08:50 PM June 25th, 2013

By: Conrado de Quiros, June 25th, 2013 08:50 PM

The Metro Manila Development Authority has an interesting concept—to allow “counterflow” on Edsa at different hours of the day.

As everyone who has traversed the thoroughfare knows, says Francis Tolentino, the southbound lane is busy in the morning, as buses, taxis, and private cars make their way to Makati, while the northbound one is so in the evening as people wind their way back home.  The solution is to give additional lanes to vehicles on the two sides at different hours of the day—to the southbound vehicles at 7-10 a.m. and to the northbound ones at 5-9 p.m.

The scheme has the merit of creativity, and has the potential to relieve Edsa of thick snarls and frayed nerves during rush hours. Edsa is a place devoutly to be avoided during those hours, except that many Metro Manila folk cannot; they have to go to work and go home afterward unless they choose to take a detour to beerhouses with traffic as excuse. I have endured the ordeal several times, which has given me glimpses of, well, the gates of hell. I’ve also taken the detour and caught glimpses of heaven.

But the scheme is not without its downside. Its very strength, which is creativity, is its weakness. What Metro Manila’s streets need badly is not creativity, it is discipline. Metro Manila drivers have been creative for far too long, making an absolute bedlam of its streets. “Counterflow” is one of the ways they’ve shown it. Legitimizing “counterflow” on Edsa at certain hours of the day could very well encourage them to practice it even more resolutely elsewhere for much the same reason.

By all means let’s experiment, but first let’s instill discipline. By way of fine or tong, I don’t really care which. Drivers get P500 lifted off them for various infractions, they’ll think twice before committing them again. You instill discipline in the streets, you’ll find traffic flowing better than by allowing “counterflow” on streets like Edsa.

What needs banishing from the city’s streets?

One, “counterflow.” It happens everywhere, but the one I’ve always seen, and gotten furious about, is the intersection coming from Gilmore going to Greenhills. That’s as tangled a knot as Edsa on bad days and home to a long queue of vehicles stewing before the traffic light. What unfailingly happens is that as soon as the queue forms, some idiot swerves to the left and drives all the way to the head of the line. You can almost see the driver congratulating himself for being “magulang.” Then, as though pulled by a force emanating from Magneto, several other cars detach from the queue and follow his lead, forming another queue. Then another car swerves left from the new queue trailed by another fleet of cars, forming still another queue.

Sometimes, you get a third queue, forcing the vehicles coming from the other side to try to squeeze through the available space. Where I espy an oncoming truck, I fantasize seeing it plowing through the obstacles in its path like a Michael Bay movie. The tyranny of it is that when a cop is manning the traffic light, he allows the “counterflowing” cars to go on ahead on green to prevent traffic from accumulating, thereby rewarding the a-holes.

Two, choke points at bus stops. The major ones on Edsa are home to them. Buses would roost on two, sometimes three, lanes, taking on passengers and blocking everyone behind. Turning right into Shaw coming from Ortigas is an exercise in expanding your vocabulary in vituperation. Either there’s no traffic cop nearby even on rainless days or they would be there but in the catatonic state of the three monkeys. A state induced, I understand, by the bus companies contributing to it. When they’ve reached their quota of passengers, they just barrel through the left lanes oblivious of the vehicles passing through those lanes, except for 10-wheelers who barrel ahead as well oblivious of them.

A variation of this is something you see particularly on C5. The stretch from the tunnel after Katipunan to Rosario is dotted with U-turns. During rush hour, that stretch is passable only through the rightmost lane, all the other lanes having been usurped by the vehicles turning left. It happens, of course, in pretty much every U-turn, though the C-5 case seems a special headache, proving that ingenious ways of improving traffic tend to be defeated by Pinoy drivers finding ingenious ways to thwart it.

Three is that onli in da Pilipins the fast lane is on the right and the slow lane is on the left. You’ll still find motorcycles on the leftmost lane on Edsa, notwithstanding that they already have a special lane assigned to them. I applaud it when I see motorcycles stopped for doing it on Commonwealth in the neighborhood of paydays. In some parts of Quezon Av, you’d even see tricycles tearing through noisily but slowly on that lane. Otherwise, that lane is the favorite of trucks, buses, private jeeps (or “owner,” as they’re called), and slow-moving private cars fearful of the other lanes.

The same is true, quite incidentally, of North Expressway and SLEx. The signs plentifully proclaim, “Keep right except when passing,” but most drivers take it, like traffic lights, to be a mere suggestion.

None of this is a brief against ingenuity and creativity. All of it is to say that none of the ingenuity and creativity will produce much effect in the face of the resolute unwillingness of drivers to obey the rules and of enforcers to enforce them. Like I said, I don’t care if traffic cops fine errant and undisciplined drivers legally or illegally; either way imparts lessons in GMRC or respect for others. But fine them. Put some order in the streets.

There’s another term for “counterflow.” It’s swimming upstream.

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