Traffic solutions in Metro Manila: EDSA in spotlight

“What we’re trying to do [to solve the traffic] is a government approach. But this [traffic] is a community problem. We need to engage all of you, all sectors of society to help solve the problem.” – Cabinet Secretary Jose Almendras

The technical working group solving EDSA's traffic. The group is headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

The technical working group solving EDSA’s traffic. The group is headed by the Cabinet Secretary, seated on the leftmost.

Yesterday, I went to UP Diliman to attend Usad EDSA, a multi-stakeholder consultation spearheaded by the technical working group of Cabinet Secretary Jose Almendras. The forum was a venue for the TWG to present traffic facts, their objectives, limitations, ongoing efforts, and proposed traffic solutions.

With Metro Manila‘s recent carmaggedon, the consistently hellish traffic, and the Filipinos’ desperate complaints on everyday’s traffic perils, the TWG took a look at EDSA, being the major thoroughfare of the metropolitan region. 

Epifanio de los Santos Avenue

EDSA is a circumferential freeway, with its 23.8 kilometers traversing six highly urbanised cities in the Philippines’ National Capital Region, including Quezon City, which is the most populous city in the country, Makati City, which contains the leading business district in the country, and Pasay City, which caters to international and local traffic, since this is where the country’s main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is situated.

In the forum, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority reported that to date, Filipinos have exceed the carrying capacity of EDSA, having 6,800 vehicles moving per hour, per direction, over and above the 6,000 vehicle limit. In 2014, 360,417 vehicles used the thoroughfare. A four-year time span has seen a 11.6% increase in the annual average daily traffic (AADT) in EDSA alone, which is close to the 12.5% increase within Metro Manila for the same timeframe.

These statistics give basis as to why we are experiencing extreme congestion. The Department of Transportation and Communication identified the three major causes of traffic:

  1. Increasing number of private vehicles
  2. Bus stop congestion
  3. On-street competition among buses and jeepneys

Comprehensive traffic assessment studies yielded the following results:

  • We’ve got too many motorcycles and too many private cars. Motorcycle growth soared above 100%, while private cars rate at above 60%. Buses, which are the road transport vehicles with the most capacity, hardly moved from its minimal 10%.
Comparison between private and public road transport. Source: Land Transportation Office (2014), as presented by DOTC in Usad EDSA.

Comparison between private and public road transport. Source: Land Transportation Office (2014), as presented by DOTC in Usad EDSA.

  • Our major roads are already too utilised. In the map below, a yellow to red scale represents the least to highest frequency. The highlighted thick, red road is Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, where commuters avail of public utility vehicle services. Their movement, starting from the north to south, is dispersed in the major roundabout, the Quezon Memorial Circle, where commuters either take the North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, or East Avenue towards their various destinations in Metro Manila.
Frequency of public utility vehicle services. Source: DOTC

Frequency of public utility vehicle services. Source: DOTC

  • We need more routes and straighter roads to transport the mass population. The map below shows the demand for transport services. This was conducted at the peak hours of traffic (6 – 9 AM) where the rushour keeps commuters at long lines or where they get stuck in traffic. The thickest and most violet lines may be equated to a range where at least 1,000 to 3,500 trips are demanded.
Current demand for public transport. Source: DOTC

Current demand for public transport. Source: DOTC

  • The main trip attractors were mapped out. Trip attractors are the areas where transport vehicles have an interchange, or simply, where the commuter leaves his current ride and switches to another means (or mode) of transportation. In the findings, the size of the violet circles show magnitude of passenger interchange.  We can take note that these big circles are also surrounded by smaller ones, making their areas dense. If we look closely, the densest trip attractors are where major commercial centers, are located. Cubao and Manila have the biggest and densest circles, and these are where the most terminals are present. We can also observe that Quezon Avenue, which leads to Mania, and EDSA, which leads all the way to the airport, have a creeping movement of trip attractions. Pasay and Baclaran also have a dense finding because of the airport and the trading and religious activities within that area.
Current network utilisation. Source: DOTC.

Current network utilisation. Source: DOTC.

Ongoing projects

The Department of Public Works and Highways is working on a number of  infrastructural works along EDSA:

  • Bus lane delineators for bus lanes. These will segregate private cars from public transport, such as buses and jeeps. The delineators are concrete, and will dedicate the outermost lanes for public transport. This will lessen the stopping time of private cars, as affected by loading and unloading buses. The only time that private cars, taxis, and UV shuttles will be allowed to enter the yellow bus lanes is at traffic transition sections.
Delineated bus lanes. Source: DPWH

Delineated bus lanes. Source: DPWH

  • The yellow box. This is the box filled with yellow lines, painted on the road of an intersection or junction. It is basically designed to prevent congestion in areas with heavy car volumes. This is how it will look like in EDSA:
Yellow box. Source: DPWH

Yellow box. Source: DPWH

  • Signage. Appropriate signage will be placed for the bus lanes and the yellow boxes. The signage will be stationed ahead of transition areas to allow vehicles to change to appropriate lanes in time for the critical areas.
  • Signalization. Traffic lights will be installed and improved in the corners of Congressional Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue, along Quezon Avenue, and Roxas Boulevard. These areas were observed to be sources of congestions in intersections.
  • The Center Link road project from Bonifacio Global City to Ortigas. A major finding of traffic assessment is that there is a lack of bridges that go across the Pasig River. Vehicles can only opt for either EDSA or C-5. The Center Link road project will be located in the centre of the two roads. This will be implemented in two stages. As seen in the map below, the first phase will be the actual bridge, colored in orange, connecting Sta. Monica St. and Lawton. The second phase is colored in green and in blue. The green is Phase 2A, which will connect Lawton to Bonifacio Global City, and the blue is Phase 2B, which will connect Sta. Monica to Meralco Avenue.
The Center Link road project location plan. Source: DPWH

The Center Link road project location plan. Source: DPWH

“Big ticket projects”

Aside from these interventions in EDSA, other major infrastructural projects that will affect the traffic flow in EDSA and the rest of Metro Manila include the following:

  • LRT Line II East Extension Project. The Masinag Station recently had its groundbreaking (June 2015), and will extend the mass transit flow until the lower part of Antipolo City, the seventh most populous city in the country.

LRT Line 2 (Purple Line) train map, including the location of the Masinag Station. Source: http://media.philstar.com/images/the-philippine-star/headlines/20150609/purple-line-LRT-2.PNG

Skyway 3 Project route map. Source: The Philippine Star

Skyway 3 Project route map. Source: The Philippine Star

Segment 9, located at the north area of the skyway, is already open. The latest developments of the skyway were documented and can be seen in the video below:

  • NAIA Expressway II Project. This is a 4-lane expressway that decongests the traffic in the airport vicinity. It will connect NAIA Terminals 1, 2, and 3, making it accessible and easier for passengers to reach different parts of the airport. It expects to service at least 80,000 passengers per day.
NAIA Expressway II Route. Source: http://www.dpwh.gov.ph/PPP/img/NAIAEX.jpg

NAIA Expressway II Route. Source: http://www.dpwh.gov.ph/PPP/img/NAIAEX.jpg

This MMDA video explains the routes from different directions in detail:

  • Magallanes Interchange repair, strengthening, and asphalt overlay. The Magallanes Interchange is a turbine interchange in Makati City. It drives traffic in a spiral direction, bridging EDSA and SLEX.
  • Flood Masterplan in Metro Manila. The entire flood masterplan for Metro Manila even covers as far as Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal, and includes river basins and drainage basins. The DPWH assessment on flooding is that there is no more passageways for water to drain, whether they be natural, such as esteros, or man-made, such as the drainages. This is mainly due to the 19,000 informal settlers who live within these areas, posing hazards and contributing to water blockage. Clearings and resettlement will be undertaken to free the needed passageways in the nine affected waterways of Metro Manila. Drainage ways, with a 3.5 – 8 meter height are also planned out to increase water absorption in the metropolitan.
Drainage Improvement in the Core of Metropolitan Manila. Source: http://www.gov.ph/2015/07/31/dpwh-project-briefer-flood-management-master-plan/

Drainage Improvement in the Core of Metropolitan Manila.
Source: http://www.gov.ph/2015/07/31/dpwh-project-briefer-flood-management-master-plan/

The flood interceptor project in Blumentritt, Manila, will direct the flooding from Quezon City through the Tondo Creek to the Manila Bay.

