Holistic approach for sustainable traffic improvement
(First of a series)
THE MANAGEMENT Association of the Philippines (MAP), recognizing the severe traffic and commuter transportation problems in Metro Manila (MM) and the great detriment these are causing our people, the economy and environment, submitted last Aug. 26, 2015, a position paper to President Aquino to offer its analysis and holistic plan to alleviate and resolve these twin urban scourges.
Proper and effective solution requires a correct understanding of the problems and the MAP believes the traffic and transportation problems are both behavioral and structural in nature.
The universally accepted three requisites of effective traffic management, i.e., the so-called 3 E’s—road engineering, education of all stakeholders, and enforcement of traffic rules, have largely been absent in MM’s traffic manager’s tool kit. They must be applied. Since the release of the holistic plan, the 3 E’s have gained awareness and are now frequently invoked by authorities.
Good road and traffic engineering is essential for efficient traffic flow, which is necessary to optimize limited road space. Unlike privately operated tollways, major national roads are poorly engineered. Pavements are in poor condition. Lane markers and signages are inadequate or not of international standard. Road lanes disappear without merging warning and directional signs. Sidewalks are used as bus stop boarding areas but are too narrow to accommodate the hordes of commuters, who spill onto the road blocking traffic.
Traffic channelizers, such as bus lane delineators that were previously installed, were removed. Given the bad habits of many drivers of public utility vehicles (PUVs), this allowed drivers to wantonly switch and block lanes on vital road arteries without regard for others.
The imperative for high density traffic corridors is continuous flow at a sufficiently high velocity to prevent pile-ups.
Regulatory weakness has allowed the proliferation of PUVs with a hodgepodge of individually owned or operated buses, jeepneys and tricycles running helter-skelter and jamming roads. Routes have no number, neither do the buses. Buses have high floors requiring three steps to board or disembark, unlike low-floored city commuter buses needing just one step in or out for quick and safer boarding and disembarking. This deficiency contributes to slower turnaround time of buses that contributes to road congestion.
Lack of education contributes to diminished civic consciousness and responsible driving behavior that, coupled with ineffective enforcement, have rendered traffic rules as mere “suggestions” to be ignored with impunity. As a result, practically all bus stops and intersections at major roads have become traffic congestion points that interminably disrupt or slow down traffic flow.
The lack of 3 E’s causes havoc on the streets but is further compounded by severe deficiency in mass transit systems, unsustainable urban development practices and ineffective governance structure of the metropolis.
The dire situation cries out for immediate solutions. For this reason, the MAP proposed actionable measures that may be immediately implemented to yield the earliest relief for motorists and commuters.
A single point of authority is essential and quite obvious to management practitioners. Accordingly, the topmost MAP recommendation to President Aquino in the holistic plan is the appointment of Cabinet Secretary Rene Jose Almendras to take overall charge of all matters and agencies related to or affecting traffic. Another is the assignment of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to enforce traffic regulations and impose order in the chaotic traffic. The third is the focus on Edsa and other major national roads with the introduction of road engineering refinements to effect efficient traffic flow.
The presidential directives that followed a week later on Sept. 1 closely coincided with MAP’s top three recommendations. Sec. Almendras was appointed “coordinator.” HPG took charge of enforcement with MMDA traffic aides placed under its operational control. Six choke points on Edsa were identified and are the focus of efforts. Noticeable improvement in traffic conditions has been observed although the vehicle throughput rate is still not sufficient to prevent gridlock during particularly heavy traffic days such as Fridays and the coming busy Christmas season.
Relieving Edsa traffic
To achieve optimal short-term improvement, other measures in the holistic plan are necessary. The focus must be expanded to include other major national roads to relieve traffic from Edsa.
Commuter transportation service must be improved and transportation resources optimized. The thousands of independently-operated buses must be organized as an integrated unit or cooperative and operated like a bus rapid transit (BRT) system.
Schemes curtailing the use of private vehicles are unpopular and should be employed only as a final option if all else fails. Drastic vehicle curtailment causes untold disruption to the lives of people, commerce and industry. Billions of pesos in transportation assets will be rendered idle. Instead, illegally operated PUVs must be removed. Jeepneys, which have small passenger capacity, must not be allowed on national roads and instead relegated to secondary local roads. It is better to have less PUVs efficiently running than an excess that will only be stuck in traffic wasting fuel and spewing toxic emissions.
High occupancy vehicle (HOV) practices will be helpful and should be promoted with the provision of HOV express lanes. Schools should be required to operate buses to shuttle students to and from specific points, including nearby shopping malls. Private vehicles waiting outside schools must not be allowed to spill over onto and clog the street.
A train system is the most efficient, convenient and affordable people-mover. MRT 3 must be quickly and properly rehabilitated, and its passenger capacity greatly expanded. The MRT 3 system, being in place, provides the fastest option for quickly addressing commuter capacity deficiency on Edsa. All efforts must be quickly taken to resolve any outstanding issues that stand in the way for such improvement.
Urban expressways provide fast means for ingress and egress into and circulation within the metropolis. The road system of MM, being limited and uncompleted, existing major national roads must be optimized. Edsa, C-5, Roxas Boulevard, Katipunan and Commonwealth avenues and others should be transformed into toll-free urban expressways. Traffic-disrupting intersections must be eliminated, preferably with the use of fast construction systems such as prefabricated quick-to-assemble steel bridges, time being of the essence. Extensive overpasses for uninterrupted traffic flow have been introduced since the late 1980s. Follow-through improvements are needed to attain the full potential of these roads.
The announcement of MMDA that “modular” steel bridges, similar in concept to MAP’s prefabricated steel bridges, were considered for intersections is welcome news. It brings the expectation that these will be quickly installed at key intersections in the coming weeks.
The government must make a full court press. All appropriate actionable short-term measures, such as those in the holistic plan must be part of a comprehensive plan to be expeditiously implemented. There is still a 2-month window before December. This period must be utilized to avert a Carmageddon Christmas, otherwise the traffic Grinch will come calling and steal the fun and joy of the revered season.
Part II will cover the long term measures for sustainability in the MAP’s holistic approach to solving the traffic and transportation problems of MM.
(The author is the Chair of the MAP Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the President of Clairmont Group. Feedback at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph.)
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