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MANILA TRAFFIC: What We Can Do

(Part 2)

Since the time the first part of this article had been published (read Part 1 on www.manilastandardtoday.com/2015/09/08/manila-traffic-what-we-can-do), both the Senate and Congress had conducted separate hearings to investigate the worsening traffic in Metro Manila. The Highway Patrol Group has been managing certain choke points in EDSA, and several transport experts have emerged on social media. Writing this column and the events the last two weeks, such as September 8’s “CARmageddon,” allowed me to review previous plans. These include the MMETROPLAN (Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project) of 1976, Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study of 1999 and the Mega Manila Dream Plan of 2014. All made valid points, and many of the recommendations we hear today are no different. There have been several analyses of causes and recommendations put forward, and many of what I have written in this two-part column are not original.

 

Investment Logic Mapping

Despite the studies put forward in the last four decades, our infrastructure seem to function independently of each other. We need to rationalize ALL investments in relation to roads, traffic and land use. Each project, even on minor roads, has a positive or negative effect on the entire road network.

Proposal for a transit-oriented community connected to the Clark Airport. Perspective by Palafox Associates

A perfect example is the currently being constructed skyway between NAIA and the casino hub in Pasay. It has become a safety risk for the thousands of vehicles that pass the roads under it, the urban fabric has been negatively affected, and it has aggravated the congestion and traveling times of people heading to the airport. Several flights have been missed, and visitors have had to walk the people-unfriendly roads with their luggage just to make it to check-in time. By the time those new roads are complete, the number of vehicles would have caught up with the capacity. Let’s hope those casinos – with their promised social and economic benefits – will be worth it.

Every road construction adds to traffic congestion, and when we build more roads the result is that we get more cars. No city solved traffic by only building more roads. This approach has been likened to “loosening your belt to cure obesity” or “dealing with your weight problem by buying bigger pants.” A perfect example would be the Buendia connection between Bonifacio Global City and Makati. The rationale for building the flyover years ago was to ease traffic, but today the Buendia bridge is always congested during rush hour. I strongly disapprove of the proposed Buendia tunnel, which will isolate parts of Makati during construction and will not solve congestion.

 

Integrate Transport Modes

Jeepneys, tricycles, habal-habal and pedicabs, as crude as they are, add to the convenience of commuters since they integrate disconnected routes and fill the demand-supply gap for public transport. They pose several safety risks though and the first three modes are very pollutive. Anecdotally, 50 percent of commuters ride the jeepney. We need to have a phasing plan for their upgrade to city buses that are dispatched by a centralized system, and load and unload only at designated stops.

Public transport stations should be accessible to the most number of people within a 400-meter radius. How do you think the MRT fares?

There is a need for intermodal stations that are accessible on foot and by several modes of transport. Such stations should be present at all entry points to central Manila, and they have to have generous parking spaces for private vehicles to make way for a park-and-ride system. The City of Oxford in the UK is a good example.  Private vehicles are parked in these gateways for a much smaller fee than if they entered the city center, and the motorists are given a bus ticket they can use throughout the day.

Public transport should be comfortable and convenient in terms of frequency, duration, predictability and connections. Apart from the system, designers play a role in encouraging the use of public transportation systems by providing well-designed and inviting spaces linking the stops to key locations.

Some say that the best way to experience a city is to try its public transportation system – what would tourists have to say about ours? Investment should be put towards the improvement of public transport systems as they benefit more people. Eighty percent of our roads are provided for the less than 20 percent car owners. In the future, reports on the improvement of public transport capacities can be considered a major indicator of progress for the Philippines. It would be exciting to see the day when Manila will have an efficient public transportation system that both locals and tourists will use, such as London’s double-decker buses or the ferries that cross Sydney Harbor.

 

Encourage Inclusive Mobility

The objective should be to convert motorists into commuters, such that they do not become dependent on the car. Several studies have shown that the decision to take public transport is directly related to pedestrian-friendly streets. People will most likely leave their cars at home if they know that should the train break down, they can take the bus, a public utility van or jeepney, or a taxi that will not refuse them. When all else fails, they can walk or cycle.

The biggest traffic generators include private schools. If our cities were safer, perhaps parents would not feel the need to drive them to and from school. Despite having one of the smallest gender gaps in the world, the Philippines also has the highest crime rates targeted to women. If streets were safer for women and people with special needs – such as the pregnant and handicapped, young children, and elderly – then more of them can be converted to becoming commuters and pedestrians.

 

Need for Balance

Urban planning has a lot to do with balance in land uses, activities, housing types, and between the built and the natural environment. A major thrust of the outdated urban planning thought is very restrictive zoning, such that institutional uses are separate from residential and commercial uses. Urban planners now advocate instead a mix of uses that are directly accessible by walking and public transport.

Locating land uses far apart from each other creates a high demand for car trips. We should avoid single-use zones that cover several hectares in land area. Singapore, for example, has realized that single-use districts should be a maximum of three hectares. In Manila, we have walled military camps and residential subdivisions next to highways and the train stations. Some of them cover hundreds of hectares of land. This discourages public transport and causes longer vehicle trips for people that cannot enter these gated enclaves. There is also an imbalance of densities in Metro Manila. Following the principles of transit-oriented development, properties closest to transit stations and routes should have high density and be accessible to the most number of people. Looking ahead, the proposed rail routes and stations for PNR, MRT and LRT should be lined by inclusive places.

We have priced out our key workers from the housing market in Metro Manila, to the point that the only ones who can afford to live within the core are the wealthy and the informal settlers. The poor and the middle class have been priced out in areas near their places of work. Makati CBD, for example, has a daytime population that is 10 times more than its nighttime population. Everyday, these workers enter our city centers between 6-9 a.m., and exit between 5-8 p.m. There has to be a way to encourage affordable housing within the city centers, and to provide job opportunities in suburbia.

 

Promoting New Centers Outside Imperial Manila

We have put all our eggs in the one basket that is Metro Manila. Our main airport, seaport, governments, and financial center are all concentrated in this megalopolis.

Cities such as Laoag, Cebu, Davao, Legazpi, Iloilo, and Cagayan de Oro should be reinforced as economic hubs in the ASEAN. Policies and action that would decongest NAIA and encourage port operations outside of the Manila port should be pushed for many reasons including lessening our traffic congestion.

Places such as Clark and Subic are being positioned as emerging centers that can help to decongest Metro Manila. These former bases are underutilized, and the interest from private developers is lower than expected because of property ownership limits. Why not transfer the seat of government there?

 

Coherent Planning and Leadership

We need to follow and integrate the land use, development and infrastructure plans that have been put forward by professionals, and let them be the basis for decisions, budgets and projects. Because of public clamor, our leaders are starting to work together and promises have been made to prioritize public transport. Our leaders should implement not just the short-term solutions, but more importantly the long-term and possibly unpopular solutions such as controls in car use and ownership, sharing of selected private roads, and an honest regulation of the transport system. Are we ready to follow and be part of the solution?

 

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