I fully support the convenors of the Share the Road Movement who last week asked the Supreme Court to compel the government to implement a road-sharing scheme, demanding that half of the roads be set aside for nonmotorized transportation, safe and covered sidewalks, gardens and all-weather bike lanes, and also called for a more organized transport system.
I too believe that the horrendous traffic in our cities cannot be solved by just building more roads. Before we start building more roads let us first look at how our citizens use our roads (not very well at all) and how much of those roads are taken away from us by various obstructions like parked cars, vendors and other illegal structures. I too believe that we should have more pedestrian walkways, bike paths and green parks like Share the Road Movement said.
I have more than once pointed out in this column that building more roads to accommodate the growing population of cars is a futile effort.
Splurging on road infrastructure looks good on paper. The 17 road projects the Aquino administration is rushing to finish before its term ends would serve well to bolster its accomplishments.
The increased public spending would also create jobs and stimulate economic activity.
Perhaps all these new roads would also help ease the notorious traffic jams not only along Edsa but all over Metro Manila, which is costing the country billions in wasted fuel, lost time and productivity of workers, accidents, and health-related problems due to pollution.
But that is only until more cars start traveling these new roads again and we start misusing them again.
By 2015, the population in Metro Manila would reach more than 25 million and car ownership about 2.5 million, according to some estimates.
Would building more roads, however big, wide or long these might be, really solve our traffic woes if we don’t regulate car ownership and use our roads well? Or would these new roads only attract more vehicles thereby worsening congestion and pollution, not to mention the abnormal number of vehicular accidents that occur on our roads every day.
In the book “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream,” authors Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck, cited a well-documented phenomenon called induced traffic, which basically means that building roads actually creates more traffic, as there would always be people with vehicles waiting to use these roads.
Think of it like an empty table you place in a room. Sooner than you realize that table gets filled up and all sorts of stuff are put on top of it. Or think of it like that line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.”
Cities like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta in the US and even other countries like Great Britain have suffered from induced traffic, the authors said. They built more roads, added more lanes and flyovers, but the effects have mostly been cosmetic. More vehicles always came to fill the newly built capacities. Traffic engineers have learned the hard way that, “Trying to cure congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt.”
Considering our problems not only with traffic but with high oil prices, perhaps the administration would want to consider significantly improving mass transportation first before embarking on new road projects in order to curb car ownership, which in this country is just ridiculous.
It seems as soon as Filipinos can afford a car, they buy one; and sometimes they buy one even if they can’t afford it. Even during times when the country’s economy was performing poorly, car sales were hardly affected. And we are allowed to own and use our cars as we please.
For instance, how many cars go through Edsa every day with just a driver or two as passengers? In some countries, you can’t use major thoroughfares on workdays if your car isn’t full, otherwise you would get penalized. So motorists are forced to carpool.
How many car owners in Metro Manila don’t even have their own garage to park their cars in? How many smoke-belching cars are still running on our roads when they should be retired? How many people take their cars when they can actually walk the few blocks to their destination?
We can’t blame them though. It’s hard to tell people to ditch their cars when mass transportation is so inconvenient and unreliable. It’s hard to tell them to just ride the MRT or the LRT when the trains don’t run on schedule and when they are so packed with people that riding them is like getting sexually assaulted.
It’s hard to tell them to just walk or ride a bicycle, when there are no dedicated bike lanes, when sidewalks are obstructed by parked cars and vendors, when walking or biking is riskier to your health because of the smog or because anytime you can be hit by a rampaging bus or jeepney.
Owning a car is the dream of millions of Filipinos only because public transportation is a nightmare, because they can’t get anywhere using public transport in a crunch, and because healthier and more convenient alternatives do not exist.
But let us take the advice of Share the Road Movement. Let us not be road-centric. The real solution to traffic jams is to reduce the demand for more cars in our country and there are so many ways to do this. If we give people better alternatives to driving they will take them.
Many modern cities have proven that people can get along fine without cars if you give them efficient modes of public transportation, and these have made them pollution free and more liveable. We don’t even have to reinvent the wheel. Let us adopt and adapt their ideas to our own cities.