A friend, a hospital administrator, recently told me a story of a mother who was rushing her child for emergency treatment but got caught in a traffic gridlock about a kilometer away from the hospital.
Frantic, she was able to wave down a passing motorcycle and convince the driver to help. She loaded her child and the yaya on the motorcycle and they were able to get to the hospital.
That story came back to my mind as I read about the ongoing infrastructure projects in Metro Manila and the warnings about more traffic jams. The optimist in me did try to find comfort in reading that we would slow down to one to nine kilometers per hour on Edsa, thinking that 1 kph will still mean we’re moving and not caught in a gridlock.
So, how are we going to survive the next three years, the period that the government says will be needed to complete these projects? (Visit MMRoadway.com for a list.) Here, the pessimist in me takes over, having seen how local projects—both public and private—tend to get delayed.
No doubt, these projects will change many of our routines and habits. I’ve been leaving the house half an hour earlier to get to work. And I look at my MMDA app (available for smartphones and tablets) to check for traffic flow in Metro Manila’s main arteries (Edsa, C5, Ortigas, Commonwealth, Quezon Avenue and España). The MMDA app also has maps incorporated, which, with GPS, allows you to check where you are.
Monday morning when I got to work at the University of the Philippines, everyone was talking about the traffic. But I was beginning to feel guilty over the stories because my trials and tribulations as a motorist were nothing compared to colleagues who had to take public transportation.
Share the Road Movement
Which is why I welcome the emergence of the Share the Road Movement, which correctly notes that this frenzy of new road projects favors those with private vehicles, estimated to be less than 2 percent of the population. It doesn’t matter to the government that the majority will stew in traffic in badly maintained buses and jeeps, or are packed like sardines in the LRT and MRT trains, or risk losing life or limb just trying to cross places like Commonwealth Avenue, where the inane U-turn slots favor private vehicles, allowing them to speed while pedestrians try to find a place to cross (or to make a mad dash).
The Share the Road Movement has asked the Supreme Court to direct government agencies to return roads to public transport users and pedestrians. Its key demand is to divide all the roads by half, with one half given to all-weather sidewalks, bicycle lanes and urban edible gardens, and the other half given to motorized vehicles, but with priority to safe, efficient and mass Filipino-made transportation systems.
The movement is also calling on the executive branch of the government to reduce fuel consumption by 50 percent, and for public officials and employees to take public transportation 50 percent of the time. That last petition is clearly symbolic: Let the officials take public transportation so they’ll know, so they’ll feel, the ordeals that the majority of Metro Manila residents go through on a daily basis.
That Supreme Court petition reminds us that the traffic, the chaos, the gridlock on the road are really part of a collective national karma. I’m not talking about some kind of divine punishment, but about our own actions leading to where we are today. “We” is not just the government but individuals, citizens, as we allowed urban planners to take away more and more of our communal spaces, and as we allowed our own lifestyles to privilege the cars over walking and biking. Karma is cumulative: The more we allow current policies to continue, the more we will see of “solutions” (e.g., more skyways) creating new problems.
Walk, and talk
The vision of the Share the Road Movement is bold, and will take a long struggle to achieve. But we won’t get there unless we can dare to be as bold as the movement in our personal lives. Here are some thoughts on changing our road karma:
First, we need to be talking more with other people, and I mean talking rather than just whining and mumbling and grumbling. Study the options seriously and see how we might want to take up issues.
Second, we have to be thinking of our own personal contributions to our collective road karma. Are we serious about walking those short and not-so-short distances?
My colleagues at the University of Amsterdam like to take long “walk-talks” with students, a chance to get some exercise while talking about a thesis, or about a research project. These walk-talks can be quite productive, and I imagine it can be used as well for talking about our transportation problems. After we generate the ideas, we can then look for ways to walk the talk.
Finally, we should be organizing people with common interests or causes around transport, starting with our own neighborhoods or work places. A good place to start is to organize car pools and shared rides. In fact, I think our road karma is so bad because parents of private-school children were so resistant to this idea of shared rides. Remember the proposal a few years ago to have the largest private schools offering certain pick-up arrangements? Part of our road karma comes from the great resistance to car pooling and sharing rides, so whenever we complain about the traffic jams, we should be thinking about how the very schools where our kids are enrolled are often causes, too, of the gridlock.
Larger companies should also be thinking of shuttles for employees, from strategic points in the Metro Manila area such as some of the major stops on the LRT and MRT. When UP Diliman students and faculty take the LRT line along Aurora Boulevard, they have to get off at the Katipunan stop, which is still a distance from the UP campus—and public transportation down that last Katipunan stretch is miserably inadequate.
As we organize, we need to make the government listen. Let’s work to make public transportation an election issue in 2016, which isn’t that far off. Hold officials and political parties accountable for existing projects, and hold them accountable, too, for approving new projects that favor public mass transport over private vehicles.
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