WE know the problems and solutions. Now, it’s time to have the will to implement.
In observing the government over the years, it is hard to avoid the feeling that there is a general lack of appreciation for urban, metropolitan, regional, and environmental planning. Traffic congestion has been considered as a man-made disaster in the Philippine cities. The poor understanding of comprehensive planning shows in the response to tackle “traffic” through traffic management, piecemeal solutions, and engineering.
Traffic congestion is a confluence of many factors, especially lack of comprehensive urban and regional planning, among others. Traffic congestion cannot be solved only by traffic engineering and management, or by adding more roads, traffic lights, and traffic enforcers. It can be solved only through holistic and integrated planning. We should look at the demand side of traffic and transportation, which involves the land-use type, density, and location.
Government officials and decision-makers should face the reality that our cities are poorly designed and badly developed for the past 40 years. We have been using obsolete urban models. Despite recommendations to the past administrations, many still fail to understand the implications of a “do nothing scenario,” resulting in catastrophic traffic, flooding, housing, and disasters, among others.
Let me also clarify the difference among land use, transportation, traffic engineering, and traffic management.
Traffic management focuses on the existing traffic conditions, and is limited on existing roads. Traffic engineering focuses on the infrastructure and traffic flow, but usually it does not consider the different modes of transportation; it often designs roads for cars, trains, and least of the times, bicycles. Transportation planning focuses on holistic mobility, including land use which is the demand side of traffic. Internationally, planning roads for cars is the least or at the bottom of the considerations. Transportation planning places pedestrians, bicycles, water-transport, and mass-transit as the priority for efficient mobility. For the cities such as Seoul, Tokyo, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Zurich, designing the streets according to holistic planning principles not only uplifts the quality and safety of commuting, but it also significantly increases health and economic revitalization, and the quality of urban life.
In Seoul, which closely resembles Metro Manila, the government removed the elevated highway that covered Cheonggyecheon stream and converted it into a linear park. The effects were celebrated worldwide. Not only did it revitalize the old districts of Seoul in terms of economy and foot traffic, but it also became a symbol for national progress and ecological sustainability.
The necessity of urban and regional planning
In layman’s term it is the art and science of designing human settlements, harmonizing the balance between the natural environment and built infrastructure that is meant for human development. At Palafox & Associates, we say that it is a balance among social equity/people, environment/planet earth, profit/economy, history, culture, and spirituality.
Urban and regional planning also means identifying the strength of the city and the surrounding regions. Which businesses and industries should the government encourage the city to have? Not all cities should become mega scale central business districts. Certain cities should focus on agropolitan development, like certain cities in Japan. They focus on the food security of the country, and become hubs for medical research and material research.
How can the cities integrate and harmonize? While certain cities focus on agropolitan development, another city can focus on a university town, and another in the BPO industry and agro-tourism industry. But it does not mean one-sided development; it should be holistic. It just identifies certain strength for comparative advantage.
In our analysis, traffic congestion is caused by three main issues: Housing, car-oriented transport, and the need for urban growth centers in other areas (education, health, and job opportunities). Primate cities like Metro Manila are a result of imbalanced development.
On alleviating traffic congestion
Traffic congestion is also a result of transportation that is not inclusive, the lack of choices for quality education, housing, and health care. People seek places where they are able to address their needs, like adequate and affordable education, housing, and health. If government institutions do not uplift the quality of housing, education, and health, the tendency for families who can afford is to migrate to other cities. On the other hand, businesses set up offices in places where there are more educated employees and workers. In return, citizens in that area earn more and attract other forms of businesses. In the case of Metro Manila, citizens cannot afford to live near the place they work because of imbalanced development and exclusive urban growth.
Government should prioritize in uplifting quality of urban health, housing, and education, especially in other cities and provinces. Adequate tax incentives should also be given, and help develop infrastructure to attract businesses outside of Metro Manila. These will lead the development of new urban growth centers and development corridors as counter magnets to the central cities of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao.
The bias toward automobiles is undemocratic and exclusionary. There are 20 kinds of urban transportation. In more progressive cities, walking, biking, and taking public transport are the priorities. In the Philippines, only around 2 percent of our population are car-owners. What about the rest of the Filipinos? All of us are pedestrians the moment we step out of our vehicles.
Cities should focus on pedestrian-oriented and mass-transit engaged development. Government should realize that having a car-oriented road means that less people walk while more people spend more time in traffic. So much business opportunities are lost, as well as personal time, because of an automobile-oriented road.
Citizens, on the other hand, can greatly contribute in easing traffic congestion by having proper planning, engineering, and education with discipline in following traffic rules. More than 10 million Filipinos commute in Metro Manila and waste three hours a day in traffic.
The Filipino people deserve a better quality of urban life with better urban planning and regional development.