09:33 PM June 19th, 2013

By: Peter Wallace, June 19th, 2013 09:33 PM

My good friend Eddie Yap, chair of the urban development committee of the Management Association of the Philippines, wrote an excellent piece on the ills of the metropolis. After I saw how life and work were again disrupted, with so many people stranded and stuck for hours in unmoving traffic after a little rain on Monday, I think what he said deserves public attention and government action.

With some minor thoughts from me, here in a shortened version to fit this column is what Eddie wrote.

Metro Manila is the country’s economic, social, educational and political nerve center, where about 20 million people live and work and are a very significant contributor to the national economy. It is the metropolis by which the outside world views and judges the Philippines, where the government’s effectiveness or inutility is measured.

Living and working conditions in Metro Manila have worsened as economic activity picks up and the population grows. It remains one of the most chaotic, traffic-choked, dysfunctional, inefficient, and polluted megacities in Asia. As we’ve witnessed in the last couple of weeks, it almost comes to a standstill due to floods from downpours even when there are no typhoons. Urban development is done helter-skelter, without proper urban planning or common sense.

There is a need for a master urban design and action plan, to be put into action with a sense of urgency, for Metro Manila.

Consider these. Commuters spend up to four hours a day travelling to and from work. Deliveries take unduly long hours and businesses require a larger fleet of vehicles than normally needed to compensate for the number-coding restriction and heavy traffic. These result in higher cost penalties—extra capital expenditures for vehicles, business operating costs, and less productivity.

Respiratory or pulmonary diseases have become the No. 1 health problem, and this is mainly the result of air pollution from vehicle exhaust.

Infrastructure is inadequate, with some ill-designed—a significant contributory factor to traffic congestion, air pollution, low productivity, impaired competitiveness and social ills.

The executive branch must exercise strong political will to efficiently and effectively employ existing resources to quickly improve conditions in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized centers. What is needed is for the Departments of Public Works, Transportation, Environment, and Interior and Local Government, together with the Metro Manila Development Authority and local government units, to work together on the serious urban problems plaguing us, such as:

• Flooding. This is top of mind today. Flood-prone stretches of all vital principal national roads (C-3, C-4, SLEx, NLEx) and radial roads, as well as secondary local roads, can be elevated above known flood level to ensure uninterrupted vehicular flow. One good example is the perennially flooded Buendia in Makati.

• Traffic congestion. Traffic rules on loading and unloading zones, confinement to dedicated road lanes, safe driving, and keeping intersections open must be strictly enforced, particularly on drivers of public utility vehicles. The huge number of buses must be greatly reduced.

• Infrastructure. The list is long. It includes construction of the missing C3 link from Makati to Quezon City, more bridges over the Pasig, replacing intersections with over- or underpasses, redesign of the Magallanes interchange so cross-merging doesn’t occur. Also, the Edsa-Ortigas interchange must be put to efficient use by disallowing Edsa vehicles from crossing Ortigas at grade level. Strategic intersections along national radial roads must be provided with flyovers for grade separation to allow unimpeded traffic flow.

• Central bus terminals. Spacious, well-planned and equipped central bus terminals must be quickly constructed for provincial buses at the key north, east and south entrances to Metro Manila. Provincial buses must be prohibited from entering the city.

• Transit system. Trains, buses and jeepneys must be operated as an integrated system with the MRT, LRT and PNR commuter lines upgraded and fully interconnected to meet load capacity demand and commuters’ convenience. New LRT lines pending approval and construction must be started now. New LRT lines must be provided at Sucat (Parañaque) and Alabang South Road to link the PNR commuter line along SLEx to the LRT running from Baclaran to Imus. The south and north rail commuter trains from Manila to Calamba (Laguna) and to Bulacan must be completed, with faster trains.

• Urban development. The National Building Code must be strictly observed. High-rise buildings should not be allowed on narrow streets for practical and safety reasons. High-occupancy buildings and complexes, such as shopping malls, must have wide setbacks from the road and provided with well-paved sidewalks for pedestrians and adequate green strips planted with trees. The usually clogged entrances to parking facilities should be located far from public roads, and sufficient parking space for all expected traffic, with off-road loading and unloading areas should be provided.

• Public recreation. Land must be set aside for public parks and recreation areas. What’s happening is that no new open spaces or parks are being added. Instead, the opposite is happening: Parks and open spaces are being converted to commercial use.

• Air quality monitoring and warning system. More air quality monitoring stations must be installed at key locations; these can provide daily air quality readings to the public through the media. Vehicle exhaust emission regulations must be enforced and exhaust testing centers strictly monitored for compliance. Metro Manila is one of the world’s most polluted, mainly from exhaust emissions. We are great contributors to pollution and climate change, not innocent victims.

This column’s title says it all.

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