PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES AND OTHER URBAN FALLACIES

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 dic. 2011 9:40 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.

Carlos A. González G.


Dinero Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 2nd September 2008


Opinion Article


Original title: 'Puentes peatonales y otras falacias urbanas'


In spite of that the collective imaginary  leads us to think  that the pedestrians are the great  beneficiaries of a “well-intended” policy of massive construction of pedestrian bridges in the Colombian cities, a brief slip of common sense would allow us to understand that far from favouring this condition of urban walkers, actually it is a matter of the physical materialization of an idea which was socially accepted decades ago, which identifies as second degree citizens those who travel on foot in opposition to those who drive a private vehicle.

In fact, with the massive introduction of pedestrian bridges, the ones that walk do not have the same right to cross the road as the ones that drive a private vehicle, in spite of the affirmation of them being the big beneficiaries, with which the supposed reason for the investment is invalidated.

This kind of urban fallacies are very often resolved making the right questions: Isn’t it more comfortable for the pedestrian to use a pedestrian crossing with a traffic light than to oblige him to walk five times this distance using a pedestrian bridge to cross? Why the one that travels comfortably seated has the priority to advance instead of the one that walks? If it is done to benefit the pedestrian, why are the automobiles the beneficiaries? The answers seem obvious. Nevertheless, the complaints on behalf of the neighbours demanding the construction of a pedestrian bridge for their neighbourhood is more common than the request to implant a pedestrian crossing with a traffic light, and this is only one aspect of the many that reveal the state of general anaesthesia in which all of us citizens, the ones that travel on foot and the ones that travel by car, have been immersed in.

In this way, disguised as a benevolent crusade for the accessibility and the mobility of pedestrians, the construction of this kind of infrastructures actually tries to favour the motorized mobility of the most frantic drivers, removing from their way the annoying pedestrians that represent an “unbearable” delay of 20-30 seconds at any corner of our congested Latin American cities.

The high economic investment that the construction of pedestrian bridges require, many times turns them into absurd monuments to the waste, when few months later, the neighbours realize about the associated disadvantages: the real or perceived lack of safety, the inaccessibility for the disabled, the children and the elderly, and an unnecessary increase of the distance travelled; its disuse makes it evident. Finally, because of an irrational logic, some choose to risk their life again crossing the road in an obvious fight against the implacable traffic of automobiles and of those buses that continue “the war of the cent”, dispute that only in the city of Bogotá during the year 2007, meant the death of about 250 pedestrians, not to mention the wounded, in a daily display of unconsciousness, imprudence and intolerance.

There are numerous cases of European cities that have opted for a greater democratisation of the use of the road space, where the pedestrian crossing with a traffic light (programmed or by request of the pedestrian) for important urban roads is the norm and not the exception. In this way, the Avenue Diagonal in Barcelona, just to mention one case, with 5 lanes for each direction and a traffic of about 90 000 vehicles every day, along its route of 12 kilometres from one corner of the city to the other, there is not a single pedestrian bridge, which is something that at least should arouse our curiosity. This approach of the mobility is difficult to imagine for most of the citizens, some because they did not have the opportunity to travel to such distant surroundings and others because even having done so, they have not noticed the evident; but it is not difficult to imagine for our politicians and local technicians who very often visit these cities as experts on the subject and even so they insist on building expensive pedestrian bridges that finally nobody uses.

Even though no big city in the world functions perfectly and the inherent differences to urban environments of countries with different levels of development are undeniable, it is totally appropriate to formulate the need of a change of philosophy in the planning of the mobility of our cities towards more contemporary perspectives, reconsidering the noxious absolute role of the private vehicle and the lack of equity that it implies in the use of the urban road space.

In the main Colombian cities where the trips on foot and on bicycle represent a 17% of the total daily trips and the ones on public transport represent a 57% of the total, and taking into account that the users of the public transport are pedestrians before and after making use of it, it is fundamental to understand that promoting the efficient flow of automobiles is as important as favouring the non motorized mobility: pedestrians, not only because this kind of mobility participates in a high percentage of the daily trips (close to 74%), but because it is the one that best contributes to make our cities a more liveable and humane surrounding.

Lets dust our common sense , which even though in some aspects has been for many years the less common of the senses, it is the instrument that will help us to belie urban fallacies such as this one and to evaluate the capability of the local administrations to give coherent answers to our needs of mobility.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Puentes peatonales y otras falacias urbanas'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

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