Our richest and most powerful can do better for those with no cars

by Tessa Salazar

Just when progressive governments around the world have been shifting their priorities toward more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly cities, in comes this newest development from the country’s richest real estate magnate and political family.

If you’ve seen Villar City that straddles an area where Las Pinas, Muntinlupa, and Bacoor cities converge, chances are you’ve also seen who aren’t so welcome in its premises. I visited Villar City this Monday and confirmed for myself that pedestrians, joggers and cyclists were not allowed in the premises. In contrast, Ayala Land’s development Vermosa, which is 5.3 km away from Villar City and also accessible via Daang Hari, is a haven for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. The sprawling Vermosa’s infrastructure development made way for wide, safe, and well-lit pathways for pedestrians/joggers as well as cyclists.

Komyut Buraot’s Facebook page, posted last week, shows a sign at the Villar City entrance that says “Welcome to Villar City. This private road is only open from 6 am to 6 pm, please follow rules and regulations. Rules and regulations: Private light vehicles only; No delivery vans, motorcycles, bicycles; No pedestrians; No stopping at all times; No littering.” A comment from Paul Sugano says: “The design is very Zapote River Drive. Bawal ang bike at tao.”

Speaking of the Zapote River Drive, I have been a regular user of that route, which provides an alternate (and much more scenic) road between Daang Hari in Cavite and Zapote in Las Pinas, thereby bypassing the notoriously congested Alabang-Zapote Road. The road follows the meandering Zapote River, and provides access to other Villar-owned properties and developments such as Evia Lifestyle Center, the NoMo (another Vista Lifestyle Center) along North Molino, and, of course, Villar City. If you can plot in the map all of the Villar-owned developments in Las Pinas and neighboring areas in Cavite, you’ll see that the Zapote River Drive is a key arterial road that either directly connects or provides easier access to all of them.

I can’t say that the river drive hasn’t been a boon to motorists. In fact, I myself, as a motorist, have experienced its usefulness. What would normally take me an hour to make my way out of Las Pinas to, let’s say, the South Luzon Expressway via the Alabang-Zapote Road would now only take 30 minutes via the river drive.

As a pedestrian and cyclist, however, the river drive is no man’s land. Along its entire stretch, there are numerous signs forbidding vehicles other than 4-wheelers from using the road. The road is too narrow even for pedestrians. I tried walking on it once, and I was forced onto the narrow concrete barrier separating the road from the 30-foot drop-off to the river whenever traffic from both sides met.

I once attempted to cross the river drive, from the back exit of my subdivision to the Molino side to a cafe and a park, but I was prevented from doing so by a tanod/guard. I was on my bicycle, and he told me to leave my bike if I wanted to cross the river drive. I reasoned that I could just walk my bike to the other side. He still refused, stating that it was already policy that no bikers be allowed on the road and in the park.

It’s a no-brainer to cite that pedestrian and cyclist safety is the reason why cyclists aren’t allowed on the river drive. Indeed, the roads are too narrow for safe road sharing between cars and non-motorized transport. So, I will have to shift my perspective to the very origins of the river drive. It was built to ease traffic congestion along Las Pinas’ busiest roads, and it was built to provide easy access to what would be a network of Villar-owned developments in the Las Pinas-Cavite-Muntinlupa areas. Sadly, it seems none of the plans have included pedestrians and cyclists. And since the river drive has become a public road (the story of how the river drive became public from just being an access road to Las Pinas subdivisions is quite lengthy and convoluted, and requires an entirely separate space on its own), the non-motorized riding public, as well as those who use motorcycles (when combined comprise the vast majority of commuting Filipinos), have now been denied their right to access the Zapote River Drive.

My point is, all roads and developments have the masterplanning stage. This is where the developer’s vision is laid out for all parties involved to follow. Apparently, in the masterplan of the river drive, as well as in the other Villar-owned developments, cars were given the utmost priority, and worse, cyclists were eased out. No, prohibited even. Hence you see that sad sign posted by Komyut Buraot.

When will our country’s wealthiest and most powerful people take real initiatives to stop such inequalities being perpetuated on our roads? When will they realize that, in our society’s struggle toward progress and prosperity amid limited resources, car-centrism only leads to a dead-end for a vast majority of us Filipinos?