How do you solve Metro Manila traffic? You don’t.

Let’s be realistic. There is nothing that anyone can do to solve the traffic woes of Metro Manila, even with the ingenuity and hard work of the MMDA chairman.

Here’s why.

trafficWith its current population of more than 12 million that swells to about 15 million during the daytime, Metro Manila is the undisputed primate city in the country whose close competitors such as Metro Cebu (2.5 million) or Metro Davao (2.2 million) pale in comparison in terms of population size.

According to the World Bank report, Metro Manila currently houses 56 percent of the total urban land development and more than 70 percent of the total urban population of the country. Worse, three of its 16 cities— Manila‘s 42,857 people/sq km; Pateros’ 30,456 people/sq km; and Caloocan’s 27,916 population/sq km—rank as the top three most densest cities in the world respectively dwarfing Mumbai’s 23,000 people/sq km; Paris’ 20,150 people/sq km; or Toyko’s 10,100 people/sq km.

Now you tell me, how do you manage that?

120807122548-philippines-flooding-1-horizontal-galleryThe incidence of thousands of commuters and motorists spending long hours stuck in a traffic jam especially after torrential rains and consequent flooding is a given. We should not have the illusion that our existing and on-going efforts will ameliorate our traffic problem once and for all. Our state of urban affairs is like what the legendary Yogi Berra used to quip. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

By now, we should already have learned our lesson that there’s no amount of urban revitalization or urban renewal can remedy the unsustainable and cancerous growth of our leading primate city. Short of wiping out the entire metro area and starting from scratch, there is no other way but to find the solution for its problem somewhere else. That is, the key to solving its overdevelopment is the development of other provinces.

I share the frustration of former MMDA Chief Francisco Tolentino because he bears the flak despite his best efforts to a problem that requires a different solution. I think the undue criticism is not only unfair but also misdirected. And yet, I thought he was quite intuitive and on the right track when he intimated a political solution to depopulating Metro Manila via the creation of well-planned urban centers in central, northern and southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

I say political solution because the master planning, engineering, or architectural components to development are the easiest tasks to do. For me, it’s not difficult to plan and design a medium-range or long-range growth center plan. It’s not a problem at all. But engaging in a political solution is. And that’s an entirely different ballgame.

Both in my academic work and urban planning consultancies, I have consistently espoused the re-rooting of our development to the origins of the city-state that the classical Greeks talked about. And I advocated the role of growth points and maritime development employing innovative and sustainable urban designs consistent to the natural and social characteristics of our island nation.

What is interesting about city-state planning is that, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Already, we have successful models to learn upon. In fact, the successes of Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong, or Singapore can be traced to the application of the city-state model of development.

Unfortunately, there are people who have the planning skills and expertise like me but do not possess the motherboard of urban or town planning. In short, someone has to exercise the political will to fulfill the vision of a new development from the beginning to the end.

It’ll be interesting to find out in the coming election. Who among the political contenders local as well as national do possess and articulate the vision and the determination to finally implement the long overdue, serious, no-nonsense, and non-distracted development expansion throughout the archipelago?


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2 Responses to How do you solve Metro Manila traffic? You don’t.

  1. Manny Fernandez says:

    The attempt to solve congestion in Manila was started since I was in high school. It was understood that overpopulation it’s bound to happen because the universities, seat of government and good jobs are all in the city. This is the main reason why the Capitol Site in Quezon city was created and UP extension in outer provinces. So there was a political will at that time to create other urban centers outside of Manila. But the effort was inadequate and limited in scope.

    Your proposal for maritime development and city state planning in the least congested part of the country is to me the right approach, It is the right design solution to an island nation. This will resurrect the once upon a time strong economic activities in the Sulu Zone. (Zulu Zone as a region was defined by James F. Warren in his book “The Sulu Zone, 1768-1898)

    Manny Fernandez

  2. RobbieM says:

    Thank you for the enlightened article. The armchair experts in the MMDA and the rest of the government are too afraid to admit that the cause of the traffic congestion in Metro Manila is simply its high population density. Radical steps must be taken now. Improving the efficiency of transport systems is only a second priority. Here are my thoughts:

    I. De-urbanize the metropolis
    A. The government has to impose a 50-year moratorium (or even longer?) on the approvals of construction of high density dwellings like high-rise condominiums.
    B. Increase the minimum wage of the provincial earners to the same level as that in Metro Manila. Current minimum wage laws impose a lower salary for those in the provinces, and people there are more inclined to try out their fortunes in Manila. They board the ships and buses towards the city and many end up squatting in the slums of the metropolis.
    C. In line with (B), tax breaks should be given to businesses who wish to open their trade in the provinces, to encourage more employment for the locals there.

    II. Transfer industrial facilities away from the city
    A. We need a moratorium on building industrial and manufacturing facilities within the metropolis. Incentives (tax breaks, building assistance) should be granted to current urban manufacturers who wish to transfer their facilities outside Metro Manila. That will reduce the amount of trucks and container vans in the city.
    B. Maximize the ports and harbors outside Metro Manila. Build new ones on the Pacific and West Philippine coasts.
    C. Build new residential areas nearer to these new industries to encourage people to stay in the provinces without necessarily earning less.

    III. Improve transportation
    A. Cruel and radical as it may be, we need to legislate a phaseout of privately owned urban buses and jeepneys. There is one thing in common among progressive cities– urban mass transport is state-owned and -operated. Drivers are given operating schedules, strict routes and stops, and standard salaries. The local “boundary system” has wreaked havoc to the city’s road traffic. And get rid of the damn jeepneys!– one bus which occupies the space taken by less than two jeepneys can carry the capacity of three. Who cares it they say it’s a cultural icon. It’s a burden more than anything else.
    B. Space the bus stops far apart. Urban transport studies in major cities show that the typical person is willing to walk up to 400 meters from the vehicle stop to his destination. So in theory, you can space bus stops or train stops 800 meters apart. That is just about the distance from Quirino Avenue Station to Pedro Gil Station on the LRT. In that single LRT interval, jeepneys will stop at least six times on the road below. People are just too pampered– they want to stop right at their doorstep. But the same people, given the chance, won’t complain if they are forced to walk on the streets of Paris or London.

    There are far more micromanagement policies we could impose– strict implementation of traffic and parking rules for private cars, banning of tricycles and pedicabs, etc.– but all that is in place already yet simply need enforcement. And I won’t even go to the underground subways we are all longing for. That’s icing on the cake. We need to decongest the city first.

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