Of traffic congestion and shopping malls


THE “malling” culture has never been as visible as it is in the Philippines today. Big malls proliferate in North America and in the Asian region, but these are normally located in the suburbs to service far-flung developments. In the Philippines, malls are located in built up areas and urban centers within cities. While some become anchor developments for many of the growth centers outside Metro Manila, many of the shopping malls contribute to the “car-mageddon” especially along EDSA.

Back in 2011, GMA 7 reported that 31 malls and shopping centers were located along the 24-kilometer stretch of EDSA. This, along with other factors like increase in urban population, contributes to the traffic congestion in the area, especially between November and December. According to the Manila Metropolitan Development Authority (MMDA), an increase of 15 to 20 percent in traffic volume along EDSA and other major roads is usually expected during the holiday season. In reaction, mall operators adjust the mall hours and the MMDA deploys more traffic enforcers. These, however, are only band-aid solutions and do not address the problem in the long run.

Going to the mall is a Filipino pastime. Aside from being air-conditioned, malls offer the convenience of having everything you need in one place: shopping, entertainment, dining, and worship, among others. The bigger malls along EDSA, which are causing traffic congestion, are what you call super-regional malls. In order to ease the traffic going to these centers, there should be more neighborhood stores, groceries, and corner stores in nearby residential areas as opposed to gated communities where majority of people have no access.

It could also help if Filipinos have many other options to pass the time within the city. In my previous article, I emphasized the need for more open and green spaces in the urban areas. Aside from being the lungs of the city, parks and open areas are a healthier alternative to malls. It provides an active space where one can be closer to nature. Open and green spaces may also be programmed to host a plethora of activities, from cultural to sporting events.

Gated subdivisions, meanwhile, have created superblocks at the cost of inaccessibility for pedestrians, motorists, and residents of surrounding communities and access to job centers like Central Business Districts. However, gated subdivisions can have negative impacts in the form of segregation in both a physical and social sense if not managed in an appropriate manner. Developing gated communities isolates the residents from any interaction from the surrounding areas and reduces the traffic flow, creating a more separated neighborhood.

For our project in San Juan City, we proposed that the existing gated residential subdivisions need to be gradually opened for increased and enhanced access whilst maintaining the level of security and privacy its residents expect. This will be achieved during phases over a course of 1-3 years in order to allow the local residents to adjust and amend.

The first phase will consist of opening up main roads and gates at certain intervals during the day, for instance during busy shopping hours and rush hour. The second phase shall incorporate a by-pass system, like that of Bel-Air 2 Village Orbit Street and San Miguel Village F. Zobel Street in Makati , where access is permitted for non-residents from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. Gradually eliminating the restricted zones, this will eventually lead to the phasing out of closed roads.

Another major thing to be addressed is the hierarchy of our road networks. Roads are usually categorized according to their functions or capacities. For example, the US Department of Transportation classifies their roads into freeways, arterials, collectors, and local roads. Freeways are designed for high-speed, continuous travel. Arterials are roads built to accommodate a large volume of traffic. Collectors, on the other hand, connect the local roads to the arterials. When I was working in DOTC back in the 70s, in fulfillment of my United Nations Development Program scholarship, such hierarchy of roads had been proposed to connect the whole of Metro Manila. Unfortunately, some of the proposed roads like the circumferential road-6 (C-6) have not yet seen the light of day, seventy years later.

Last March 16, I presented my vision plan for the Philippines 2021 to 2050 and beyond and Manila Megalopolis at the American Chamber of Commerce. The plan calls for a bet-connected Philippines, which includes additional circumferential roads, railways, airports, and seaports. I proposed to add five more to the existing circumferential roads (C1 to C5), of which C10 will be connecting Bataan to Cavite at the entrance of the Manila Bay. These circumferential and radial roads will help ease the load from the congestion in EDSA. On a larger scale, these roads will allow a more efficient way to travel from the West Philippine Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Long-term solutions like these are necessary if we want to see major improvements from the heavy traffic we experience in Metro Manila. Today, Filipinos spend around 1,000 hours per year in traffic. That is a lot of productive time each of us is losing every day.

Developments, whether along EDSA or not, should always consider the potential contribution to heavy traffic and how this can be properly addressed. They should not only be built to reach the sky but should also effectively meet the ground.


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  1. The measure of singapore that limits the use of car to one family one car policy,should also be adopted.Right now the second hands keep coming and the old ones stays,all together in the road kahit mag number coding pa,does not address the traffic problem,since the volume increase more rapidly than the widening of the roads,plus the influx of malls in concentration agravates the situation.I do not know if gated subdivision residents will cooperate.Sana,buti na lang wala kaming bahay na permanente.Sa pamilya ko pag binaha ang nirerentahan namin puede kaming lumipat sa di nababaha.Pero tama po ang solusyon nyo kong papayag ang mga subdivision owners .Sana.

