Road Wars: Age of Traffic in the Philippines

Traffic congestion at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA).
Photo courtesy of Edwin Bacasmas
EDSA (C-3) is known for the People Power Revolution, but this 23.8 kilometer thoroughfare is also known for being one of the most traffic congested roads in Metro Manila, if not in the entire Philippines. Traffic is defined as the movement of vehicles or pedestrians through an area or a route, while a traffic jam is a situation in which a long line of vehicles on a road have stopped moving or are moving very slowly (see Merriam-Webster definition). Of course, traffic is a sign of progress, but when traffic jams increase, there is no progress. It is a sign of bad urban planning. As of 2015, 2.4 billion pesos (around $48 million) every day is being lost to traffic in Metro Manila alone, and it is expected to increase to 6 billion pesos by 2030. However, once upon a time, the capital of the Philippines was not as compressed as it is in our era.

Colonial urban planning
Burnham Plan of Manila (1905)
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
It was during the Spanish colonial period when Manila began to grow into the metropolis it is to this day. The Spanish saw a city of around 4,000 inhabiting a vast expanse of land by the bay, adequately watered by the Pasig River and its adjacent waterways. As they built Intramuros, the walled city, they never thought the new capital city would be filled up during their administration of the archipelago. The Spanish urban planners laid out the city in grid pattern, a conventional method during the 16th century. However, they could have not been more wrong. By the 19th century, the narrow streets of Manila are full of calesas (horse-drawn calash) and pedestrians. Intramuros alone is the residence of more or less 15,000 Spaniards. The government center itself moved from Palacio del Gobernador (within Intramuros) to MalacaƱang (outside Intramuros, or the so-called Extramuros). By this time, the colonial government had been investing more in war than infrastructure, and thus, relying more on unpaid forced labor to maintain roads, while virtually constructing no new ones. A description of the city can be witnessed in Jose Rizal's first novel, Noli Me Tangere:

Ibarra stood undecided for a moment. The night breeze, which during those months blows cool enough in Manila, seemed to drive from his forehead the light cloud that had darkened it. He took off his hat and drew a deep breath. Carriages flashed by, public rigs moved along at a sleepy pace, pedestrians of many nationalities were passing. He walked along at that irregular pace which indicates thoughtful abstraction or freedom from care, directing his steps toward Binondo Plaza and looking about him as if to recall the place. There were the same streets and the identical houses with their white and blue walls, whitewashed, or frescoed in bad imitation of granite; the church continued to show its illuminated clock face; there were the same Chinese shops with their soiled curtains and their iron gratings, in one of which was a bar that he, in imitation of the street urchins of Manila, had twisted one night; it was still unstraightened. “How slowly everything moves,” he murmured as he turned into Calle Sacristia. The ice-cream venders were repeating the same shrill cry, “Sorbeteee!” while the smoky lamps still lighted the identical Chinese stands and those of the old women who sold candy and fruit. 
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “There’s the same Chinese who was here seven years ago, and that old woman—the very same! It might be said that tonight I’ve dreamed of a seven years’ journey in Europe. Good heavens, that pavement is still in the same unrepaired condition as when I left!” True it was that the stones of the sidewalk on the corner of San Jacinto and Sacristia were still loose.
Ibarra’s carriage was passing through a part of the busiest district in Manila, the same which the night before had made him feel sad, but which by daylight caused him to smile in spite of himself. The movement in every part, so many carriages coming and going at full speed, the carromatas and calesas, the Europeans, the Chinese, the natives, each in his own peculiar costume, the fruit-venders, the money-changers, the naked porters, the grocery stores, the lunch stands and restaurants, the shops, and even the carts drawn by the impassive and indifferent carabao, who seems to amuse himself in carrying burdens while he patiently ruminates, all this noise and confusion, the very sun itself, the distinctive odors and the motley colors, awoke in the youth’s mind a world of sleeping recollections. 
Those streets had not yet been paved, and two successive days of sunshine filled them with dust which covered everything and made the passer-by cough while it nearly blinded him. A day of rain formed pools of muddy water, which at night reflected the carriage lights and splashed mud a distance of several yards away upon the pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks. And how many women have left their embroidered slippers in those waves of mud!

Tranvia in Manila
Photo courtesy of  National Economic and Development Authority
The Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War managed to destroy much of the Manila suburbs (arrabales), the neighboring areas outside the walled city, giving leeway for Americans to implement their own urban planning techniques. One significant development by this time was forwarded by Daniel Burham, an American architect who drafted the urban planning for Chicago. His plan for Manila, known as the Burnham Plan, was to concentrate key government buildings in the city while keeping a wide open field that is Luneta (later, Rizal Park). The Spanish managed to create an open field in Luneta, but this was not out of urban planning. It was done because of military convenience, for their experience during the British invasion in 1762 showed the Spanish how vulnerable the area is to artillery fire. Burnham planned to enlarge Luneta, following the example of New York's Central Park and Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill. In addition, he planned a radial or circumferential pattern for the city, deviating from the Spanish grid pattern. In this 1905 plan, Burnham anticipated a city of 800,000 people. Of course, by 1920, Manila's population already stood at around 300,000. Even so, the plan went on, until the Commonwealth period. President Manuel Quezon halted funding for the implementation of the plan, and opted to move the capital elsewhere. This new capital would be named after him, and thus, Quezon City. Meanwhile, only three of the 16 planned government buildings were finished, and among the roads completed was the seaside Dewey Boulevard (later, Roxas Boulevard). As for traffic, Manila was not as congested as it is later on. Of course, cars soon replaced the calesas. Howeve, around 40% of passengers were carried around by electric streetcars, also known as tranvia, which extended up to 85 kilometers around the city and its suburbs.

