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Edsa: From ‘ugly duckling’ ‍ to Manila’s Golden Mile

/ 05:26 AM December 12, 2019

A famous line in movies is the outburst of Albert Finney’s character in “Network”—“I am mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Being stuck in Edsa’s horrendous traffic jam tempts one to burst into an Albert Finney moment.

Edsa is one reason Metro Manila is the ugly duckling of Asia and a blot in urban management over the decades since its completion in the early 80s.

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This 23.8-kilometer long circumferential road, albeit the most important of the capital, is one of its most congested, chaotic, noisy, ugly and polluted in the Philippines that contributes to immense economic and social cost.

Completed 50 years after it was started in the 1930s as a highway, Edsa links the NLEx and SLEx (North and South Luzon expressways) and traverses five cities. Following rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, Edsa has evolved into an avenue with high density establishments along its route.

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With the management of Edsa following the car-centric American model instead of mass transit-oriented European model, about 370,000 vehicles, two-thirds of which are private, use it daily. With its design capacity overwhelmed, Edsa has become a very inefficient traffic corridor despite almost the entire right-of-way being allocated for motorized traffic and engineering refinements introduced in late 1980s.

Edsa dream plan

At the height of carmageddon in August 2015, when it took interminable hours to untangle traffic gridlock on Edsa and elsewhere, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) unveiled a holistic traffic and transportation plan for Metro Manila.

Included in the plan was the “Edsa Dream Plan” to address the dysfunctional mass transportation system, severe traffic congestion, air pollution, lack of pedestrian space and greeneries. This dream plan applied universal practices in urban road space planning and mass transportation system.The plan calls for a paradigm shift in urban street engineering and transportation planning. Decongestion through efficient and space-saving mass transit system coupled with more equitable sharing of the Edsa road space to satisfy community rights are the key strategies of the plan. Edsa is a vital community resource that must be used efficiently and shared in an inclusive manner with road space distributed among stakeholders to achieve urban justice where both mobility and community rights are well served.The main strategy is to optimize use of the Edsa road space to open up space for pedestrians and the greening of Edsa. Optimization is sought to be achieved by employing high capacity transit systems to efficiently move commuters with the least number of vehicles, to minimize the use of road space. Arguably, a rail-based train with multiple coaches is the most efficient people mover used by cities the world over.The MAP plan calls for maintaining the existing overhead MRT 3 light train line and complementing it with a high-capacity subway line with heavy trains. These two train lines are envisioned to form the backbone of the transportation system on Edsa that could accommodate passenger demand well into the future. This system may be complemented with park-and-ride facilities for motorists to leave their vehicle and take public transit to the inner city. With this mass transit system in place, less road space will be needed and the excess space can be made available for nontransport use such as sidewalk widening and bicycle lane at the ground level.

A subway along Edsa is essential to provide the capacity to efficiently service commuters in the many massive shopping malls in nodes along the route, large high-density, mixed-use, commercial-residential complexes, government and private institutional headquarters and many teeming districts that are connected to Edsa through radial roads. Properties along or near Edsa has the spatial requirement for large developments and more commuters in the future will be a certainty.It is gratifying to note that, while government transport planners fail to see the need for a subway under Edsa, a private consortium has announced a proposal to build one. The proposal has great merit and ought to be supported. Furthermore, a subway is the key to the transformation of Edsa to a better avenue for all.

Interim solution

A subway will take more than five years to build. In the interim, a bus rapid transit (BRT) line will take much lesser time to put in place to augment the MRT 3. High capacity single or double-decker buses are ideal, but must be used as a train with multiple units running and stopping simultaneously to assure continuous flow and optimize the dedicated road lane. Locating the BRT stations at curb side instead of at the median or innermost lane will save construction time as it will dispense with the need for overhead commuter bridges. A tram line is another good option and would be the most ideal, but will require much time and expense, which eliminate it as the alternative. After the subway is completed, this surface line may be phased down or phased out entirely.

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Roads must be optimized to move people, not vehicles. A transportation study conducted on Second Street in downtown Seattle City, Washington, showed that 177 cars are needed on four road lanes to move 200 people. If buses are used, a total of four units will be needed to move the same number of persons. But it takes only one Light Rail Transit (LRT) train occupying one lane to move the same 200 commuters, and with less noise and exhaust emissions to pollute the air.

Europe has long recognized the efficiency of trains and its cities rely on surface tram lines and subways to efficiently move commuters despite its narrow streets. Other cities have followed the European mobility model.

The second strategy is to reclaim at least one road lane from each side of Edsa to widen the current sliver of a sidewalk. This will be the beneficial effect of the proposed space-saving rail-based transit system in the MAP plan. A wider sidewalk will provide space for landscaping and trees to be planted along the entire length to greatly transform Edsa into a softer and greener avenue.

A protected bicycle lane may be accommodated to broaden the choice of transport mode. A pleasant and healthy environment will encourage foot traffic and enhance vibrancy during the day and night.

With a transformed Edsa, Manila will have an iconic avenue that can rival the famed Singapore tree-lined airport road and, even, Orchard Road.

Complementary

This MAP plan dovetails with other developments that will decongest Edsa. New bridges across Pasig River, the skyway linking the SLEx to the NLEx and ongoing unclogging of secondary roads will substantially lessen dependence on Edsa.

Relocating the national government center is a necessary long-term measure that will ensure the sustainability of Metro Manila, while rendering it more livable. Clark Green City, with a new fast train service linking Manila, is a good choice for a new and well-planned government center. The decision to relocate must be made now. As it were, new buildings for the Supreme Court, Senate and other agencies are being built in
crowded CBDs that will only add further to the congestion. These buildings should be reconsidered.

The solution for a better Edsa is clearly available. And now is the right time to do it under the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program of the Duterte administration.

Shall we remain captive or resigned to the ugly and dysfunctional Edsa? Or shall we work for another miracle on Edsa?

The author was chair of the MAP traffic and transportation committee and author of cthe Holistic Traffic and Transportation Plan for Metro Manila. He is currently serving his last term as chair of the national issues committee of MAP. Feedback at [email protected] or [email protected]

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