Caught (up) in traffic

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Traffic congestion and the limits of quick fixes

June 2013
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One time last summer night, it took me 2.5 hours to get to the airport from where I reside when it should only be an hour or 1.5 hours (on a typical bad day). Very early mornings (between 2 to 4 AM), it only takes me 40 minutes between my home an the airport. The route I usually take is mainly along Circumferential Road 5 (C-5); a route that basically has sparse public transport (mostly jeepneys along different sections) but is a truck route. It was summer though and one would have thought that there would be less vehicles along the road with school still out. I was wrong in that assumption and that cost me both time and fuel that night.

Traffic congestion in Metro Manila and other Philippine cities have been issues for such a long time that one tends to assume there’s nothing being done to fix the problem. In Metro Manila, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), in cooperation with the various local governments and national agencies, has implemented various schemes including the number coding, truck ban and a bus dispatch system along EDSA. Yet, congestion persists and only last week, the President got caught in traffic as he traveled from Malacanang Palace in Manila to the DOST Compound in Taguig. The news was filled with a comment that he supposedly made to the MMDA Chair about the delay he and his entourage experienced. The bad news is that this congestion will not go away and will only worsen if there are no steps taken to address the problem. And this happens not only in Metro Manila but in other highly urbanized cities in the country. Quite obviously, quick fixes are no longer enough and we have reached the limits of their applicability.

IMG05848-20130418-0853EDSA during the morning rush hours

IMG05857-20130419-1406EDSA during the afternoon peak, which actually extends to an evening and even nighttime traffic jam

So how do we alleviate traffic congestion? Here’s three things that come to mind as they seem to be quite logical and very obvious:

1. Build the mass transit infrastructure required – these infra include rail and bus rapid transit systems and are urgently needed in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Davao and other highly urbanized cities. A shift from private vehicle use to public transport will not happen if people have no attractive options for commuting. In Metro Manila, there is a backlog of mass transit projects with lines that should have been constructed and operational years or even decades ago.

2. Rationalize transport services – the long standing practice is to increase the number of existing modes of transport as the demand increases. This logic is one that is most abused as a doubling of demand is conveniently but incorrectly interpreted as requiring a corresponding doubling of the number of tricycles or jeepneys, for example. What is required is for our cities to “graduate” from low capacity and less efficient modes to higher capacity and more efficient ones. Many cities seem plagued with tricycles as their main modes of transport within their CBDs when these should have been restricted to residential areas and mainly in the periphery rather than allowed to dominate (and clog) urban streets.

3. Build more walkways and cycling facilities – its difficult to encourage people to walk and cycle if there are no space for pedestrians and cyclists to travel safely and efficiently. Most trips are actually short ones and do not require motor vehicles so it makes sense to invest in pedestrian and cycling facilities so people get the clear message of support for such options for travel. Such investment is also one for healthy living as walking and cycling are forms of exercise and it is well established that these modes of transport promote healthier lifestyles and therefore, healthier people in cities.


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