The word, “traveler,” in its original French form, “travaillier” and its Middle English form “travailen” originally had harsh meanings, among them, toil, trouble, labor, and torment. If you are a daily commuter plying the major road arteries of Metro Manila, then you’ve experienced the harsh side of being a traveler on a daily basis.
A recent New York Times article on our strained infrastructure in the Philippines shows the difficult state our Philippine infrastructure is in despite being one of the fastest growing economies in Asia in the past years. The next generation of urban transportation systems are expected to adjust to the increasing capacity and be environmentally sustainable at the same time. We need good urban transportation systems in order to prosper and grow. Here are the five ways of how we can improve our urban transportation infrastructure:
1. Prioritize public transit
The main reason people still queue up to take the MRT/LRT despite the long lines and technical problems is because it is the most convenient, fast, and affordable transportation mode available in Metro Manila. The survey conducted by the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) in its “Infrastructure 2014: Shaping a Competitive City” report, found out that the top driver of real estate investments is the quality of infrastructure (transportation, telecommunications, etc) and the highest infrastructure priority is improved public transit services (bus and rail). Improved roads and bridges came second, followed by improved pedestrian infrastructure.
The respondents also believe that the public’s willingness or ability to pay for infrastructure and the growing demand for compact, walkable developments will continue to be an important factor in shaping infrastructure in the next ten years.
In our firm’s urban planning projects, we call them transit-oriented developments.
Transport-oriented developments (TODs) must be located along or near an existing or planned segment of a trunk transit line, feeder bus network, or any form of major transportation mode. Adequate auto accessibility is also important. These guidelines are the standard for site selection and development in our projects to ensure the success of TODs. The main life of this particular development would be pedestrian and transit travel.
2. Look for best practices elsewhere
According to the ULI Report, Hong Kong’s investment in high-quality public transit has allowed the city to achieve remarkable densities, a superior quality of life, and protection of environmentally sensitive land areas. By intentionally linking real estate and transit, and developing land around its stations, the Hong Kong transit system has been able to achieve exceptional transit service, compact land use patterns around the city, as well as profitablity. In fact, the system boasts a 99.9 percent on-time percentage with trains arriving every two minutes or less, and carries 5.1 million passengers daily. What made it such a successful and profitable system is that Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) is not just a transit provider. The corporation is also a developer, developing land above and around its stations, generating revenues that also help fund transit expansions and upgrades and ensure that the system runs smoothly and efficiently.
3. Encourage more compact development
With compact development, it becomes possible to achieve sustainability on a national level because it allows neighborhoods and employment centers concentration of population and employment, create a mix of uses, and encourage pedestrian-, bicycle-, and transit-friendly design. Moreover, this kind of development improves physical and social activities and prioritizes public spaces.
The best example would have to be Singapore, where they made public spaces work harder and developed affordable mixed-use neighborhoods. Singapore also relieved density by adding a variety of green boundaries around neighborhoods.
4. Get the parking right
With Metro Manila’s road systems mainly planned and prioritized for cars, parking is a big factor in the economic viability of real estate development projects. Too much parking, says a ULI study on Transportation, makes an area less pedestrian-friendly and wastes space that could be used for the types of development that can best suit the area. In my experience, creating too much parking spaces, especially in commercial spaces, also encourage motorists to use their cars to get there, adding to the traffic congestion. Too little parking, or the perception that there is too little parking, could scare off potential leasers or force patrons to park in the surrounding neighborhoods, creating problems for the residents and businesses.
5. Make it better with a vision
The Philippine geography makes our country a great platform to maximize the different types of transportation networks available. To quote ULI’s Ten Principles Towards Better Transit, “a good urban transportation vision can help create the kind of place in which residents want to live, work, play, and raise a family.” A great vision should be oriented toward the future but based in reality, is stakeholder centered, collaborative and educational, focused on implementation, and above all, flexible.
Infrastructure is often seen as a driver of real estate and development. Our urban transportation system needs a new perspective and embrace different types of transportation systems to accommodate the increasing densification in our cities.
Sustainable cities and communities have visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance.