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The Artist Abroad

Traffic and the road too often taken

/ 12:41 AM March 09, 2016
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Metro Manila traffic mess. INQUIRER FILE

NEW YORK CITY —To state that traffic is eating up, and killing, Metro Manila is nothing new. Nor that this is costing the economy a whole lot of money. Nor that the government, whether it be local or national, seems unable to fix the problem.

“Slowly Does it,” an article in the February 27th issue of The Economist, paints a depressing picture. Major roads too often become impromptu parking lots, in a metropolitan area that now has a population of 23 million, with about 254 persons per hectare. In comparison, Paris has 64 per hectare.

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The mass transit system is fledgling; out of seven proposed lines, only three have been built. And there is the popular belief that too many buses and jeepneys are the major reason for congestion. Indeed, there are more than 200 bus companies servicing EDSA alone. What was a revelation to me, however, was that, according to the article, cars carry 30 percent of Metro Manila’s population but account for 72 percent of the traffic. Which means too many cars carry too few people. Reduce the number of cars on the go by half and traffic should improve considerably. That, however, is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Many economists make a convincing case for developing the economy outside the national capital region, say, in the Visayas and Mindanao, so that the mass of promdis will have elsewhere to seek gainful employment other than in the capital region.

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Urban planners can’t seem to untangle this particular knot. That’s because they’re thinking well within the box. And I would be shocked if they did take public transportation. There is a proposal—always, this proposal—to build more roads. Of course, if you build it they will come. And come, and keep coming, until the new roads are quickly and once again choked by carbon-emitting vehicles.

What to do then with the hellish traffic conditions that continue to plague Metropolitan Manila?

Here are some out-of-the-box alternative solutions.

First, since traffic on major thoroughfares like EDSA moves at a snail’s pace, walking might be a better way to get to one’s destination. In which case moving sidewalks a lá airport walkways along the entire stretch of, say, EDSA, would enable the urbanite to simply get onto the moving walkway, and walk, stroll, or even speedwalk all the way to his or destination.

These moving sidewalks would run parallel to the elevated trains, thus decongesting both the buses and the trains. At the same time, the pedestrian on the walkway, by striding along rather than just passively allowing the moving sidewalk to move him or her, could exercise, a benefit that requires no extra time.

To protect against the elements, the moving sidewalks would be canopied. And wide enough for at least three people to stride through abreast.

Second, use troop-carrying helicopters to bring people to various destinations, for a modest fee. One could, in this scenario, get from Cubao to Ayala Avenue in Makati in much, much less time than being stuck on a bus or in a private vehicle.

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Third, employ massive hot-air balloons. These could provide a way for many of our politicians to show that they truly care for the masa. Each balloon could be powered, say, by a couple of politicians spouting their usual self-centered, meaningless rhetoric. In the case of particularly gaseous politicos, one might be sufficient to power a balloon.

Fourth, install cable cars above the Pasig River. Imagine getting to Guadalupe from Quiapo along this riverine course, and vice versa, with no roadblocks and the threat of gridlock. There could be economy and first-class cable cars, with the latter offering beverages, such as coffee, and snacks as well. This should entice car owners to leave their cars at home.

Alongside the cable cars, there could be, for the more athletically inclined, zip lines that would offer an exhilarating way to begin and end the day.

On the river itself ferries would be quite useful, though given the odoriferous state of the Pasig, passengers would likely need to hold their noses. But the long-suffering citizens of the no longer noble and loyal city are used to doing this on a regular basis, assailed as they are by the seemingly perpetual stench of public corruption—probably the biggest obstacle on the road to progress.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2016

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TAGS: “Slowly Does It, Metro Manila, out-of-the-box solutions to Manila traffic jams, The Economist, traffic congestion Manila
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