Six days a week, cars rule Emerald Avenue in Pasig City. On Sundays, however, the street belongs to its people.
Last Sunday, November 23, Pasig City relaunched its “Carless Day,” this time calling it “Open Street Sundays.” From 6AM to 6PM, the 500-meter stretch of Emerald Avenue is barricaded and is off-limits to cars. People can freely walk around, ride their bikes, and run without fear of getting hit by a vehicle plying the area.
The joyous sight appeared in photos posted on Facebook by Karen Silva Crisostomo, founder of Bicycle Friendly Philippines, and the Pasig City Information Office. There’s a group of bikers hanging out, people strolling around with their pooches, young kids riding their toy cars or scooters. There’s also a group renting out bicycles and go-karts, and another group fearlessly holding a Zumba class (forge on, Titas!)
Following other progressive cities in the world like New York, Portland and Minneapolis, the initiative is being called “Open Street.” “Closing a street sounds like imposing a burden to the community, when our goal for doing this is to create additional open space. We just want people to enjoy the streets with no cars on it,” says Anton Siy, head of Pasig Transport.
Prior to the pandemic, Pasig used to implement their “Carless Day” on Saturdays and Sundays. But since it can be worrisome for crowds to gather in one area during the pandemic (see: Dolomite Beach post-lockdown), they’re trying out the one-day-a-week experiment first to see how people make use of the open street.
So far, however, the response has been great. “People love it,” says Anton. “We didn’t get complaints about traffic or congestion and the reality is there is none. It’s really a cooperative activity between the government and the community.”
People have been enduring the impacts of the pandemic for almost two years now. And for quite some time kids have not been allowed in public spaces. “[Pasigueños] are really happy to finally bring their kids out, get some fresh air, have space to exercise, a public space to sit around and enjoy,” says the Pasig Transport head.
Anton notes that there’s been some well-placed criticism that Metro Manila cities, Pasig included, do not have enough public spaces that people can enjoy. So what his office wants to do is change people’s notion of what a public space is. “That when you have a street, it’s just something that you use for vehicle mobility, or people mobility even,” he says. “Streets are important public spaces. They can be places to go to and not just places to go through.”
Anton says his office is looking at bringing back the “Open Street” activity to Saturdays and Sundays, seeing that there’s more acceptance and appreciation to the idea. They’re thinking of putting up a street market with an outdoor seating setup so people can enjoy a lively bazaar-type atmosphere like what happens in BGC. They’re also looking at bringing the “Open Street” initiative in other areas in Pasig.