Filipino urban planning
1949 Master Plan of Quezon City
Photo courtesy of  Capital City Planning Commission
In 1941, the Commonwealth approved the Frost-Arellano Plan, drafted by Harry Frost and Juan Arellano. Like the Burnham Plan, it would use a radial pattern. However, Quezon City would have an elliptical circle as the central point of the radial pattern. This would become the Quezon Memorial Circle. Such a circle cannot be realized in Manila because it faces the bay. Even Luneta, the central point of the plan, was not circular, but rectangular in shape. Circumferential roads such as Luzon Avenue (extending to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan), Visayas Avenue (extending to Meycauayan, also in Bulacan), and Mindanao Avenue (extending to La Mesa Dam) were included in the plan. Of course, these were not completed, with these roads only reaching a certain extent of the original. Meanwhile, a quadrangle would encompass the circle. This quadrangle would contain the "Central Park" as its heart, which was actually located in Diliman, where the University of the Philippines currently stands. The remaining quarters of the quadrangle would also contain parks and zoos. However, this was not completely realized. The roads on this quadrangle have been named after the four cardinal directions: North Avenue (because it is in the north of the quadrangle), West Avenue (in the west), East Avenue (in the east), and Timog Avenue (in the south of the quadrangle). All of these roads are part of what is now Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), which finished construction in 1940. However, the Frost-Arellano Plan was not completed as well because the Second World War opened in the Asia-Pacific in 1941. Still, with slight modifications, this was carried over in the 1949 Master Plan for the Capital City. Among the modifications include the erection of a monument in honor of Quezon in the circle. Government buildings, which was located in the circle in the 1941 plan, was moved to Constitution Hill in the 1949 plan. This is where Batasan Hills currently stands, replacing what is supposed to be the site of the Philippine Military Academy. However, Batasang Pambansa itself would not be completed until 1978. By this time, when Quezon City was designated as capital by President Elpidio Quirino (Republic Act No. 333), Manila had a population of around 1.6 million. This is already double the capacity estimated by Burnham in 1905. With the stoppage of the tranvia after the war, no extensive rail network accommodated public transportation in the city. What replaced as the main vehicle for passengers was the jeepney, which was developed only from reinventing surplus American military jeeps.

Photo courtesy of World Bank
Whether it was the postwar conditions of the country or not, the Philippine government did not come up with another major plan, nor implemented any, for the rapidly urbanizing Manila, Quezon City, and their neighboring areas. By 1960, the population of Manila shot to 2.5 million. It would not be until President Ferdinand Marcos when a plan would be drafted. Initially, Marcos did a political reorganization. This formed the region now known as Metro Manila in 1975, and Manila became capital once more. Following this, the MMetroplan, recommended in 1977, provided the framework for expansion and management of the new capital region. This plan takes a step further from the radial pattern by expanding eastward. Since Burnham, the radial pattern of urban planning for Manila was supposed to go eastward, since the bay hinders further expansion to the west. However, by 1977, Metro Manila has a population of more than 6 million. This meant the construction of more circumferential roads to the east to accommodate expansion, which would later become C-5 and C-6. The plan also provided for areas where urban expansion would be restricted because it is not suitable. Evidently, among the restricted areas was Marikina Valley, which was east of Manila. At any rate, the plan was much larger in scale than that of Burnham or of Frost and Arellano. Another innovation that is otherwise absent in the 1941 plan was the utilization of mass transit. More people, complemented by a growing economy (the Philippine economy was growing at a modest rate of 5% yearly since 1960), means more movement, more traffic. In order to accommodate the projected increase in population, a total of seven major lines were planned, including a subway system. Of course, it is still not as comparable to the rail systems of other metropolitan systems (Tokyo alone has more than a hundred lines). However, when Marcos was removed from power by People Power, only one of these lines were built: the Manila Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1. The line began operations in 1984. Two other lines were built after the Marcos administration. Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 began operations in 1999, and Light Rail Transit (LRT) 2 in 2003. This doubled the mileage of existing rail in the region (20 kilometers to 50 kilometers). The idea was to transport more people by rail than any other modes of transportation, which was a feat once achieved by the tranvia. However, even if one thinks our trains are already packed, only 1.5 million people have used mass transit as of 2012, or around 6% to 9% of total passengers travelling Metro Manila roads.

