Highway 54, proposed by the American Corps of Engineers in 1945 and completed in 1954, used to be a beautiful tree-lined urban road, about 54 meters wide.
The American Corps of Engineers proposed six circumferential roads and 10 radial roads for the Greater Manila Area. Highway 54, which was renamed Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) in 1959, is circumferential road No. 4.
For the longest time, EDSA has notoriously been a reflection of what Metro Manila has become. Both EDSA and Metro Manila are experiencing the negative effects of a “do nothing” scenario and the use of the wrong models in urban planning. We have erroneously copied the car-oriented streets of Los Angeles and Hollywood after World War II, instead of pursuing the “City Beautiful Movement” that Daniel Burnham put forward when he planned Manila in 1905 and Baguio in 1909.
Fast forward to 1977. I was fortunate to be the Senior Planner for the World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN). The recommendations in the MMETROPLAN considered the rapid urban growth that could affect development, including transportation and even flooding. Last week, I had the opportunity to converse with Transportation Secretary Art Tugade and the DOTr Team. As we both dwelled on the subject of transportation woes, we lamented that the complexity of the transportation crisis is a result of 32 years of little to no action to resolve the issue. What makes things more complex and difficult is that we are not starting from scratch. There are already structures in place. But again, I want to emphasize that we should not lose hope. I have all the reasons to believe that if this administration continues with its strong political will and visionary leadership with the aid of good planning, good design, and good governance, we will be able to alleviate the transportation crisis.
Reforming transportation and mobility: Three critical issues of the Land Use Plan
Transportation is the art of human motion, moving people through understanding their needs and behavior and how they are influenced by the plan of the city. The focus should be on moving people, not cars.
The daytime population of Makati CBD alone is 11 times the size of its nighttime population. This shows two critical social issues: most people cannot afford to live in the central business districts and the gated communities around Makati; and people cannot find at par opportunities where they live. In the case of transportation, it means moving at least 16 million people in and out of Metro Manila. According to our research Manila Megalopolis 2020, which I presented in Harvard, the daytime population in 2002 was 16 million while the nighttime population was 11 million.
1. Low-density housing and exclusive gated communities and military camps in Central Business Districts greatly increase land value because of scarcity, and significantly reduce the opportunity to increase the housing stock. For the meantime, these gated communities should open their roads during peak hours to alleviate congestion in EDSA. Also, instead of single-family homes that allocate at least a hectare of land per family, these subdivisions should allow multi-family housing.
2. Integrated Transportation and Mobility Plan is pedestrian- and mass-transit oriented, not car-oriented. Less than 10 percent of Filipinos can afford a car, the rest or 80-90 percent commutes. Yet the orientation of our roads heavily favors car users, while in fact majority of the citizens demand better mass-transit systems, walkability, and bikability. We need a Bus Rapid Transit, Jeepney Rapid Transit, and elevated walkways and bike lanes that connect people to other modes of transportation. There should also be pedestrian and bicycle bridges every 800 meters across Pasig, San Juan, and Marikina Rivers.
3. Government should heavily invest in schools, health facilities, and infrastructure in other regions to act as counter-magnets to the congestion of Metro Manila. Development has a cascading effect, for business to grow outwards Metro Manila. There should be good laborers available and good infrastructure in place. At the same time, government should push the North Metro Rail that will connect Manila and Clark. As well as the Mindanao Metro Rail that will connect the entire Mindanao.
Reimagine, replan, remake, and reform EDSA
I urge you dear readers to learn more about Cheonggyecheon stream restoration in Seoul, South Korea. It used to be their EDSA-like highway that was completely removed to make way for urban and ecological renewal. After making it pedestrian and mass-transit oriented, the economy of Seoul grew, urban temperature significantly decreased, and traffic was decongested. There were naysayers and doubters, but they were all proven wrong. It has become a national symbol of progress and ecological sustainability, and it is drawing millions of tourists yearly.
One of my suggestions is to pedestrianize EDSA. Build an elevated, covered, and hopefully air-conditioned walkway and bicycle path. We need to make walking comfortable and safe, and we need to make it appealing and aesthetically pleasing, compared to our poorly designed pedestrian passes today.
Walking is much faster than riding a car in EDSA, especially on a rainy Friday-payday. Vehicular movement is at three kilometers per hour while the average walking speed is five kph. With many high-rise developments mushrooming along EDSA, each developer should also provide an impact study on traffic.
For this part there are three words that can sum it up: Discipline, Discipline, Discipline. Without this, we become lawless, unmindful of the chaos that we are contributing too. Discipline should also be backed up with good urban planning and environmental design, engineering, enforcement, and education.