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A small step toward fixing a big problem

 

BEN KRITZ

EDSA, while being just one road of many that are congested to the point of paralysis in this city, is the focus of most “traffic solutions,” the reasonably sound idea being — if those who propose such solutions have actually thought that far ahead — that if a particular fix works on EDSA, it would probably also work elsewhere.

Waiting for a bus along EDSA, as I frequently do, is to view a palimpsest of failed traffic control initiatives tried over the years by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). In one location — specifically, at the bus stop next to the Metro Rail Transit 3 station on Boni Avenue in Mandaluyong — one can view at least five of the MMDA’s former bright ideas that have never worked, although every one of them could have:

– “Yellow lanes” for use by public transit vehicles;

– Segregated “ABC” bus stops, where only certain buses are supposed to stop;


– A dedicated lane for motorcycle traffic;

– On-the-scene traffic enforcer to help keep traffic moving; and

– My personal favorite, signage marking zones where “no loading/unload” and “no blowing of horns” rules apply.

None of these are observed in this location; the five traffic lanes in each direction are a complete free-for-fall, with the obvious result that traffic at most times of the day moves at a snail’s pace, if at all.

For those who are not familiar with this particular location on EDSA, the MRT Boni station occupies the center of the road at ground level. On either side of the road, directly opposite the train station, there are large condominium complexes, both of which have some commercial establishments on their ground floors. The two outside lanes in each direction are designated “yellow lanes,” supposedly for use only by public transit vehicles, or vehicles turning right. The center lane was, at one time, designated as the “motorcycle only” lane; the faded markings on the street surface are still visible in a couple of spots.

Each bus stop, delineated by a protective cover for people waiting, is about 30 meters long, and both are located south of the two condominium complexes. In other words, the northbound buses stop just before reaching the main entrance of the condo complex (SM Light Residences) on the northbound side of the street, and just past the entrance of the one (GA Towers) on the southbound side of the street. The street side in front of both condos is designated a “no loading/unloading” zone. On the northbound side, this extends from the end of the bus stop for about half a block to the next side street (Madison Street). On the south side, the zone covers the frontage of the GA Towers, and a second no-go zone is marked from the south end of the bus stop (which is directly under the overhead walkway from the west side of EDSA to the MRT station) to the next side street in that direction, which is Pinatubo Street. Traffic traveling north can turn right onto Madison Street, but Pinatubo Street is one-way, only discharging traffic onto Edsa. The “no blowing of horns” zone, necessary because of the proximity of residential buildings, covers the entire northbound stretch from the south end of the bus to Madison Street, and the southbound stretch from the north edge of the GA Towers’ entrance to Pinatubo Street.

In terms of visible enforcement, an MMDA officer (usually the same guy) posts himself along the outside lane of the street in front of the Light Residences’ entrance on the northbound side during morning rush hour, and there are generally one or two traffic enforcers at the south end of the southbound bus stop on the opposite side of EDSA, perhaps because there is a McDonald’s on the corner of EDSA and Pinatubo Street. There is also usually some police presence on both sides of the street; the Philippine National Police has an informal community police desk with one or two officers inside the entrance to the small SM Light Mall, and there are usually a couple of police officers loitering near the bus stop on the south side of the street.

For people who travel EDSA regularly, this area is a notorious bottleneck. After observing it for some time, it is not difficult to see why, nor is it difficult to see obvious solutions to it.

First, there is an utter lack of discipline or order in the way buses travel and stop in the area. Because of the manner — or lack thereof — in which buses are dispatched, they tend to cluster in groups, with several buses plying the same route all stopping at the same time. Because they are competing for passengers, they jockey for position, blowing their horns (despite the signs saying not to) and sometimes obstructing one or two additional lanes of the street.

To make matters worse, it is the habit of the first bus driver to arrive to stop at the bus stop’s near end (relative to his direction of travel), rather than pulling up as far as possible to allow other buses to slot in behind him. As a result, buses pile up ahead of the actual stop; on the northbound side, this is not such a problem, but on the southbound side, this means that the entrance to the GA Towers complex is often blocked. On the northbound side, buses will often bypass the actual stop and stop beyond the entrance to the Light Residences, spreading the obstruction farther up the street.

Second, there is no lane discipline observed on this stretch of EDSA, a problem that is likely aggravated by the mess created by the buses. Traffic of all types treat the two outer “yellow” lanes as regular through lanes, and buses and other public conveyances — in part because of the congestion around the bus stops — routinely stray into the inside lanes to pass the area.

Much of the current situation could be relieved if the MMDA “enforcers” on the scene actually enforced anything. As it is, a single traffic monitor who stations himself at an ineffective distance from the bus stop accomplishes nothing whatsoever. If the MMDA spent half as much on personnel and training as it apparently does trying to make its officers look like they belong to Spetsnaz, their performance might improve.

Ideally, there should be three enforcers per side: One ahead of the bus stop to direct the buses into a single line approaching the stop; one stationed at the stop itself to ensure the buses pull forward to allow room for the buses behind them and stop for only a consistently brief amount of time, and that they stay out of the inner traffic lanes; and another beyond the stop to make sure traffic past the stop is flowing smoothly.

Second, an efficient system for routing and dispatching buses should be developed so that they do not “bunch up” along the route. This is something that has been proposed as part of the “emergency powers” the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and others wish the President would be granted to address traffic, but that is unnecessary. Simply by posting personnel at the terminals of major bus routes, the MMDA or the DoTr could easily keep buses sorted, allowing them to proceed at sensible intervals, rather than leaving it to the bus drivers themselves.

These solutions could be applied all over the city, and while they are not a fix for the entire traffic mess, they would go a long way toward improving traffic flow. That, in turn, would help to make planning for new infrastructure a little more relevant; if the existing infrastructure is being used as efficiently as it can be, then estimates of the additional capacity needed will be more accurate.

[email protected]
Twitter: @benkritz

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