Traffic is and always will be the bane of motorists. What should have been a quick 10- to 15-minute drive can spiral into a test of patience that can last an hour or two, and managing one's temper.
Today, however, traffic is practically non-existent due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine in a bid to control the spread of the contagious COVID-19. But have you ever actually wondered why traffic on our roads can become so bad at times? What are the likely main reasons and scenarios that cause gridlock to happen in the first place? And are we to blame as to why this happens almost all the time?
Sure there are rush hours to contend with as the workforce, and those going to school head to their respective destinations. However, the cause of traffic congestion in the country can also be traced to several key factors.
We list down some of the causes of why every day traffic can become really bad on some days.
1. Sheer volume
With a population of nearly 12.9 million all bunched up in 620 sq kilometer of living and commercial space, it can get pretty tight to move around Metro Manila. And that population balloons during a working day as people go to the office or to factories; some estimate that during a weekday, there are over 20 million people in MM.
Then there's the limited road space which quite frankly also contributes to the daily gridlock people living in Metro Manila have to contend with.
Take EDSA for instance. It sees about 400,000 vehicles daily but in reality, it was only intended to take 280,000 vehicles daily, and even that is stretching it. Annual Philippine auto sales volume is around 400,000 vehicles, though that might be lower this year given the troubles of 2020 so far. And building new roads in already congested cities isn't easy.
Besides private cars populating the streets, a wide array of public transportation vehicles also take a good chunk of the road. Combined with the number of commuters riding PUVs or taxis, hailing smoke-belching jeepneys, as well as hitching a ride on public utility buses, it shows the sheer volume of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila.
This is perhaps one of the worst things you can do while out on the road. Not only does this cause additional traffic for vehicles on the opposite lane, but it might also even become the cause of a road accident should another vehicle from the other lane decides to meet you 'head-on'. And just like the saying “monkey see, monkey do”, other drivers on the road might also be tempted to counter-flow as a group, which again causes more unnecessary traffic on an already busy road.
And to be perfectly honest, what gives one the right to counter-flow while the rest of the driving public actually follow traffic rules and regulations? Always be mindful of other motorists while out on the road, and always practice road courtesy towards one another. It also brings up another problem: crossing pedestrians (and jaywalkers) will not be expecting a vehicle coming from the wrong direction.
Picture this; you have patiently waited for the light to go green but you noticed that the vehicles in front have yet to move an inch. That's because someone thought it would be a good idea to unload/load passengers while near the intersection. Normally, undisciplined jeepney drivers (and passengers), as well as taxi drivers, are guilty of this sort of behavior. Not only does this cause traffic to get backed up, what should have been an orderly flow of traffic can some times become a mad dash to cross the intersection before the red light comes on.
What's worse than unloading/loading passengers near an intersection? Actually blocking the said intersection. Once you block a portion of a busy junction, vehicles that were supposed to cross from an adjacent direction are now unable to get across. Motorists that had to make a left turn are also unable to get to where they are going thanks to the blocked crossing. Now imagine that it's rush hour, and the entire intersection is blocked off due to the lack of discipline by some drivers. Slowly but surely, all of the surrounding streets near the intersection will be choked as well due to this conundrum.
We can also toss in obstructions like street parking wherein owners parking their vehicles on already tight roads because they don't have a garage (or its already occupied) but we don't really need a full paragraph to point that out.
4. Seasonal enforcement
Constant enforcement is always a must against undisciplined drivers on the road. However, it can be said that enforcement can some times be lax, perhaps even seasonal. Take for example the issue regarding private vehicles not being allowed on the bus lane, or vice versa. For a while, there were no apprehensions or citations issued to drivers that did not follow this traffic rule.
Traffic enforcers, particularly the ones attached to LGUs, have a tendency to enforce only the convenient rules like number coding and the truck ban. More dangerous violations like counterflowing aren't apprehended as consistently. But thanks to the power of social media, as well as the will of the authorities such as the MMDA, it looks like appropriate actions are now being used against unruly drivers on the road.
But just like the political landscape in the country where a politician's misdeeds can some times be forgotten (whether deliberately or through questionable means), thorough enforcement of motorists tends to be infrequent or sporadic. If there were more apprehensions of drivers that lack discipline on the road, perhaps it will help rid the roads of bad drivers which will be helpful in the long run.
5. Common traffic accidents
Perhaps the one aspect that causes major gridlocks is a traffic accident.
It's understandable how a major accident that requires a variety of first responders can cause traffic; after all, if an ambulance is required, traffic will be heavily affected. Saving lives and treating injuries are, of course, the priorities.
But many traffic accidents are minor in nature; think the occasional collision that causes nothing more than a dent, or even just a scratch. In these instances, the parties involved choose to put their vehicles to a complete stop, for minutes or even an hour, just to wait for a policeman or a traffic enforcer to fill up an accident report.
The effect of this common response to a simple fender bender is a jam that can back up traffic. Toss in the other common behavior of motorists to slow down unnecessarily to gawk or take photos (dangerously) as they pass by and the flow of vehicles on our already inadequate road network will get clogged like a toilet.
Perhaps we can take adopt the practice in other countries, wherein motorists are required to carry accident or incident forms in their glove compartments. In the event of an accident, all you do is fill-up the form even without the presence of a traffic enforcer, have both parties sign once the details are agreed, and both proceed on their merry way. Insurance will take care of the rest.
Change starts with you
Today, there is no traffic whatsoever along the streets of Metro Manila. What were once busy streets are now deserted roads, with only a select number of vehicles heading to a nearby grocery or drugstore to get supplies. But once the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, these empty streets will once again be filled with all types of vehicles and drivers.
Should that time come, be part of the solution, not the problem. Don't be tempted to counterflow just so you can save a few seconds because that might get you into an accident. Drivers and passengers must avoid having to make a stop near an intersection on a green light as that will cause unnecessary traffic for everyone behind you. Always keep intersections clear. The last thing you want is to cause blockage not just for other motorists, but also to emergency vehicles like ambulances/fire trucks.
Lastly, even if there are no traffic enforcers around, always make sure to follow traffic rules and regulations, and observe road courtesy with other drivers. Just imagine how the traffic situation will improve should everyone on the road actually know what they're doing behind the wheel.