President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s words last week about the traffic problem in Metro Manila can not but invite comments that the country’s chief executive does not know what he is talking about or does not know much about the traffic woes suffered by everyone.
During the closing ceremony of the 40th Philippine Business Conference and Expo at the Manila Hotel on Friday, President Aquino also highlighted the problem of congestion at the ports and that it is a “paramount concern” of his administration. He sounded as if port congestion was the major cause of Metro Manila’s traffic problems, which it is not.
At this point, less than two years before his term ends, it is certain that the one of the failures he will be remembered for is allowing the traffic mess in the National Capital Region to go from bad to terrible.
Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) earlier this month admitted that the traffic situation in the metropolis has become unmanageable and will worsen next year. Unless, he said, the agency is given additional funds to enable it to hire more personnel to be assigned to tackle the traffic mess.
Tolentino said that without more money, the MMDA will have to rely on “volunteers” to manage traffic on Edsa, Katipunan, Roxas Boulevard and other major thoroughfares. He lamented the 15 percent reduction on MMDA’s budget for 2015.
Tolentino said Metro Manila also needs an additional 137 kilometers of new roads as proposed by the Japanese-initiated transportation roadmap called the JICA/NEDA Transport Dream Plan. This will need a counterpart from the national government but most of the expense, if the plan gets carried out, will be coming from Japan as low-interest official development assistance (ODA).
The MMDA chairman also spoke of the necessity for some residential subdivisions to open some of their roads to vehicular traffic at certain hours. That will surely drive down the property prices in those subdivisions.
But if there is one person that both President Aquino and Tolentino should listen to when it comes to solving Metro Manila’s traffic mess, it is the world-renowned architect and urban planner Felino A. Palafox, Jr. (who writes a Manila Times column).
“In Metro Manila, our traffic rules and regulations are weakly imposed, resulting in undisciplined drivers and traffic gridlocks,” Palafox said in a column published early this year.
“The Philippines lacks a comprehensive, integrated and interdisciplinary approach in road management. For example, in road widening projects, urban planners and landscape architects are not consulted, resulting in the cutting down of 100-year-old trees when they can be made into traffic islands between pedestrians and moving vehicles,” he added.
Among the solutions that Palafox proposes are putting to good use the Pasig river ferry system, building more bicycle and pedestrian walkways, regulating car use, and investing in bus rapid transit systems.
“In other parts of the world, like in Bogota, Columbia, where traffic used to be a big problem, they restricted car use by restricting parking, and built a 24-kilometer long bike and pedestrian lane that connected low-income neighborhoods to the richest part of the city,” Palafox said.
Bogota is also among the first cities in the world to establish and operate a bus rapid transit system called the Tranmilenio, which saves commuters two hours per day in commuting time. A bus rapid transit system operates along a dedicated lane in a city road, and has stations where fares are paid before commuters board the buses.
Tolentino, who is a biking enthusiast, is also pushing for more bike use in Metro Manila.
“In Copenhagen, the bike capital of the world, 37 percent commute to work using bikes,” Palafox says.
When it comes to restricting car use, Palafox said the MMDA can follow the lead of some leading cities. “In Singapore, London, Stockholm, and Milan, a congestion pricing system is implemented to regulate and manage congestion in their cities. In all the examples, one thing is apparent: priority is given to the pedestrian,” he added.
Palafox believes the Pasig river can be used to ferry a very large volume of commuters. The urban planning expert said that the Pasig is 27 kilometers long and can serve as a transport corridor to complement the EDSA and C-5 north-south land transport corridors.
Although President Aquino is right in pushing for the construction of an elevated expressway and connector roads in Metro Manila to be undertaken by the private sector, there are numerous solutions that do not cost billions of pesos, as espoused by Palafox, to at least ease Metro Manila’s traffic mess.
And of course, the light rail systems we already have must be made as safe, efficient, comfortable and capacious. More coaches should be added so that the entire 500,000-plus daily riders of the MRT and the LRT can be accommodated without the passengers losing their human dignity.
And Tolentino could be right that MMDA needs the excised 15 percent of its budget restored because Metro Manila streets need more traffic law enforcers. But he should make absolutely sure that the MMDA traffic men never behave like the kotong cops of some of the towns and cities of Metro Manila.