Green Edsa Movement
Manila was the Pearl of the Orient before the war, a well-deserved title as Manila was considered the most beautiful and elegant metropolis, second only to Shanghai. Architect Daniel Burnham designed a city with ample roads, walkable sidewalks and stately shade trees that provided a virtual green canopy over the city. An extensive tramline system provided efficient and orderly public transportation.
All these changed when a large part of the city was destroyed during the war, particularly the elegant Ermita and Malate districts. The rail tracks were ripped out for scrap metal and tram cars were decommissioned. Cars and jeepneys took the place of the trams following the American obsession for automobiles.
As the population rose and these inefficient people movers proved inadequate, streets were widened in the mistaken belief that more cars will provide the mobility solution. In the process, trees were cut and sidewalks sacrificed to widen roads. But the mobility problem together with traffic congestion only worsened, while livability and aesthetic conditions deteriorated.
Instead of restoring the tram system or building more efficient mass transportation and people mover systems, urban managers threw in more roads and vehicles. Edsa was widened into a 10-lane highway for vehicle mobility. Sidewalks and trees were ruled out. Yet, traffic gridlock became the daily rule with commuters stranded in interminably long commutes. Edsa became the most chaotic, noisy, ugly and polluted traffic corridor in the country. The social and economic costs were immense.
Edsa and Taft Avenue are notable examples of damage caused by urban managers’ misguided preference for a car-oriented road policy, which continues to the present. Road managers seem oblivious to the National Transportation Policy (NTP) approved by the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) in 2017. This policy mandates people mobility through mass transportation, instead of vehicle mobility. It further calls for greenways and equitable allocation of road space for other stakeholders, such as pedestrians and bikers.
To paraphrase Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant in this world is change. And change did come to Edsa.
On June 1, 2020, a new busway at the median lane was introduced for use of public buses through the initiative of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. Since then, the new busway has proven to be far more efficient than the defunct “yellow” bus lanes that were located on the two outer lanes.
Buses now run unimpeded on the busway day or night to the delight of commuters. The busway, which currently runs on only one lane instead of the previous two lanes, proves that large amount of road space and conveyances are not the key factors, rather it is unimpeded bus operations like trains that optimize passenger throughput.
The introduction of the busway has initiated the transformation of Edsa. More efficient mass transportation with a fully rehabilitated MRT 3 and more efficient public bus transportation present the opportunity to rationalize road space allocation. Compliance with the NTP will enable the reclamation of lost sidewalk space for widening and greening of the existing narrow sidewalks.
A Green Edsa Movement, organized by civic-minded citizens, is being launched to coincide with Earth Month in April. The movement seeks to build on the advances in public transportation and, invoking the NTP, advocates the “green” makeover of Edsa into a greenway with trees and walkable landscaped sidewalks and bike lanes. This transformation will improve the urban landscape, upgrade environmental conditions and mitigate the adverse impact of climate change.
The movement is guided by a manifesto, key excerpts of which follow:
“We now make these commitments, as our civic duty, to work together
• “To pursue the vision of a Green Edsa: a calmer, tree-lined and landscaped thoroughfare, with wide sidewalks conducive to walking and promenading; and a vibrant, dynamic community where establishments thrive in a gentler, greener social milieu;
• “To advocate the adoption of aesthetic and environment-friendly design and construction of public and private infrastructures that allows space for people mobility, the growth of trees and greenery, exposure to natural lighting and air circulation;
• “To enjoin businesses and property owners along and adjoining Edsa to participate in its renovation and redevelopment into a people-friendly, landscaped Greenway, with generous space for pedestrian movement;
• “To support the Department of Transportation in vigorously implementing our National Transportation Policy, with specific reference to the transformation of Edsa, where: people mobility is prioritized over vehicle mobility; mass public transportation is fueled by clean energy; greenways are developed; road sharing is rationalized; bicycle lanes are adequate; and pedestrians are provided equitable space;
• “To support the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the local government units in conforming to the National Transportation Policy, the strict enforcement of the building setback regulations and the innovation and implementation of a sustainable development and maintenance plans for the Green Edsa that the Filipino people deserve;
• “To make this movement a vigorous advocacy shared broadly with individuals and organizations, persistently pursued until the full fruition of our vision for a Green Edsa.”
The core convenors who compose the steering committee, consist of busway advocate Eduardo Yap, chair; Evelyn Singson, vice chair; and the following members: Emmanuel Bonoan, Sonny Coloma, Santiago Dumlao, Jr., Baltazar Endriga, Margarita Floirendo, Marianne Hontiveros, Alfredo Parungao, Anton San Diego and Marife Zamora. A technical working group, consisting of experts in various disciplines, assists the steering committee. INQThe movement is a separate undertaking from the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and the article does not reflect the views of the MAP, although the vision and mission are not incompatible. The author is chair of the MAP Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and president and CEO of Clairmont Group.