Holistic approach for sustainable traffic improvement, part 2
“Carmageddon” and “commutation” are the new normal in Metro Manila (MM), rendering people desperate for relief. “Soft” measures, such as traffic management and engineering quick-fixes with the use of traffic channelizers, can only go so far.
The real and long lasting solutions for sustainable improvement require “hard” infrastructure, but this will require both time and heavy investment to overcome years of neglect and under-investment.
MM, although more populous compared to neighboring metropolis Jakarta, Bangkok and Taipei, has the least developed public transportation system. MM only has three light rail lines—LRT1, LRT2 and MRT3, with very limited interconnection among the three. The last, although serving Edsa, which is the densest traffic corridor, is the least efficient of all. The line is severely short of capacity, poorly maintained and prone to service disruption.
The alternative to rail is a hodgepodge of individually operated buses, UV express vans, jeepneys and tricycles, all running wild on the streets, oblivious to traffic rules. They weave in and out of lanes, don’t follow any schedule, and obstruct valuable lanes when waiting and/or loading /unloading passengers.
Harassed commuters resort to other means of transportation, such as motorcycles, which is the cheapest to own and operate. Among the middle class, moderately priced cars and record low financing rates have democratized car usage and ownership. Uber-type car service is also gaining popularity. However, the road system in the metropolis will eventually reach its saturation point as the long-planned road network remains uncompleted and existing roads have very limited room for widening.
Given the above, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) proposes the following medium and long-term measures to resolve severe structural deficiencies in order to have better governance and to get people and goods moving efficiently and sustainably:
1. Reform the governance structure of MM with an elected governor, who shall, by law rather than the forbearance of the city mayors, be vested with authority over matters such as road and traffic management, flood control, waste management, urban planning and development, particularly large-scale mixed-use land developments.
2. Fast-track implementation of mass transit systems:
a. Resolve all issues related to the linking of MRT3 to LRT1 and the implementation of the LRT1 extension to Cavite;
b. Roll out the LRT2 extension line from Santolan, Marikina, to Masinag Market with an intermodal terminus station for convenient and safe interconnection with other modes of transport, and provide a park-and-ride facility to encourage commuters to take public transit instead of driving their cars into the city;
c. Quickly decide on and roll out an appropriate surface mass transit system to complement the MRT3 and displace the unruly individually operated buses on Edsa. The government must choose the most appropriate transit option among many, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and rail tram. Whatever is the final choice, the criteria in the selection should include large capacity conveyances that are user-friendly with ramp for wheelchair-bound persons and low floor for easier and safer boarding and disembarking to enable quicker turnaround time, non-polluting propulsion and operated as a system.
d. Issuance of a presidential directive to plan a high-capacity heavy subway system under the entire length of Edsa, not just a short stretch as recommended in the JICA study. The presence and continuous development of large shopping malls, government offices, business districts and massive residential housing complexes along Edsa will require such a subway system. The executive order should reserve the first underground level as the right of way of the Edsa subway line to pre-empt all possible intersecting subway lines or utilities. The government must be ahead of the curve and anticipate the heavy future demand of commuters along the entire stretch of Edsa and plan for its transformation into a more gentrified boulevard with less noisy surface road traffic, walkable sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping with trees.
e. Fast-track implementation of the MM north and south commuter rail, including the provision of intermodal terminals in the city and at outlying towns and cities for seamless transfer, and a park-and-ride facility to encourage motorists to use public transit. This rail service will be seen as a means to promote the development of satellite towns and cities to decongest MM.
3. Complete the road network of MM with additional bridges across the Pasig River. There is currently over-convergence of vehicles during rush hours on the few bridges that cross the Pasig, particularly on Edsa and C5. To lessen construction time, prefabricated steel bridges may be utilized for the long missing C-3 bridge link from Makati to Mandaluyong and another to link Bonifacio Global City to an appropriate location in Kapitolyo. These bridges will significantly help disperse vehicular traffic and relieve congestion.
4. Upgrade existing major national roads into expressways
Intersection-free urban expressways are essential in a metropolis. They facilitate easy ingress to and egress from busy downtown districts, aside from providing fast circulation for urban traffic. Since the late 1980s during the Cory Aquino administration, then Secretary Jose de Jesus of DPWH already introduced engineering refinements, particularly grade separation, on Edsa and Roxas Boulevard to attain the efficiency of expressways. More follow-through improvements are needed to enhance their efficiency.
In MM, the following major national roads are prime candidates for reengineering as expressways—Edsa, C5, Roxas Blvd., Diosdado Macapagal Avenue, Katipunan, Commonwealth and, all intersecting radial roads, particularly the entire length of Buendia from Edsa up to the junction with Ayala Avenue, Lawton Avenue in West Fort Bonifacio, Kalayaan Avenue, Shaw Blvd., Ortigas Avenue, E. Rodriguez, Ramon Magsaysay, Roosevelt, Quezon Avenue and Bonifacio Road in QC.
5. Improve the resiliency of all national major and radial roads against floods.
a. Flood-prone road sections may be quickly raised above flood level using prefabricated steel platforms with perforated matting resting on steel supports, similarly used by the US Army Engineering Corps during WW2. This is a doable alternative as flood control measures have been to no avail.
b. Fast-track construction of more underground cisterns to hold flash-flood waters at low-lying areas.
c. Properly maintain flood pumps at all underpasses for standby use 24/7.
6. Require adherence to best practices for mixed-use property development
Large-scale developments can be disruptive to existing communities and, if generally accepted best practices in development are not observed, will impair their long-term sustainability. Many, if not most, privately developed mixed-use districts in MM suffer from traffic congestion. The agencies charged with regulating such developments must be directed to more strictly scrutinize and exercise oversight functions to ensure adherence to best practices for sustainable development. In particular, building density must be scaled to the capacity of the mass transit and road system design and with adequate provision of public amenities.
The implementation of all these short, medium and long term measures will satisfy the 3 E’s of effective traffic management—engineering, education and enforcement for a sustainable improvement of traffic conditions in the metropolis.
(The author is the Chair of the MAP Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the President of Clairmont Group. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]. For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph.)