THE worsening vehicular traffic congestion that Metro Manila is experiencing today is a confluence of many factors. It is a consequence of interrelated issues such as economic development, transport strategies, land use and zoning, among others. Traffic congestion is a symptom of imbalanced development, and it should not be treated as a root problem.
If nothing changes in our approach to our transportation crisis, by 2020, people will barely be able to move. I want to emphasize that it is people that we move, not cars. Vehicles are modes by which people move and there are more than 20 types of modes of transportation.
Understanding traffic congestion
In the paper that I submitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, titled “Manila Megalopolis 2020,” I wrote about the consequences of the primacy of Metro Manila. On the issue of transportation and mobility, I wrote that the daytime population of Metro Manila is higher than the nighttime population—16 million in the morning and 11 million in the evening.
The concentration of education, health, and career opportunities in Metro Manila is causing high in-land migration. People who live outside the National Capital Region come to Metro Manila to seek these opportunities. In a book written by international architects who teamed up with Harvard researchers titled Mutations, the authors wrote: Metro Manila is the fastest growing city in the world in terms of population, even faster than Delhi, London, and New York. Metro Manila is adding 60-plus inhabitants in an hour (Mutations, 2001). The concentration and primacy of development in Metro Manila is causing an imbalance in population distribution.
During the peak of the morning rush hours between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and the evening peak hours after work, 4:30 p.m. – 8 p.m., the speed of travel through EDSA is around 5 to 8 kilometers per hour. To put things in context, it will be faster to walk from Makati to Cubao than ride a bus or a car— the comfortable average walking speed is 5 km/h.
At Harvard, there were thorough discussions about Manila in class and among friends and professors. The reaction was both amusement and concern about the current design of EDSA or Highway 54 —considered to be a ‘major’ highway, but used as an access road, arterial road, and service road. It has become a highway with four road classification uses. This is unheard of in proper road hierarchy and orientation principles. This is considered as a case study of “how not to do it”.
Another major issue with EDSA is that it gives direct access to nine super-regional malls and numerous commercial and residential buildings along the length of the highway. What makes things worse is that previous transportation policies even built terminal stations adjacent to these malls and establishments, in the middle of EDSA. The terminal stations are inside the highway, and have no exit and entry points. In consequence, EDSA is a highway with open access. According to the Urban Land Institute, super-regional malls are not recommended to be at the heart of the cities because of the traffic impact they generate.
Land use and zoning issues
In a macro-level, the worsening ‘car/vehicular’ traffic congestion is caused by imbalanced city and regional development, and by a car-oriented transportation strategy. One of the causes of imbalanced development is when the Comprehensive Land Use Plan is not updated, poorly designed, or not implemented. It is also through the zoning ordinance of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that transportation routes and transportation strategies are approved by the local government.
In the case of Metro Manila, citizens who work in the cities of Makati and Quezon live as far away as Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. They travel back and forth. The critical issue is that these people cannot afford to live near their places of work. Housing is not affordable.
In a country like the Philippines, only around 5 to 10 percent of the population can afford cars, so why allocate most of the road to the small percentage of the population? On the other hand, car sales are expanding faster than new roads. Until when will this be sustainable?
We have made around 100 recommendations on transportation, mobility, and land use with the government, and I would like to share with you some of the key takeaways:
1.An efficient transportation plan should always be part of the land use and zoning of the city.
2. It is important that major transport corridors such as EDSA, C-5, Roxas Boulevard, and Ortigas, among others, be thoroughly master- planned.
3. Low-density, gated communities in the heart of the central business district should be opened during peak hours, and be encouraged to convert into high-density communities to add to the housing needs and requirements of those working in the area. One of the critical factors in the increase of price of housing is housing scarcity.
4. Pedestrian-oriented roads and mass transportation should be prioritized over private cars.
5. Develop more walkable sidewalks and elevated walkways that improve the access of pedestrians to inter-modal transportation terminals.
Ultimately, good plans and designs need good policies and good governance to turn them into reality in our country. Experts, leaders and stakeholders should be able to work together towards giving every Filipino an opportunity to live in sustainable and livable cities and communities.