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FINDING ANSWERS

By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA

Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator

Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

In my latest DZMM teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan which I host every Sunday morning, Assistant Secretary Celine Pialago, spokesperson of the Metro Manila Development Authority, was my studio guest and we focused on a perennial issue — the nightmarish traffic especially along EDSA.

The issue of worsening traffic and mobility affects almost everyone living in the country’s premier urban center and those coming to visit from other areas. It is undoubtedly so frustrating as it has defied solution all these years. In fact, traffic and other adverse effects of rapid urbanization have placed Metro Manila among the worst places worldwide.

As early as 2015, the largest community-based traffic and navigation app used by motorists and commuters, Waze, had given Metro Manila the dubious distinction of being the world’s “worst urban area to be a driver.” A Waze study that year evaluated driving experiences of about 50 million app users in 32 countries and 167 major urban areas. It found Metro Manila had “the worst traffic on Earth, with Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Jakarta not far behind.”

Overall, the Philippines placed second to lowest then, next to El Salvador, among 38 countries. The best countries in the world to be a driver, based on the Waze 2016 Driver Satisfaction Index  or DSI (a score of 10 is satisfying while 1 is miserable), were Netherlands (7.54), France (7.42), United States (7.22), Czech Republic (6.91), and Sweden (6.88). But starting 2017, the Philippines, with a DSI rating of 3.02, had become the “worst place to be a driver” among 39 countries surveyed by Waze which studied places where the app had more than 40,000 monthly active users.

The heavy congestion and slow-moving vehicular traffic along vast stretches of EDSA has become a pathetic way of life for hundreds of thousands of hapless commuters at peak and non-peak hours, in rain or shine, whether southbound or northbound.

The daily dilemma is not surprising with the sheer volume of vehicles traversing the 23.8-km circumferential main highway of Metro Manila. Asec Pialago said that as much as 402,000 vehicles on average are clumped daily on EDSA that was designed to have a carrying capacity of only 270,000 vehicles.

The perennial traffic congestion has driven the MMDA to try almost everything in search of practical measures to effectively handle the phenomenal growth of an ever-expanding volume of people and vehicles overcrowding limited space. Many innovations have been used through the years — Flyovers, foot bridges, yellow lanes, bus tagging, segregation, computerized dispatching, u-turn slots, concrete barriers, wired fences, uniformed traffic enforcers manning their posts, etc.

And more innovations are in the planning stage, according to Asec. Pialago. These include the so-called “Road Diet” that would trim down the width of EDSA lanes from 3.4 meters to 2.8 meters by adjusting the lane markers to have more lanes to cope with the large volume of vehicles.

But more needs to be done. To reduce vehicle volume on EDSA, more secondary roads cleared of parked vehicles should be available for use as alternate routes. How to clear them of illegally parked cars? I propose that more parking spaces be built. This can be done through the clustering of barangays and expropriating private property to be converted to sites where car park buildings would rise. An incentive of reduced taxes would encourage construction of these buildings to be used exclusively for parking.

And there are other short, medium, and long-term solutions to traffic congestion which Asec. Pialago discussed in my teleradyo program. These include stiffer penalties for traffic violations and illegal parking, and the many infrastructure projects now in varied stages of construction.

But immense benefits of new infrastructure, when finally completed, might be short-lived unless rapid and expanding urbanization, amid unmitigated rural to urban migration, is effectively addressed.

The current global trend towards urbanization seems irreversible, with majority of the world’s population now living in cities although only a little less than 10 percent of urban dwellers can be found in mega cities, defined by UN Habitat as those with populations of more than 10 million.

The tipping point in the worldwide demographic shift from rural to urban was recorded in 2010 when the urban population began to outnumber that of rural for the first time. According to a World Health Organization report, about four out of every ten people lived in cities in 1990, a far cry from a century ago when only two out of every ten were in cities. It is projected that by 2030, six out of every ten people in the world will be in cities. In 2050, seven out of ten will live in urban areas.

We saw the trend in the global phenomenon during the late ‘80s when I was part of the Philippine Senate. I rallied my colleagues to come up with legislation to address the emerging specter of urbanization – increased population and vehicular traffic, inadequate public transportation, worsening air and noise pollution, urban blight, and many more.

The resulting landmark legislation, the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, not only sought to tackle the growing need for decent housing for the poor but also the challenges posed by rural to urban migration and its effects on traffic management and transport systems. UDHA was envisioned to slow down migration to urban areas by developing other growth areas in various regions. Yet, almost three decades after its enactment, urbanization has become overwhelming. Why? It is obvious the intent of UDHA was not followed to the letter.

It is essential and urgent to plan or re-plan various strategies to meet the challenges of urbanization not only for now but for decades into the future to spare coming generations from being condemned to suffer needlessly.

E-mail: findinglina@yahoo.com

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