASH

Sudden closure of Colon Street irks stores, commuters

/ 07:27 AM September 25, 2011

A barrage of complaints followed yesterday’s road closure of Colon Street and two other downtown roads for two events – the Road Revolution Part 2 and a walking Heritage Tour for youths in Cebu City.

Store owners lamented the trickle of customers.

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Jeepney drivers cursed the traffic snarls and short notice about  route changes.

Commuters found themselves walking to catch another ride  on a Saturday morning.

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“Now that we’ve seen the effect, we really have to think twice about how to do it next time if ever we repeat it,” said Jack Jakosalem, chairman of the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom), which authorized the road closures in P. Burgos Street, Lopez Jaena and part of Colon.

A Heritage Tour had about 2,000 students on foot visiting various museums and monuments as part of the Kabataan, Kultura ug Kabilin (KKK) program of a private foundation.

Another event that briefly tied up traffic was the mass wedding of 150 couples in the Metropolitan Cathedral. After the morning nuptials, the couples walked as a group to the Plaza Independencia for a park reception sponsored by City Hall.

Yesterday’s car-less exercise in part of downtown Cebu City was supposed to highlight the advantage of devoting more space for pedestrians and walking tours in the city’s heritage district.

It was a reprise of the June 12 Road Revolution which transformed Osmeña Boulevard into an instant park for strollers, bikers, street artists and skateboarders on a Sunday.

But yesterday was a busy Saturday, and the route was a business district.

Public notice of the rerouting was done a day before, when route advice was announced by Citom and Road Revolution advocates in a press conference.

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“If environmentalist groups wanted to do this on an experimental basis and get the understanding of the public, I think they lost,” Jakosalem said.

“Imbis makasabot ang publiko sa environmental concerns nila, karon nasuko na hinoon ang mga tao nila.”

Environment lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., who led the first Road Revolution, said the activity could be improved with better scheduling and preparation.

He said these were “birth pains” of a movement to “change the mind-set” of people about the present transportation system that allocates most public space for vehicles even though car-owners  constitute “only 5 percent” of the population.

Organizers hope Cebu City will pilot a car-less zone “every Sunday”.

A signature petition aims to prod the Cebu City Council to act on a proposed  ordinance of the Road Revolution to allocate 30 percent of roads for pedestrians, 30 percent of bike lanes, 30 percent for a non-polluting transit system (bus or rail-based) and 10 percent for green open space.

In the meantime, the riding public and merchants were plainly  irritated with yesterday’s event. Store owners complained when their usual clients didn’t show up. Jakosalem said one mall owner in Colon Street was very mad at organizers of the Road Revolution because of lost business.

Two other downtown store owners called up with  similar grievances.

“Their employes were late, others were absent because they couldn’t get to work. Their business was affected because their usual customers weren’t able to go there,” he said.

Jakosalem suggested changes. If the activity is repeated, do it at the reclamation area in the South Road Properties or at Sunday or at night when less people are inconvenienced.

The application for road closure, however, was made by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. for the third run of its KKK Heritage Tour.

The program exposes students and city barangay youths to nine museums and 12 historic public sites, which they visited on foot yesterday from 2 p.m. To 6 p.m. ending with a program at the Casa Gorordo.

This was confirmed by Joy Gerra, executive director, of RAFI’s culture and heritage unit, who said Citom approval came only three days or so earlier.

Oposa told Cebu Daily News the Road Revolution was eyeing the downtown area as well so “we just joined” the approved arrangement.

Jakosalem said the Road Revolution applicants asked for a two-day permit to close the roads on Saturday and Sunday but the Citom board  disapproved this request two weeks ago because it would negatively affect the riding public .

However, organizers sent another letter to Citom informing the board that they would just “ride on” the RAFI Heritage Tour activity, which covered fewer roads in the Parian district.

Jakosalem said Citom though this would have minor impact because only a few roads would be closed. But the arrangement still affected surrounding areas along P. Del Rosario, which experienced very heavy traffic.

Some online comments on Facebook  posted critical remarks about the Road Revolution.   Some said environmentalists should not advance their cause at the expense of the riding public.

The whole-day activity drew several complaints

Jeepney drivers blamed traffic enforcers for not disseminating information earlier.  Some commuters who got down at Colon street had to walk to find another ride to their destination.

Maricris Buenaventura, a resident of Urgellio street, was carrying her young child and a bag when she walked across Colon Street from Sanciangko Street to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

“If I had know this would happen, I wouldn’t have gone to Colon,” she said as she head for the pier to take a ferry for Bohol province.

She was murmuring and blaming the organizers as she walked down the road.

PUJ driver Dindo Almocin, whose route goes to Talamban, said traffic congestion affect his daily income. By 2 p.m, he would usually earn P1,000 but  yesterday he had only collected P400.

Some passengers who got down and walked along Colon Street were heard shouting the names of politicians and exhorting people not to vote for them.

Tuesday Vergara, a city resident, said she wanted to buy groceries at a downtown mall but cancelled plans when she noticed no PUJ was allowed to enter Colon Street./with correspondent Chito Aragon

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TAGS: events, Heritage Tour, road closure, Road Revolution
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