THE INSIDE MAN

Sharing the road and the opposition to Oposa

Sharing the road and the opposition to Oposa image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Share the Road Movement | posted July 14, 2015 13:38

EDSA Quattro

EDSA Quattro?

In late June this year, the “Share the road” movement, fronted by an environmental lawyer announced the partial closure of both directions of EDSA, on the last Sunday of the month. The little known movement, whose slogan is “Roads are for people, not motor vehicles”, declared that from midnight to noon, lanes 4 and 5 or the so-called yellow lanes of EDSA – from MOA to Ortigas Ave. - were to be given over to pedestrians [lane 5] and non motorized 2 wheelers [lane 4] while buses were to take the Motorsiklo lane [lane 3] and provincial buses were to jostle with private cars on lane 1 and 2. Dubbed “Bayanihan sa Daan”, Atty. Antonio Oposa, the environmental lawyer claimed it as the new EDSA Revolution, the purpose of which was to give back to the people, the carless majority, their rightful share of the road. By taking cars off the road, it will decrease congestion and air pollution. Claiming broad support from the DPWH, DENR, DoTC, PNP, IBP, PMA, bus operators and bikers, it curiously omitted consulting private motorists and the MMDA. But the MMDA went gamely along declaring that they always support any move that cleans the air and reduces congestion. Never mind that it was on a Sunday.

Events post mortem

What was striking about this event is summed up in these questions:

 

  1. Why is some environmental lawyer announcing the closure of EDSA on a Sunday with 5 days to spare? It did sound like a revolution in the way nameless crowds closed EDSA in 1986.
  2. Why was the MMDA neither here nor there – either announcing the closure itself or taking charge of specific traffic diversion plans? Like the real EDSA, the then MMC was helpless when the citizens “parked” themselves between the twin camps.
  3. Why were the car owners not consulted? But with the patently anti-car slogan of the movement, why should they? They blame the private car as having usurped the space for pedestrians and non-motorized two wheelers, so why bother?
  4. Devil in the details: How can you close EDSA's lane 4 and 5 without clogging traffic? The plan was to completely close the PUB lane, that Sunday, but it did not address the ff: areas – Pasay-Taft-EDSA, Magallanes interchange, Ayala-Pasay Road-Buendia EDSA at-grade service roads and the EDSA Shaw service road. You also can't have foot traffic cross the PNR railway in Magallanes as the PNR even refused DPWH access to the rail right of way to finish the rehabilitation of the EDSA Magallanes interchange. For pedestrians and bikers to take the steep EDSA Magallanes flyover reduces all motor traffic to one lane. It makes one suppose that the planners of this event, perhaps non-residents of the Metro, may not be familiar with EDSA or even seen a map of Metro Manila. We supposed that the route from Ortigas was in consideration of the support of the Pasig City government bikers
  5. What “support” did Atty. A. Oposa mean by “support” from all the agencies and organizations? Support can mean shouldering volunteers, medical teams, traffic cones, marshals, etc, like any full blown event like fun runs that we opportune from time to time. Or did support mean simple but not official messages from the long list of supporting agencies that, in context, meant “noted” akin to MMDA's blanket support for clean air and decreased congestion but not for the declared EDSA closure itself.

 

Opposition to Oposa

As the days counted down to Sunday, howls of protest against this closure swamped social media leading Atty. A. Oposa to explain that the movement just wants the just application of existing laws recognizing the right of pedestrians and bikers. This was enough for the AAP to temper its opposition. Atty. Oposa further added that the vendors and hawkers were already informed to give way to the “Bayanihan” plans and bus operators were to cooperate with the changes in bus stop lanes.

Postponed

Then on Friday, MMDA announced the postponement of the Bayanihan event to another date as the DPWH had concrete reblocking scheduled and MOA had a previously organized fun run. MMDA added that they needed more time and resources to organize safety issues and traffic adjustments. By now, Atty. Oposa had already announced the change in the closure schedule from 600AM to 600PM and the zone would be reduced to Magallanes interchange up to MOA.

Success through ambiguity?