Into the 21st century
Traffic in Metro Manila today (2017)
Red lines represent severe traffic congestion (above capacity)
Yellow lines represent moderate traffic (within capacity)
Green lines represent light traffic (below capacity)
Photo courtesy of Google Maps
Modifications to the 1977 plan were made and succeeding administrations tried to implement them until the year 2000. However, as the Philippines entered the 21st century, the 1977 plan seemed to fall apart. In the first place, it was not fully implemented. It was designed to accommodate more or less six million people. As of 2015, the population stands at 12.8 million, increasing at a rate of 2% annauly since 1980. However, as the economy continued to expand (4.5% annually under Arroyo, 6% annually under Aquino III), investment in infrastructure seemed to lag behind. Road mileage increased by a measly 1.5% annually since 1980. Meanwhile, a growing middle class spurred a 4% yearly increase in vehicles. Net result? Worse traffic. Despite all government efforts to reduce the suffering of the populace, such as truck ban, extended number coding hours, and intelligent traffic systems (CCTV, interactive signs, etc.), there are no signs of improving. In 2012, Numbeo indexed Manila to have 61 minutes of one-way transport (ranked 10th in the world). Five years later, in 2017, Numbeo had Manila at 58 minutes (ranked 5th). Not only has there been a slight difference, Manila actually went up the global rankings. It can be inferred that while other urban centers worldwide have been working upon their traffic woes, the Philippines has not done as much for her own problems.

Metro Manila after Dream Plan (2030)
Orange lines represent above capacity
Yellow lines represent within capacity
Green lines represent below capacity
Photo courtesy of NEDA, JICA
Recommended as a solution to this grave situation is the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas (Region III and Region IV-A), also known as the Metro Manila Dream Plan. Presented in 2015 by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the plan called for massive infrastructure investment to ensure better traffic by 2030. Metro Manila alone has 36% share of the national economy. Better movement in this region would result to faster economic growth. The Japanese input was their experience in massive urban planning, as displayed by their Technopolis program during the 1980s. Technopolis provided for the creation of 19 science cities nationwide, transferring key research institutions in these cities, and connecting them by road and rail networks. This meant relieving major urban centers such as Tokyo. One of the more prominent science cities was Tsukuba, which had more than 200,000 people as of 2010. The Tsukuba Science City was conceived in 1963 and became the foundation of the Technopolis. In the Philippine setting, the Dream Plan proposes the development of locations north and south of Manila, such as Subic, Clark, Tarlac, Cabanatuan, Batangas, Lipa, and Lucena as regional centers. This would increase opportunities of economic development in the neighboring regions, and relieving the pressure in Metro Manila as the only center in the region. The Dream Plan also proposes eleven (11) transit lines, including expansions, more than the 1977 plan of seven lines. If completed, it would total to 318 kilometers of rail, more than six times the current capacity. The target is to get more than seven (7) million people commuting by train, an expected share of around 30% to 40%. Tokyo, which was indexed by Numbeo at 41 minutes of one-way transport, has 62% passenger share for its railways. Hong Kong, indexed at 42 minutes, has 25% share. Singapore, indexed at 43 minutes, has 20% share. Besides mass transit, the use of rapid bus transit (BRT) is also included in the plan. The expected number of passengers using BRT by 2030 would be around two million. Upgrading existing roads and building new ones are also proposed. The plan calls for a ladder pattern, with urban expansion both going eastward and towards the north-south axis. Again, the point is to create multiple urban centers (sub-centers) north and south of Metro Manila. The plan also called for the development of ecological zones (northwest, southwest, and east of Manila) where there would be ample space for parks and zoos. To date, some components of this have already been underway, but the Dream Plan itself would cost a lot for the government. A total of 2.6 trillion pesos until 2030 has to be spent. Of course, there is ample justification for the expenses. By 2030, a 42% decrease in traffic costs is expected (from 2.4 billion pesos per day in 2015 to 1.4 billion pesos per day). However, this would mean putting as much as 55% to 60% of the total infrastructure budget in developing Metro Manila alone. The rest of the nation may be left behind, and traffic is not confined in Manila. Other urban centers in the Philippines such as Cebu (33 minutes) and Davao (31 minutes) begin to be ranked globally among cities with the most traffic. With the assumption of Rodrigo Duterte as president in 2016, the government promised a "golden age of infrastructure." This meant almost one (1) trillion pesos would be invested in infrastructure in the next six years (2016-2022). Whether this would be enough to fund the Dream Plan, or the government can ensure implementation would go according to plan, Metro Manila is and will continue to suffer from the consequences of inadequate urban planning in the coming years. The government would also have to balance development in the capital region and the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, the Filipino people in general can learn from our history with traffic, and move forward to a less congested future.

See the references here.

Road Wars: Age of Traffic in the Philippines Road Wars: Age of Traffic in the Philippines Reviewed by Al Raposas on Friday, February 24, 2017 Rating: 5

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