  2. While the mega-malls along EDSA do contribute to our traffic gridlock, the main cause of our traffic jams is the lack of public transit. Seoul, South Korea, a megalopolis like Metro Manila, solved its traffic gridlock problem by improving its bus system and building 17 subway lines. At present, Seoul is building an additional 7 light rail transit (LRT) lines to meet the increasing demand of commuters.

    Our “car is king” mentality is the main problem why we have these monstrous traffic jams. We have to realize that the car is a most inefficient vehicle, and while it hugs so much of road space, it carries only a limited number of passengers. Singapore cut back drastically on the number of cars on its roads and developed instead its world class mass transit system. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, most people use bicycles to travel around their cities. Cycling to them is not only a way to exercise but also to save money on gas and car maintenance.

    Metro Manila has to cut back on the number of cars on its roads, like what Singapore did, or it will continue to choke in its traffic jams and air pollution. It has to build more LRT/MRT lines similar to what Seoul did. It has to improve its chaotic bus system and put bus drivers and conductors on fix salaries instead of commissions so drivers will drive sensibly and obey traffic rules. The buses should have its designated lanes and stops unhampered by other vehicles, like the BRT of Curitiba, Brazil. Metro Manila should charge toll fees on cars that enter traffic jam-prone areas, like what London, England did to encourage people to take the public transit instead of driving to work.

  3. Cres Malifier on

    Gated communities should be made public–except the one I live in!!!!!
    Long llive both the revisionist and affirmist factions of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

  4. positively…..dahil malaking problema ang parking lot TRAFFIC at PARKING sa mga MALL along EDSA, NAKATULONG ang SITWASYONG trahedya para muling MABUHAY ang community life – community market.

    Mga magkakakilala, mga magkakapit-bahay at matagal ng mga SUKI sa isa’t-isa ay muling NANUMBALIK…

    kung matatandaan, marami ang nagpredict na ang mga nagsulputang malalaking MALL sa cities ang sisira at GIGIBA raw sa mga maliliit na enterprenur at maliliit na negosyo at papatay sa community life.? kabaligtaran ang nangyari…. bumabalik ang SIGLA ng mga COMMUNITIES..

  5. Whilst i agree with the principles, the issue needs to be viewed more strategically.
    People will naturally gravitate to cities, particularly NCR, since the few jobs are concentrated there.
    The challenge is to distribute work, which is now a feasible option with technology as the driver in many countries.
    Decentralise and distribute regionally, establish centres of excellence, entrepreneurship hubs etc – alien concepts in the philippines, but people will go where the work is.
    Malls are an irrelevance in national planning. They should not be a driver – jobs, and quality of life come first. Corporate profits for a few oligarchs come way down the list, as does some cosmetic changes to gated communities.
    We need to think far more creatively, and long-term ( 30+ years)

  6. Larry Ebersole on

    The question still is how to teach municipalities to properly implement the building code.I think most if not all municipal engineers do not really understand the importance of the building code to future development. LGU’s only after money and personal interest and not for genuine political progress of their communities.

  7. On the traffic problems, its difficult to know how to solve them but there are many things that can be done & all will add a little to help de congest these areas. One thing would be very strict driving tests, i struggle to come to terms with this country not having a driving test in the year 2015. The uk understood the need for having on way back in 1935, why up to now doesnt the philippines have a driving test & then strict enforcement to all drivers. It would help with all driving & you would have less accidents more smooth driving & more employment.
    But maybe its a little difficult to implement for these governemnts, i mean they cant even get the right people in a position to get it so when you buy a new car you get your number plate straight away. If they cant organise a simple thing like that there is no hope for anything at all.

  8. An interesting article, but i dont see the proof of your views on gated communities. There is nothing wrong with them. If all were allowed in every gated community life in those communities for the people who pay a high price to live there would be much worse. I live in a gated community & to many people are just allowed to walk in & some are up to no good. Im a foreigner living in this country & i understand why people libve in gated communities. One top reason is most people living there will work so will go to bed at a reasonable hour thus enableing all to sleep well. In non gated communities where the masses dont work they make noise at all hours of the night as it bothers them not that others have to get up for work.

    • Very good point! Why put the onus on gated community residents to let noisy traffic in, when they’ve paid premium prices to live there! Don’t penalize these folks! Instead, stop allowing mall owners to build just anywhere they wish to do so!! What good are our Philippine engineers and planners if the decision makers in government can get paid to violate the rights of their constituents? 31 malls in a 24 what stretch of highway?

      No freakin way. Great plans in the PHL fall into potholes of avarice and corruption. Forget it. For a few million pesos, I too can tolerate a couple hours of bad traffic.