But on Sunday, the event, much truncated in space, did push through in the morning with bikers and pedestrians occupying only north bound EDSA from Heritage Hotel to Magallanes. According to the organizers, only the Jeepney drivers were not aware of the changes in bus stops and that families of bikers were all happy about the event. By the 3rd hour, the organizers declared the event a success with the government environmental chief of Laguna Lake praising the effort and emphasizing that discipline and order in road use is more important than enacting new laws. Another government official from another agency, arriving in a bike masquerading as a car, spoke to belabor the obvious - that cars take more road space than a bike. Atty. Oposa, pleased with the turnout, announced that the public can look forward to more Sundays that prove that this kind of road sharing is a success.

Back to School

We generally support any public activity that purports for the betterment of society, and this include those from the very active Left. But regardless, we have all been taught in school not to be the judge of our own work. Just think, if we all graded ourselves, then no one would fail no matter how slipshod our homework, term paper or tests results were. We had teachers to grade us and when we got to higher education, we had to defend our dissertation to a panel of leading lights of the Academe. Judging your own work is as tacky as laughing at your own jokes. Only autocratic bosses, like in the TV series “the Office”, do that.

Homework and proof

Secondly, we were also taught in school that before we make pronouncements and sweeping conclusions, we have to prove our point by exhibiting data and methodology; do our research, our homework. We have to prove what we are saying with facts and not just proclaim we are right just because “my Dad said so” or that engineer so and so said so as in received wisdom. In school, or at least the schools I went through, you could never get away with cockamamie ideas – hatched at idle or drug-fueled moments, with no supporting research. Not only will you be labelled a crackpot or a charlatan or a poseur, but you were sure to be the subject of ridicule.

Degrees of Support

Thirdly, you do not organize an event by just telling people to show up and dump the logistics on people who claimed support. Support can mean a range of a thousand degrees – from a wordless nod to extreme hand and foot coddling. Back in school, taking things for granted is the mark of irresponsibility.

Coordinate

Fourthly, you also cannot just pre-suppose to take from one to give to the other whom you favor. Organizing an event that advocates zero-sum road space and excluding stakeholders - principal ones at that – the private motorists, and apparently DPWH and MOA – is a no no.

Illusion

Fifthly, you cannot dump a schedule on both an unsuspecting public and government agency without giving lead time for organization and planning. Or even presume that the MMDA in this case, will scramble to get you your logistics even as you peremptorily dumped the whole thing on their lap. You end up with a mess and the only success you will realize is the self serving illusion you have in your head or that your measure of success is as mediocre as the way you planned or did not plan your event.

Legitimacy

Having said all of the above, doesn't rob the legitimacy of the purpose of “Share the Road.” Though primarily a private motorist, we sympathize with bikers and pedestrians so we wish movements and events that have their interest at heart, be heard. In fact, even without this Sunday gimmick/publicity stunt, sharing the road is an established principle known to all urban planners since the first urban agglomeration was created. The latest relevant study we've read was a series on Metro Manila's congestion problems posted on Interaksyon TV5 and written by Mr. Benjamin de la Pena, an urban planner who does his homework. He does come out with the same causality and conclusion – cars rob precious urban road space because of an underdeveloped public transport system. De la Pena then proceeds to cite the strategic direction for extensive resource planning for space, environment, traffic, zoning, pricing and the like. Curiously, Mr. de la Pena convinces without resorting to publicity stunts.

Disincentives of the tropics and to railroads

To take it further, we would like to add, that the major disincentive for walking and biking in our country is the climate. Hot, wet, damp, humid and dusty is typical of all tropical countries. That's why air conditioned malls here function as the more appealing and more comfortable substitute for open space parks. Here, it is correct to suppose that if the rail system wasn't sabotaged and disregarded after World War 2, a network of air conditioned trains, subways, ferries and trams – running on prompt schedule - would have been the best means to a work commute, redirecting the need to purchase an air conditioned private car/AUV for long weekend family trips to the provinces instead of the daily work/school commute.

No work, no congestion, no pollution

But in fairness, most of the cities in the world discovered the need to re-apportion road sharing late in the day as congestion was already rearing its ugly head. Cities were behind the curve in catching up with the right kind of transport infrastructure mix. Needless to say, catching up needed to be done. Reformatting living and growing cities to decrease pollution and congestion overhauled the very core of the city, taking into account the sprawl of the suburbs induced by road transport. To reduce pollution, congestion and institute top to bottom socio-cultural reform need not resort to what the Khmer Rouge did to Phnom Penh in the Killing Fields.

