Traffic scheming

Katrina Stuart Santiago

Katrina Stuart Santiago

It seems the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is running out of ideas, what with the proposed scheme of keeping private vehicles off the road two days a week, instead of the standard one day. It’s to fix the heavy traffic on EDSA, they say, as 75% of the vehicles on the streets every day are private vehicles.

Two things. One, prove that it is mere volume that affects traffic on EDSA—and anywhere else for that matter. Two, can the streets, can public transportation, handle more commuters?

Anyone who has a sense of what it is that causes traffic on EDSA, and anywhere else for that matter, would know that it isn’t mere volume that makes for heavy traffic. It is also the lack of discipline that bus drivers get away with—get away with—at any given time on that highway.

Take EDSA-Crossing, where the buses will take their sweet time waiting for passengers, forming a line by Starmall, no matter that they’re blocking the lane that allows private vehicles to turn right into Shaw Boulevard. I’ve spent a good 30 minutes, waiting on these buses to actually honor that green light and get going. And no, getting into the Starmall is not an option, also because you’d need to go past a jeepney and FX terminal, which creates its own mini-traffic, too.

And yes, there are MMDA officers on that corner of EDSA-Shaw Boulevard; yes, the heavy traffic caused by buses happens even when they’re there.

Which is true for most of EDSA really. Take it at any given point, where buses move from innermost lane to outermost lane, because they are allowed to. Take EDSA every day, and find that as buses move from their yellow lanes to the inner lanes for private vehicles, this in fact is the reason for heavy traffic. It never made sense to me, how those yellow lanes were supposed to work if the buses are allowed outside of it anyway.

No wait, suddenly it makes sense, it only means that more private vehicle owners can / will be ticketed for even thinking that they can get inside those yellow lanes, too.

Of course it makes sense to me, too, to have more of us walking the streets and getting on the train, or on a bus, to get from point A to point B. It makes sense to me because I actually like being able to walk the city.

Operative word: like. Because, can I? Is it safe to?

The answer is no. Take the stretch of Shaw Boulevard, which used to be a safe easy walk to the malls on the other side of EDSA. There are no more sidewalks here. As businesses rose in every nook and cranny of this boulevard, the sidewalks disappeared. The best part is this: when they built the MRT station, the stairs to and from Shaw Boulevard perfectly landed on the sidewalk that should be for pedestrians.

To say that it is reason for chaos, right on EDSA-Crossing, is an understatement.

Take the stretch of Pasong Tamo and Pasong Tamo Extension. You can take the MRT to Magallanes and land in a quite welcoming and well-maintained non-mall—unlike that of the non-mall that you enter once you get off at the Taft Station. I walk Pasong Tamo to go look at exhibits in the many galleries that are here. Is it a safe walk?

Not at all.

There are barely any sidewalks here, where it’s only the banks that have kept a semblance of a place to walk for pedestrians. It’s a safer walk than most, yes, but it is only so because you are conscious of the fact that you’re walking on Pasong Tamo itself, where the vehicles are going straight at you and you’ve become quick on your feet.

Take Roxas Boulevard, where one should be able to walk safely from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, to the Metropolitan Museum, the National Museum even, if it were a leisurely walk. But it isn’t, and I’m not even talking about the pollution here. Let’s just talk about the fact that instead of a sidewalk for pedestrians, what you have is a service road that is obviously for vehicles, and which has no space really for anyone to walk on.

Take Timog and Tomas Morato, where businesses reign supreme, and every sidewalk is a parking lot.

Don’t even think of walking on EDSA: there is no sidewalk for you there that is even close to being safe.

Ah, but the MMDA wants us to take the train and the bus more. And granted that we can safely walk to the bus and train stations, the next question then is: how safe are our buses?

How safe are these buses, when we know how they swerve and go beyond the speed limit?

How safe are these buses when it is obvious how old they are, and how many are illegally on EDSA? How many times have women gotten on a bus and gotten harassed by the random stranger?

The MRT, while infinitely better than the bus is only so when you take it during off-peak hours. But how many of us can afford to do that, when our office hours are the same, when our errands need to be done within the same hours each day?

The stories about the train are numerous, and are different for the MRT, LRT 1, and LRT 2. The stories are always sadder, if not scarier, for women. And no, having that all-women carriage doesn’t matter, when it does include children, the disabled, the elderly, and the pregnant. Imagine how full that carriage becomes anyway. It is unbelievable during peak hours, and is wont to make a woman cry.

The MMDA will tell you that it is all but normal, that’s really the way things are. But that is the problem here: if we imagine this to be normal, then what we imagine to be normal is the utter lack of better services, the inability to provide one’s citizens with public transportation that is affordable and comfortable.

It is the notion that this is normal that allows the MMDA to worry only about the traffic on EDSA and nothing else. That is the more obvious problem after all, as it is what the richer among us will complain about. It is also the problem that gets media mileage globally, and hurts the image of a government that pretends to be in control of this city.

But they are far from being in control, in fact the MMDA is far, far from solving the problem of heavy traffic on EDSA if it seriously thinks a two-day number coding scheme will solve the problem of heavy traffic, when all it does is point us to the bigger problems given the way this city’s been planned and the manner in which commuters and pedestrians are treated.

What the MMDA should be thinking about is not so much the traffic, which after all can be eased by having disciplined drivers—of buses and cars, both. What they should be thinking about is how to make the streets safer, with sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes for bikers, with affordable trains, and better jeeps and buses and taxis for all.

Then, we might all take to commuting, whether our cars are coding or not. Then, we might all call this city developed, because it is not one that sacrifices its citizens’ safety to favor bus companies and private care owners, both.


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  1. Here’s more:

    Edsa-Taft intersection: On any given hour, you will see pedestrians pushing wooden carts, pedicabs and tricycles crossing Edsa. What do the MMDA people do about them? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The innermost lane of this intersection has been reblocked. However, there is a significant difference between the grade levels of the new portion vs. the old portion and the funnel effect caused by the innermost lane traffic directed to cross Taft instead of its original purpose turning left to Taft contributes immensely to the slowdown.

    Edsa Extension to and from Roxas Boulevard: The U-turn lanes are being used by vehicles, pedicabs, motorcycles and tricycles as if they were left-turning going from the innermost lane to the outermost lane crossing both ways in one go instead of easing lane by lane. Some are even using the slot to do an actual left turn and enter a one-way street blocking Roxas Boulevard bound traffic. The Do Not Enter sign is there but nobody’s following. What does the MMDA do? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    Edsa-Guadalupe just before crossing the bridge northbound: The line of jeeps going from Guadalupe to J.P. Rizal stretches from the traffic light below until well into Edsa causing all vehicles (buses included) to swerve to the left to avoid them. They even allow buses to pick up passengers standing on that Makati monument just before crossing the bridge. This situation causes so much traffic that sometimes it stretches all the way to Buendia. And you know that these are the causes of congestion because volume suddenly becomes light after passing that area. Again, what does the MMDA do about them? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    This plan of banning vehicles twice a week only favors the rich who have more than one vehicle. How about those of us who only have one? And they continue to turn a blind eye to the REAL CAUSES of traffic congestion.

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