I 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.