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You are ‘the’ traffic jam

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No Free Lunch

You are ‘the’ traffic jam

/ 12:34 AM November 17, 2015

“OUR DAUGHTER has to rise one and a half hours before classes because the school bus, which travels a mere five kilometers, needs more than an hour to get to school,” wrote Ulrich Bosse in reaction to my piece “It’s the cars, stupid” last week.

Bosse, a German who has lived here for over 25 years, laments how traffic in the city has gone “from bad to worse up to the current collapse.” He recounts: “For me, the realization that the car as a means of transport in large urban centers is an utter failure came many years ago, when I was stuck in traffic in the city of Hamburg. The Greens had organized a very small, but clever campaign. They stood along the side of the traffic holding placards that read: ‘You are not in a traffic jam—You are the traffic jam.’ It clearly brought home the message that the guy in front of you is not any more or less a problem than you are to the guy behind you.”

He adds: “I have made it my pastime to look into the private cars with whom I am stuck in this mess, and notice that the rare exception is an occupancy of more than one person. What a criminal waste of time and resources! Carpooling seems to be a good idea, but whenever I have tried with friends or neighbors to move that past the talking stage, I was met with a myriad of excuses why just not today. Isn’t it ironic that people bring their kids to school with their car, so that they are not stuck in traffic? One mini-van type school bus substitutes 14-15 cars. Just look at the traffic collapse every morning in Katipunan, where thousands of well-meaning parents are all stuck in a self-inflicted disaster.”

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But then, an online commenter protests: “Where is the right of citizens to achieve their dream of owning a car? It’s put aside because of traffic? There are still a lot of solutions than simply forcing people out of their freedom because a bunch of inept cannot develop smart roads and efficient public transportation.”

This viewpoint, no doubt shared by not a few, leads Bosse to observe: “I think a major factor for the Filipinos’ obsession with cars is that it still is the foremost status symbol. One just needs to look at the advertisements for cars in the media, to see how much the local psyche is affected, or should I say infected, by the meaning of possessing a car. All these measures, from coding, lane allocation, road widening etc., will eventually be of short success only, if any. The fundamental problem, which is that cars are not an effective solution to move millions of people around, needs to be addressed. The concept of the car is individual mobility, which is great if you live in the countryside or in sparsely populated countries. But if five million people decide at pretty much the same time to be individually mobile, then the result is collective immobility.

“We need a serious and deep attitude change, but for that to come about, we also need to have alternatives. The current mess with the LRT/MRT makes me gasp in exasperation about the incompetence of those who manage our public transport systems…. I just came back from Santiago in Chile, where I had worked the last three months. As far as economic indicators are concerned, they are on a similar level as the Philippines. But their public transport system is second to none. A vast and extensive subway system ferries millions

every day thru the city. Trains run in three-minute intervals and are used by everyone. You see bankers and blue-collar workers alike enjoying fast, affordable and effective transport. The result is that the roads are nearly never congested.”

I believe Bosse speaks for most of us. Our “collective immobility” is a “self-inflicted disaster” indeed. President Aquino himself recently cited 2014 statistics that more than 22,400 new vehicles and some 100,000 new motorcycles are sold each month. To make things worse, the growing unreliability and discomfort of our LRT/MRT system have led its riders who own cars to bring them out on the roads anew. Yes, government has major shortcomings and it is easy and tempting to point fingers. But we must also accept that all of us are part of the problem. Hence, we must all be part of the solution as well.

To environmental activist Tony Oposa, applying the traditional Filipino value of “bayanihan” on our roads offers a viable answer. His “road sharing” scheme, featured recently in the Inquirer (http://opinion.inquirer.net/88909/bayanihan-can-ease-traffic-jams), is being adopted by more enlightened city governments around the country. The idea is simple: Roads must provide space for people to walk, bike, and ride public or private transport—a true “bayanihan sa daan”—and the cities of Pasig and Iloilo plan to demonstrate it on Nov. 22.

Pasig City Mayor Maribel Eusebio, Environment Officer Raquel Naciongayo and civic leader Paulo Alcazaren are spearheading its implementation on a 20-kilometer stretch they are calling the Pasig Green Loop. In Iloilo City, Mayor Jed Mabilog along with Councilor Jay Treñas and civic leaders Ron Sebastian and Wilfredo Sy are pursuing the same principle in the Academic Circuit bordering the city’s university/school belt. The cities of Cebu and Dumaguete had likewise bought into the scheme earlier. In so doing, these cities are giving meaning to the credo that cities are for people, and not (just) for cars.

Much is needed from government, especially urgent action toward efficient mass transit systems. But our traffic problem also needs motorists, commuters, pedestrians, public transport groups and enforcement agencies to change their ways. After all, and as the German Greens’ placards said: “We are the traffic jam.”

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