The more roads you put, the more cars you attract. That is a fact. With one of the 15 major infrastructure road projects already underway, commuters and motorists have started to feel the traffic crunch and the frustration of spending another 1-2 hours longer in commute. The traffic congestion is all the more felt along EDSA, the major road artery in Metro Manila, where more than two million vehicles pass through every day. This infrastructure project not only calls for alternative modes of urban transport, but a call towards a lifestyle change of the commuters.
Urban transport systems
To understand traffic congestion, we must first understand that there are two types of it in Metro Manila: volume-based and behavior-based. What creates traffic is not just the car dependency ingrained in our culture by our colonial baggage, but also the way we behave on the road. In Metro Manila, our traffic rules and regulations are weakly imposed, resulting in undisciplined drivers and traffic gridlocks.
According to transport and infrastructure planning expert Sigurd Grava, who wrote the rather comprehensive “Urban Transportation Systems: Choices for Communities” in 2003, there are actually 18 modes of urban transportation systems: walking, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, automobiles, paratransit, taxis, buses, bus rapid transit, trolleybuses, street cars and light rail transit, monorails, heavy rail transit (metro), commuter rail, automated guideway transit, waterborne modes, special modes, and intermodal terminals. Add to that our seaports, airports, and other transport modes, and the Philippines should have 20 modes of transportation. Although private automobiles dominate the transportation scene in many countries, more so in the Philippines, it cannot be, nor should it be, the only means of urban mobility available. By enumerating the other urban transportation systems available, it is the hope of urban planners to limit car usage by displacing them, not replacing them.
Proposals to decongest the traffic along the major thoroughfares that will be affected by the road projects by road widening, zipper lanes, alternative routes, shifting work schedules, even carpooling have been aired. However, when it came to alternative modes of transportation, we only have 13: walking, bicycles, motorcycles/scooters, automobiles, taxis, buses, light and metro rail transits, commuter rail (PNR), paratransit (the FX shuttles), rickshaws (pedicabs), seaports, and airports.
I think we are missing a major transportation system opportunity because the Pasig River ferry cruise shut down a few years ago. In a column I wrote a month ago on reviving the Pasig River waterfront development, I stressed the importance of the Pasig River as a transport corridor to complement the north-south land transport corridor created by Edsa. The Pasig River is 27 km in length, only 3.2 km longer than Edsa. Think of the possibilities it can create by mutually reinforcing benefits by raising property values along the riverbanks and creating new development opportunities. Plus, it offers commuters a sensory experience and reminder of the existence of the natural world.
On a macro scale, our government can construct a tunnel connecting Cavite and Bataan so that vehicles heading for provinces north and south would no longer need to pass through Metro Manila.
Compact and pedestrian-friendly communities allow residents to walk to shops, services, cultural resources, and to their jobs. It also helps reduce traffic congestion and benefit people’s health. Giving people varied transportation options reduces traffic congestion, protects the environment and encourages physical activity.
Urban design and resiliency are very much interrelated. For instance, green urbanism, our advocacy for green streets; urban roads and streetscapes should have at least one-third for trees and landscaping, one-third for pedestrian and bicycles, and one-third for moving traffic lanes.
The Philippines lack 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.
Limiting vehicular traffic will reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled. Since most vehicle miles are used for commuting and for running errands, proper urban planning—for instance, with centrally located services and a good public transportation system—can minimize or eliminate the need to use a vehicle. One way to reduce vehicle miles is to build more walkways, making more pedestrian-friendly highways, and charging motorists who enter congested areas.
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-km long bike and pedestrian lane that connected low-income neighborhoods to the richest part of the city.
They also invested on a bus Rapid Transit network called the Transmilenio that can accommodate 100 passengers and save commuters two hours per day.
In Copenhagen, the bike capital of the world, 37% commute to work using bikes. In some countries, a car-free day is implemented every week to encourage motorists to give up their cars for a day. In New York, a former railway called the High Line was turned into an elevated pedestrian walkway. 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.
There are three ingredients for successful cities and countries elsewhere in the world: Visionary leadership, good planning, and good governance. We are lacking in all three. We don’t consult the private sectors, because most of the decisions made in the built environment are done by politicians and with all due respect, lawyers. Architecture, urban planning, urban design, environmental planning are often not involved in their plans. We have many capable Filipino environmental planners, urban planners, architects, engineers and scientists who know the solutions to these problems. It’s time to set aside our differences and work towards a common good.