Month: July 2008

Commentary, Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo: Not That Bad for Pedestrians

despacio1I came across a blog post by a fellow named Joan Guerrero complaining about the streets of Santo Domingo and how they’re not very pedestrian friendly. His post received a lot of comments, and a few follow-up posts. While I agree with him that there’s definitely room for improvement, I don’t think the streets of Santo Domingo are as bad as he makes them out to be.

I don’t know exactly what Guerrero is comparing Santo Domingo to – New York City, obviously, and maybe the usual suspects of older, transit-rich, pedestrian-friendly Western Hemisphere cities like Chicago, Montreal and Buenos Aires. Maybe even cities like Paris, London and Amsterdam that have recently put pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy.

But has Guerrero been to very many other cities? Let’s review: deep gutters, broken sidewalks, sidewalks blocked by cars and construction, noise and pollution. The deep gutters seem to be a feature of cities without good drainage; I’ve been told they can also be found in Tijuana. Noise and pollution are facts of life in almost every city, and affect drivers almost as much as pedestrians.

With regard to the quality of sidewalks, just about any city or suburb in the United States outside the Big Old Cities will show similar deterioration. In fact, Southern states like North Carolina and Mississippi passed laws in the 1970s removing the obligation of home and business owners to maintain sidewalks, with the result that outside of small downtown areas, the sidewalks in most towns either are overgrown or were never built in the first place.

Parking on sidewalks is also widespread here in Queens and many other parts of the US. I will confess that in certain sections of Santo Domingo I found sidewalk parking to be much more rampant than anywhere else I’ve ever been, but I think that’s in part because in the US we just built more parking lots. Sidewalk parking was clearly a problem in Bogotá, since former mayor Enrique Peñalosa was almost impeached for it.

None of this is to suggest that the pedestrian environment Santo Domingo is hunky dory, only that the cities that Guerrero compares it to are more the exception in the Western Hemisphere than the rule. Yes, pedestrians in Santo Domingo deserve more respect. So do the pedestrians of Greenville, North Carolina, Champaign, Illinois, Binghamton, New York and Albuquerque, New Mexico – to name a few places I’ve lived.

One of the complaints most strongly voiced by Guerrero and the commenters on his blog is directed at the general disregard that motorists have for pedestrians. That’s worth a blog post all its own, coming soon.

Background, Commentary, Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo

The Problems with Santo Domingo Streets

22580011 “Know what the problem is with these sidewalks, Daddy?” my son said to me. “They have all these holes you have to step over.” Sure enough, the sidewalks of Santo Domingo are full of holes, and my son has to cross them with his short legs. Many of them, I explained, are deep gutters that are needed because the streets don’t have underground sewers to drain stormwater. The previous night a friend of ours had had a difficult time pushing her toddler in a stroller; she not only had to cross all the drainage ditches but all the other places where the pavement is broken. And every time we came across a car parked on the narrow sidewalk, she had to steer the stroller across the gutter into the street and back again.

They are working on drainage here in Santo Domingo de Guzm?n, capital of the Dominican Republic; an entire block of the Avenida Alma Mater is torn up, presumably due to sewer construction. Unfortunately, one night when we were walking on the Malecón, a waterfront boulevard that’s Santo Domingo’s answer to New York’s West Street, the entire crosswalk at Alma Mater was blocked by this construction. My guidebook says that on the weekends some sections of the are opened to pedestrians and cyclists as in Bogotá’s Ciclovía, but last night there was no way to cross the speeding traffic, so we had to backtrack a block to get around the construction.

The worst experience we’ve had so far was at the intersection of Avenida Máximo Gómez and the Avenida Mirador Norte, where the bus dropped us off on the east side of a four-lane road full of traffic speeding off a bridge. To get to the Avenida Mirador Norte, we had to cross the traffic and climb over a two-foot barrier with no traffic signal, not easy to do with a five-year-old.

The other salient features of the pedestrian environment in Santo Domingo are that it’s hot, noisy and polluted. Nothing to be done about the heat, but hopefully the noise and pollution will improve in the future as older, noisier and more polluting vehicles are replaced.

Despite these problems, the streets of Santo Domingo aren’t actually that bad. I’ll tell you why in my next post.


About This Blog

I’ve been interested in transportation since I was a kid. In 1994 I created Fiboro Bridges, one of the first transportation-related websites in New York City. I’m currently a member of the Safer Skillman Avenue Coalition, working to make the streets in my neighborhood safer to walk on. I created this blog to share thoughts about transportation that are not strictly related to Skillman Avenue.