IMAGINE this, a regular employee living on the periphery of the urban center spends five hours of his daily life to commute going to and from work in Central Business Districts (CBDs) such as Makati, Fort Bonifacio or Ortigas. If this were the case and considering a 40 year economic life-span, one will be wasting 48,000 man-hours of his economic life. Unfortunately, this has been a way of life for many employees the past few months due to the dreadful and even worsening condition of our roads and our overall transport system. However, all hope is not lost. We have already identified the problems that have brought us to this ill-fated condition. Presently, we need a realistic and comprehensive action plan backed up by five pillars of development: visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design and good governance.
In the past, numerous plans and reports have covered and thoroughly assessed the traffic management and transport system of Metro Manila. However, for reasons that we can only describe as retrogressive, plans lack teeth and fall short of execution and implementation. As a testament to this, in 1945 the American Corps of Engineers proposed 10 radial and 6 circumferential roads in the then Manila and its suburbs. We at Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture recommend 10 Circumferential Roads and several arterial roads. However, even after 70 years, C-6 has not even been completed yet.
Our transport problems are a result of a lack of comprehensive planning; Metro Manila is an urban laboratory on how not to do it. Not only do we have an inadequacy of convenient and efficient transport modes, but also congestion is aggravated by the limited access to CBDs due to the presence of low-density, gated residential communities and military camps surrounding it. Elsewhere in the world, such as Manhattan, Singapore, London, and Paris, there are access roads to CBDs every 200 meters. Low-rise, low-density single family houses are nowhere near CBDs. One measure to ease traffic congestion in major thoroughfares is for adjacent developments such as subdivisions and military camps to open up their gates for public access. The threat of security should be addressed by the government through the provision of effective and advanced CCTV cameras. Higher-density residential structures and mixed use developments should be encouraged to surround central business districts so that more people will be closer to their area of work; enabling them to live, work, shop, dine, learn, and worship at the same time. From a wider perspective, new urban centers should be developed in order to serve as counter-magnets to the rapid expansion of Metro Manila.
There are 20 urban modes of transport that are available for our use. However, many of us are accustomed to rely on the use of private vehicles. Public transport moves 69% of trips made in Metro Manila. Ironically, with lesser people moved, private vehicles take up 78% of road space. This clearly demonstrates the inefficiency of our transport system. Aside from the lack of land use planning, transport mode choices also heavily burden our environment. In EDSA alone, 300,000 cars traverse the highway every day. In order to compensate for the pollution caused by private vehicles, three million trees would have to be planted.
With a lot of on-going road widening and highway construction projects, it is relevant to ask if these will serve as long-term solutions. “Building more skyways is like cheating on your diet by loosening your belt.” We may learn and adapt practices of other countries that will work within the local context such as Congestion Pricing, wherein vehicles will be charged as they enter Metro Manila. The fee will depend on the congestion condition of the roads within the city center. A shift to higher capacity buses and double-decker buses is also encouraged. Categorization of bus services and railways into Business Class, Women and Children and Services for the general public should also be introduced so that people will be encouraged to shift to public transport while enjoying comfort and convenience.
Transport problems should not only be addressed from the supply side but also from the demand side. Segregated and safe pedestrian facilities and bicycle lanes should be provided in order to encourage walking and cycling. This should be built over waterways such as the Pasig, Marikina and San Juan River as well as over the esteros that are found within the city. Road design should allocate1/3 for trees and landscaping, 1/3 for pedestrian and bicycle lanes and 1/3 for moving traffic. Similar to the High Line in Manhattan, an elevated walkway should also be built throughout the length of EDSA.
With Metro Manila being considered in 2000 as the fastest growing Metropolitan region at 60 persons per hour, the role of urban planning and development is more critical now than ever in improving the quality of life. However, addressing the urban issues such as traffic and transport needs an integrated and a multi-disciplinary approach. It will require the participation of the public and private sector and civil society and to convince them to agree to compromises and immediate action that might intuitively seem inconvenient but will eventually benefit the most number of people in the short-term, medium-term and long-term scenario.
The author’s dissertation in Harvard School of Design, the Manila Megalopolis 2020 examined the growth and expansion of Metro Manila to the areas of Central Luzon and Calabarzon. He was also team leader for the MMetroplan (Metro Manila Transport and Land Use Plan) which was a World Bank funded report. It was a result of collaborative effort from different local agencies and Freeman Fox, a consultancy firm based in London and Hong Kong.