Maintaining consistent paths, by BF

Besides the ideal weather, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, many European cities and to some degree some Japanese cities that have well integrated cycle paths, come to mind as multi-modal transportation that works at all levels. Choose between walk, bike, ride, drive, sail, burrow underground – as all reveal measurable comparisons as to aspects of comfort, time saved and cost. It works in these cities because most of the streets and canals in its radial plan or grid are of even or constant width – or consistent narrowness as in Japan. This means, contiguous bus lanes, cycle paths, pedestrian zones, navigable canals, bridges and even bridle paths have a consistent width throughout any end-to-end intra-city journey. By contrast, London's changing widths of streets make biking very risky as the paths of bikers and walkers are not consistent at crossings. This is why Bayani Fernando's campaign to demolish encroachments on road right of way when he was mayor of Marikina and chairman of MMDA is significant and a basic first step.

Build it and they will bike

As for bicycle availability, Paris, like London, has publicly available bike rentals at rail and bus stops, can do better with cycle paths and bus lanes thanks to Haussman's overhaul of the street plan over a hundred years ago. We in the Metro are not as lucky, as we face the same street width problem as London. Besides, public bike rental here can easily turn into a massive unintended bike giveaway.

Another example are the great cities of China. Twenty years ago, all the major roads of Chinese cities were allocated one half bike lanes, one fourth pedestrian and one fourth motor vehicle, which included trolley busses. Even with the car dominant today, Chinese cities still have their bike lanes, protected by guard rails, medians and traffic lights, albeit sparsely trafficked nowadays as the Chinese have all moved up to 4 wheel motor transport.

Major overhaul, worldwide

For us in the Metro, we can't turn back the clock. Although we can seek temporal consolation in the fact that almost all of the teeming cities in the world – Latin America, Africa, Asia – have the same problem. The Middle East has chosen to build entirely new cities in the desert, supposedly devoid of all the core problems of old cities, but not everyone has their space and funds. The USA was born to avoid the pitfalls of all older cities that's why adapting their grid patterns to new urban trends are not hard to do.

Return to walkable and bikeable cities

For our present teeming cities, the way forward may be by congestion pricing for private vehicles without resorting to draconian car ownership restrictions of space deficient Singapore. Of course, the precondition there is that we should already have a working network of air conditioned trams, trolley buses, bendy buses, double deckers, subways, river ferries and light rail, the way Hong Kong and many Chinese cities do. But this is not all. Included in this dream list are all weather, well lit 24/7, wide cycle paths, wide sidewalks, disabled friendly walkway gradients, ramps and elevated foot paths. Then there also has to be abundant underground and high rise parking. And then when these are all in place, we can now convert many of our shopping streets to pedestrian zones. Even employer-employee relationships are due for a change. Example: white collar workers will need changing rooms for hikers and bikers [include motorcyclists too] and apportion time to change in their employment contracts. Time lost to standstill traffic can be used for making neat.

Ayala can lead the way

Just imagine Ayala Ave. as a pedestrian zone, with car access exclusively for local destinations or for those heading for a proposed giant subterranean parking lot under Ayala Ave. The surface will be dedicated to pedestrians and an electric shuttle tram, while bus stops for EDSA to Buendia buses are linked to Buendia and Arnaiz via elevated walkways and electric shuttle jeeps traveling through a Legaspi-Salcedo village PUV loop route. Other local urban CBDs can adopt to the concept. Imagine Manila commuting as convenient as Copenhagen or Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi? Save for the cooking Middle East, there is a world wide trend to walkable and bike-able cities anyway.

Utopia from dream to reality

It would be nice to have this utopia happen with the wave of a magic wand. Perhaps, if there was any success in Atty. Oposa's amateurish “Bayanihan sa Daan 1” publicity stunt, it awakened the kind of awareness that recognizes a renewed paradigm for road space allocation. The 6-hour Sunday illusion of making walking and biking, safe and practical on EDSA can be a reality someday. It will take more than a weekly Sunday “Bayanihan sa Daan” to clean the air and clear the streets, but for a few hours of Sunday, every Sunday, the residents of Malibay, Taft, FB Harrison can troop to MOA on foot and make Tessie Sy-Coson even happier. Atty. Oposa can go back to his analyst's armchair to dream up more environmental publicity stunts to make people aware of what has been told them and has been staring at them for too long in the past. He'll need a desk this time, if he wants to do his homework. Citing world practice, De la Pena convinced me, but there are others out there who were convinced by Atty. Oposa, no matter how haphazard the first “Bayanihan sa Daan” was.