If you build it, will they come?
There seems to be a belief among the more zealous advocates of sustainable transport that if “you build it, they will come.” It seems cliche but this saying is not necessarily applicable to many things especially when referring to transport infrastructure. There are examples of roads, terminals and other transport facilities that have been built but sadly are underutilized mainly due to the demand just not being there and taking much time to attain. The last is usually due to the fact that certain conditions or prerequisites have not been satisfied. One such example of this is the case of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), whose payment for the loan that covered the construction costs was premised on a very high traffic demand forecast. It took some time for more people to use the expressway as the traffic from the major developments (Clark, Subic, Tarlac and Bataan industrial and commercial developments) just didn’t happen as immediately as assumed in the forecast. Still, there is a strategic value to such major infrastructure considering it as an investment and something that will cost a lot more in the future if not built today.
In Metro Manila, the MMDA has allocated or designated lanes for cycling along several major roads. These included the lanes they created out of painting existing pedestrian sidewalks and marking these as bikeways. One section is between Magallanes and Ayala while another is from Ortigas to White Plains. These are poorly designed, “pwede na yan” types of bikeways that people on bicycles would find very difficult to use because the course is full of obstacles. And how about the plight of pedestrians who would have to share these narrow paths with cyclists? Such mixed signals on providing for the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are not necessary unless of course the main objective of this exercise is just to get the attention of a wider audience that is the general public, which I would strongly agree is needed to advocate for sustainable transport. Focus on the ultimate goal, however, should not be lost for what appears as small victories. Perhaps an even stronger initiative should be towards having the DPWH revise road design guidelines to incorporate walking and cycling requirement especially for national roads.
Bicycle lane along Julia Vargas Ave. in Pasig City
Cebu City enacted an ordinance essentially promoting cycling through the planning and implementation of bikeways, bike lanes or shared lanes. However, initial efforts seem to be following the MMDA’s “pwede na yan” approach. I think Cebu could do better and come up with a better plan for integrating and mainstreaming bikeways into the transport network. But of course, a lot still needs to be done for pedestrian facilities.
In conclusion, building transport infrastructure is not an assurance that it will generate its intended benefits at once. However, some infrastructure are more strategic than others as perhaps they form part of a network. Expressways in Luzon are among these strategic investments. High standard highways in Mindanao are also essential. Rail rehab and building in Luzon is strategic. The same in Mindanao perhaps is not. Mass transit systems in highly urbanized cities are required but perhaps many should start with buses rather than rail. Bridges across islands are not urgent. International-standard airports in major cities are necessary but not all provinces require such airports. Its not a simple task to determine what will work and what wouldn’t. While it is easy to attribute so many benefits in order to justify a project, such practice would usually result in white elephants that few people benefit from.