There’s the Rub

Swimming upstream

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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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  • RyanE

    “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.”

    Hahaha! The missus surely would know about it..

    Seriously, that scheme is a good idea. MMDA only needs to install more traffic sign boards at footbridges or overpasses with directional arrows showing the prevailing flow of traffic to avoid confusion.

    For long-term solution, MM needs more mass-transport system (MRT) and eliminate those old unreliable buses and those flying out of routes.

  • Simon Ward

    In Muntinlupa we now have digital counters on traffic lights which tell us how long we have before the lights turn red. The idea, obviously, is to prevent snarling of intersections by drivers entering an intersection with 1 second to go on the clock, and no way across.

    Fact is, during rush hour, they are completely and absolutely ignored by buses and jeepneys. What an expensive and sophisticated way to make no difference :(

  • Edward Castro

    back to basics lang yan. in order instill discipline enforcement 24/7 is the key.

  • Edward Castro

    improper loading and unloading number 1 problem sa edsa. kung strictly load and unload lang sa bus stop di maiipon ang mga bus.

  • pinoynga

    To me, it’s not even creativity, but rather desperation. Doesn’t government realize that the solution they propose is a problem in itself? Oh how I missed driving inside Clark and Subic when it was run by the Americans. Pinoy drivers learn quickly and become used to driving as if they were in the US. You get fined once, and your driver’s license confiscated, you’ll be an enlightened driver the next time . . . full stop in an intersection even if no incoming vehicles? What a scene to marvel. But once outside the Clark and Subic gates, it’s back to reality. We should really define our PH drivers’ fine moments. That is . . . Fine! Fine! Fine! For Cars: P1,000 for a 1600cc and below; P2,500 for 1800 to 2 liters; P5,000 for higher than 2 liter engines. For PUJs P3,000; for PUBs P5,000; and now, for those who drive non-Asian cars (e.g. European, etc) the fine is… by now you may already get the point. “Fine driving” in MM will no longer be so “fine” anymore, so much so that most drivers will choose to take public transport instead. But the worst thing is that public transport is . . . forget it! . . . the solution . . . “riding-in-tandem” . . . in and by itself “riding-in-tandem” is also now a big problem!

    • AlzheimersC

      Huu kunyari ka pa! pero kung maimplement na iyong counterflow scheme bubuntot ka rin sa kabilang lane…

  • josh_alexei

    Now for the beauty of automation and sensors…they make the flow of traffic ever so smooth..remember the old days when you were driving by yourself and the light changed red and you have to stop and fall asleep, and the lights turn red and green a few times and you were still sleeping? Now as the upgrading is almost done, if there is not Traffic or Pedestrian on the other side the light will start a countdown and by 0 would not turn yellow but will switch back to clear and Stay Green,,just keep on Driving. and the Sync is getting better.

  • symonwho

    Why is it that a PUJ/PUB driver is issued a professional driver’s license and yet behaves in the roads like he is not a “professional driver”. Major cause of traffic is the incompetence in LTO. They issue driver’s licenses and they deputize traffic enforcers to enforce traffic rules. About time we have professional traffic enforcers, certified to perform as required.

  • JaredAko

    Big problem but we need to face the facts.
    – One kulang talaga sa disiplina ang mga pinoy driver sa Pinas (but how come pagandito na sila sa abroad okay naman?)
    – Kulang sa disiplina ang mga Administrador at empleyado nang Gobyerno
    – Dumarami ang sasakyan sa Pinas
    – Mapapalaki at mapapaluwangan lang ang mga daan kung gigibain yung mga bahay sa gilid nang mga daan
    – Mali na talaga ang plano sa buong kalakhan nang Metro Manila.
    Kaya tumawa na lang at kumanta pagnaipit sa trapik at dont forget magbaon palagi nang pangtawid gutom, tubig at portable arinola. . . .

  • KurakotNaPinoy

    Asa ka pa maayos ang traffic sa EDSA…

    Ultimo “yellow lanes” di rin naman nasusunod ng mga bus, singitan sa bibig ng underpass/flyover, magsasakay sa bawal na lugar, tawid kung saan-saan… atbp.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      Yes. The problem’s there. So is the solution.

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