Clearing and construction in Blumentritt for the floodwater interceptor project. Source: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/files/2014/04/dpwh1.jpg

Clearing and construction in Blumentritt for the floodwater interceptor project. Source: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/files/2014/04/dpwh1.jpg

Other efforts

Other efforts reported by the DOTC to improve the traffic in EDSA include the bus rapid transit (BRT), train capacity expansions and extensions, and express bus initiatives, which include point-to-point service and limited stop service. Point-to-point service only loads and unloads in off-street terminals, such as parking lots, driveways, and shopping malls, driving the loading traffic away from the roads. The limited stop service, on the other hand, only allows buses to have a maximum of two stops within EDSA, and 6 stops outside of EDSA. 10% of vehicle units per bus operator is proposed to switch to limited stop service operations to further minimize traffic congestion. Express bus initiatives include have benefits for both commuters and bus operators alike, such as faster travel time, higher service quality, more round trips, and market expansion.

My take

The assessment and solutions presented by the TWG on Metro Manila traffic is very comprehensive and commendable. I was very impressed with how Secretaries Almendras and Singson knew exactly how it felt to walk on the streets as commuters. They made sure to diligently experience the traffic before coming up with solutions. They opened the floor to comments and suggestions.

However, one thing was glaringly lacking in how the assessment was made, and in pinpointing the problems of traffic. Congestion is caused by high volumes of cars and exceeding the carrying capacities of roads. Cars are driven by people. They don’t just appear by themselves on the road; they transport people.

I think that car volume is a symptom, but the root problem is the Filipinos’ behaviour. Once again, we’re stuck in the link of thinking of having cars as status symbols, buying one or more for each member of the family. We only consider the convenience, not the impacts. We do not stop to think of its emissions. We have the thinking that just another car wouldn’t matter. But look at where that thinking has brought us.

“Why do I always forget that traffic is a social affair?”
― Stefan Emunds

It’s a social problem, and yet here we are thinking that opening new roads will solve the problem. New roads will encourage and welcome more cars. It will probably solve congestion for the next five to ten years, but with a high growth rate in traffic, we will be congesting all our new roads all over again. This is not a sustainable solution.

So what is sustainable? Teaching is sustainable. Educating the Filipino mind, improving his behaviour, changing his bad traffic habits are what I consider sustainable. Teach him to like the bus, to like the train. That will be very hard, since Filipinos have been used to the convenience of cars and taxis. Of crossing any part of the road. Of flagging down buses and jeepneys without considering anyone else nearby, not glancing over the shoulder to see how many other people he has delayed or is blocking. I call it the “King of the Road” syndrome.

It’s easier said than done. We can easily teach the youth about sustainable transport practices while they’re in school, but educating the adult is a different matter. Leaflets and commercials would hardly be what I call as education. Campaigns can only last for how long.

Rehabilitating a devastated region takes about ten years. Changing the mindset of a whole nation might take double. But we’ve got to address it. I’ll be glad to learn from anyone on how to educate adults in their 20’s to 60’s. How to give them an impact. How to make them realise the rights and wrongs of transportation.

I go back to what Secretary Almendras said, that quote i put at the beginning of this post. Community problems need community solutions. The government is working. The same people from the transport industry keep attending and listening to what they want to say. But what about the rest of us? Drivers, commuters, Filipino families? It’s up to us to stop pointing fingers, to stop jaywalking, violating traffic rules, and causing all this traffic. At the end of the day, solving the traffic is for us. We should work for it. It starts with you and me.


My reaction to this event and traffic in the metro was published in the Young Blood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, dated 13 October 2015: Willing to walk, or to leave your car at home?

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