One-way; the next step

One-way; the next step image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted April 04, 2011 12:15

One way systems for better traffic flow

Admirable Albion

Anyone who has been to Britain and its Commonwealth cities have marveled at the way their one way circulatory systems keep traffic moving along routes that would spell instant thrombosis elsewhere. London, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur's systems are logical and intuitive to drive even to first timers for so long as one knows how to read a map. Quite a contrast from what you see in India, China, Latin America and here.


Admittedly, a large part of the effectiveness of one-way systems is due to rules-based driver training, instead of the survival-of-the fittest kind the rules driving on our local streets. More often than not, propose, much less experiment, with a one way system and surely, there will be protests. This is usually due to the typical fear of change, specially for locals, who are loathe to part with age-old routines and benchmark travel times.

Excuses, excuses... protest!

The usual excuse even on the first week of experimentation are that it takes a longer time to get from point A to point B. They fail to appreciate that one way systems achieve continuous traffic flow in the same way limited access expressways do through increased spacing between merging entries/exits, the elimination if not the drastic reduction of stops and the absolute avoidance of cross traffic conflicts. By keeping traffic moving, stop times are reduced and along with it, frayed tempers and high emissions caused by too much idling waiting for traffic to move.

Upper Session Road

In the Philippines, the best example by far is the 5-year old Upper Session Road-SM circulatory system in Baguio City. Despite the complaints of the public transport sector and their continuous illegal loading and unloading on the main junctions - which suspiciously strikes some as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the one-way system by constricting traffic flow - the city fathers have continually been introducing improvements through the years.


Traffic always flows, rarely stops and the stench of diesel fumes rarely pervades the air, unlike Session, Harrison and Magsaysay roads with its long lines of idling traffic waiting for those jumbo LED traffic lights to change. Moreover, the City Fathers are dynamic about nurturing the system as the best adaptive one-way systems are not static set-and-forget.

Traffic lights, superfluous

From the first trial year up to the latest version, activating the traffic lights at the junction of North Drive, Government Center Road, Gov. Pack Rd. and Upper Session Rd. was not even necessary. Today a portion of Session has reverted to 2-way traffic which is a boon for the NBI office, Barrio Fiesta and the revitalized Casa Vallejo's Hill Station restaurant.

The next, bold step

What we eagerly wait for is the next bold step: apply the one way system to the Lower Session Road, Magsaysay Ave., Harrison Rd and Gov. Pack Road zone. Making Session Road one way downhill will eliminate the smoke of diesel vehicles by the simple fact that there will be no more diesel engines laboring up hill on steep Session road.


Then Magsaysay Ave. , which is level from Session to Harrison, should be turned one way in the direction of Harrison. Harrison Road from Magsaysay, another level stretch, now becomes one way all the way to Gov. Pack Road. Gov. Pack Road should turn one way toward Session and SM and will need to lose its barricade on the junction to Session and SM. This makes this 4-road system a big counter clockwise loop of a roundabout.

Demolish those obstructions

The need now arises to demolish and eliminate the median islands on Session, Harrison and a portion of Magsaysay. Then, clever engineers will now channelize traffic flow so that vehicles on downhill Session Road are segregated into merging lanes for those going to Magsaysay, Shanum, Abanao, Harrison and so on, just like the way vehicles are segregated to 5 river crossings by Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

Reversal of routines

North Drive and Leonard Wood one way sections may need to be reversed to provide another circulatory loop going in the opposite clockwise direction in the Upper Session Road area. Doing this may necessitate reversing the one way flow of the loop around the Post office and Baguio Cathedral. The flow of nearby streets crossing Session and parallel roads in the vicinity of Burnham Park like Lake drive, Gregorio and Shanum traffic flows may have to be adjusted after the initial effects of this rerouting are assessed.

Overhead lamps and signs

Additionally the city will have to re-profile the crown of Session and Harrison after the medians are removed to make for easy and safe lane changes for merging. They would have to eliminate the median islands anyway if the proposed donation by Austrians, Koreans or Bay Area Balikabayans of trams or San Francisco type cable cars push through. Road illumination can be cable suspended LEDs while direction signs can be mounted on cantilevered gantries over Session Road. The city fathers may have to idle the serried ranks of one year old LED jumbo traffic lights on Harrison Road.

Uphill on the greener side

Traffic going up and back to SM or Upper Session only start climbing uphill on upper Harrison where one side is Burnham Park. In this area, including the uphill to Gov. Pack road, there is either a ravine or greenery to absorb the diesel fumes exhausted when diesel engines start to labor going up an incline.

The fallacy of manual override

The problem with other one way systems in the country is that they still rely heavily on random traffic officer manual override of traffic light controls. Moreover, adjustments to traffic calming and blocking measures are few and far apart, leading to the death of the one way circulatory experiment. The initial success of Ortigas Center's one way system four years ago was not followed through with further adjustments. After the initial median clearing of J. Vargas street, too many complaints stopped the further spread of one way routes.

Traffic management by the blind

Over at Ayala Makati CBD, the Legaspi and Salcedo Village one way systems are already saturated. This leads to backlogs on the main CBD triangle bordered by Makati, Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Ave. The daily afternoon manual override by the MAPSA troops have largely been futile for the past 15 years. No one ever had or even bothered to institute a system "birds' eye view" of traffic over the large area in real time. Thus no one has really seen how the flow on one end affects the flow on all the other ends. Time and again, we have opined that a triangle with acute angles at 3 points is not the most easily maneuverable locus for any circulatory or grid city road system. Traffic planners must deal with the combined flow of the Ayala triangle with the Roxas triangle composed of Buendia, Paseo and Makati Ave. Think of these paired triangles as a bow tie, smoothened out as close as possible to the ideal flow of a roundabout so that traffic avoids any crossings or conflicts.

Baguio, lead the way!

Baguio City has proven that dynamically managed adaptive one way systems work. Right beside their successful Upper Session Road experiment, they have the chance to repeat their success on the rest of Session Road. That way, they can lift their number coding restrictions, which have become the latest tourist trap that make ticketed drivers return, involuntarily, to the city to retrieve their confiscated licenses and not for sentimental reasons.