Pie in the sky
A real alternative to EDSA? Now? Today? Obviously, we are not referring to pie-in-sky dream roads like the MMDA's Skybridge over the San Juan River or Metro Pac's NLEx-SLEx connector or Citra's Skyway Stage 3. What suffering motorists on EDSA need is another road and not the warmed over Mabuhay lanes that were stitched together when Metro Manila Commissioner Mel Mathay, Jr. needed alternate routes as the Cubao and Shaw EDSA underpasses were being built in 1974.
With the MMDA banning buses on flyovers and tunnels, EDSA has become even more congested as peak hour journey times turn 30 to 50% longer. A string of bus accidents leaving fatalities and scores injured brought about this strict reimplementation of MMDA regulation on bus lanes. Yet, even if all the colorum buses were eliminated, all the excess LTFRB franchises culled, EDSA still has too many buses. Or to be fair to the bus companies who, uncharacteristically, did not protest the directive as vigorously as they normally do, EDSA just doesn't have enough space for all riders who crowd the limited curb space. The bunched up bus terminals in Cubao continue to be the main plug in EDSA. Indeed, EDSA remains the world's longest bus stop with one of the world's longest “rush” hours.
Old, tired routes
Tracing the old Radial routes on a map connecting South to North one can count quite a few. From Baclaran to Balintawak or Malabon, there's Roxas Boulevard and North Bay Boulevard. Or from Baclaran, trace the LRT-1's path underneath Taft, Avenida Rizal up to Monumento. Then there is C-3, which starts at SM Centerpoint up to A. Bonifacio and the C3 that leads to Navotas. There is a C-2 in DPWH maps, but its only an intra-Manila circumferential road.
But no contiguous flow?
The R-1 Roxas Boulvard route may be wide from the CAVITEx terminus up to the Port Area's Anda Circle, but then the road gets crowded out by pier bound juggernauts while the rest of North Bay Boulevard is full of PUJs and congested by a high density of informal settlers. Tracing the LRT-1 is a narrow path of pre war urban avenues crowded with jeepneys, so apart from the stop-go agitation don't be surprised if your journey takes excruciatingly long as it mirrors the pace of the Jeepney Kings. Whatever half of C-3 serves you, you'll need to battle with plenty of jeepneys and pier bound trucks too. The completion of the Araneta Avenue-Quezon Avenue underpass will only ease traffic around that area, leading to sooner and longer pile ups of traffic at the Sgt. Rivera-A. Bonifacio traffic junction. Moreover, once Skyway Stage 3 starts, all the pillars will be dug in C-3's median.
Genuine alternative needed
As for city ring and radial roads, we have been always of the opinion that in most emerging market cities, one bus lane is more than enough, while the MMDA provide two lanes that hardly move as buses are packed nose to tail from one bus stop to the next. This is because Filipino city bus drivers do not or perhaps cannot conduct their trips to a dispatch schedule. Whatever the case may be, cries for a genuine alternative to EDSA, be it another ring road or cross town radial roads, are heard all over again.
That only leaves us with C-5. No, not the C-5 that was such a controversy for the Senate. But the existing C-5. To simulate this route today, we could only do the North bound leg as the new Katipunan flyover on Commonwealth Ave. is only open to North bound traffic. Illegal settlers still block the path of C-5's eastern approach to the flyover.
Comparo ͭ ͫ
For comparison purposes, a trip from SLEx-C5 to NLEx-Mindanao Ave. parallels a Magallanes-Skyway to Balintawak clover leaf northward journey on EDSA. Anyone who frequents the MMDA-Interaksyon live traffic report will see that the EDSA route will be packed save for a few short stretches dotting the metro. In terms of scenery, C-5 beats EDSA anytime, unless one prefers to ogle at celebrity models hyping condos on giant billboards and entertained by the reckless behavior of colorful buses blocking every inch of the two yellow lanes.
Cruise and view
From the Skyway Toll Plaza, there's the green view of Heritage Park on the left and the occasional belly of an Airbus approaching NAIA's runway. On the other side are the villages of Taguig and when you get to higher ground around McKinley Hill, glimpses of Laguna de Bay and the hills of Taytay by the lake shore under an amethyst tinted sunset sky.
At a crawl, views aplenty
Just before the road bends approaching the Sampaguita Interchange by Market Market, traffic begins its peak hour crawl. One is well compensated by views of the gleaming skyscrapers of the Fort Global City, the serenity of the American Memorial with the British Embassy, serving like its sentry bunker.
The northbound crawl continues under the Global City's northbound on-ramp and Bayani's twinned elevated U-turns where on some days, Makati's ASBU or Anti Smoke Belching Units lurk, ready to pounce on any vehicle that is usually guilty until, rarely, proven innocent. To get a piece of the smoke belching penalties, Pasig has its own ASBU waiting by the Ortigas Ave C-5 flyover.
There's always a crawl crossing the Pasig river as traffic on the down ramp to Pasig is usually backed up. Unless there is a truck breakdown on the Bagong Ilog flyover, traffic flows smoothly until the Ugong, Petron station. Its a slow crawl here as C-5 is flanked between car dealerships and Valle Verde townhouses. The crawl continues as the climb up the Ortigas flyover affords views of the Grove, Tiendesitas and beyond, the tall buildings of Ortigas Center, Pasig and the Antipolo hills.
The C-5 crawl continues to be heavy past the skyscrapers of Eastwood City until the BMW Libis U-turn slot. From here, Marikina bound traffic filters to the right as QC bound traffic positions to get to the Blue Ridge ramp and tunnel. From here, traffic speeds up through the well lit Katipunan tunnel. Up on the Katipunan ridge, the best view comes before the Aurora boulevard flyover; the twinkling lights of Marikina Valley and the Montalban Hills in the distance.
Then its down to the greenery of Loyola as traffic flows at 40km/h or more. Things slow down as one approaches the CP Garcia traffic light. From here it gets dark and one has to be careful with jeepneys and tricycles turning in and out of unidentified median cuts as C-5 passes between Balara and UP.
Proceed with caution
From here, C-5 shadows the old Tandang Sora Ave. Then C-5 comes to an abrupt end just past the Capitol rotunda where undemolished buildings block the path to the flyover. Traversing a short stretch of Tandang Sora Ave., one must be alert to spot the cut in the curb in order to make a quick right to get to ramp where one can access the northbound lane of the new flyover. Descending on the Luzon Ave. end of the flyover, one sees a myriad of tricycles easily blocking a few lanes where a “talipapa” or informal flea market has sprouted. Along with the “talipapa” is a garbage dump in the median of the Luzon Ave. Congressional Ave. Extension junction. Street urchins sift through the garbage as bicycles and motorcycles cross through the gaps of the Jersey barriers on the median.
Follow the green signs
Thanks to the green reflective signs on top of the lamp posts, arrows point to NLEx, EDSA and Elliptical Circle. From here, the road becomes well paved and well lit passing through posh Tierra Pura and Mira Nila subdivisions. Its a smooth 40km/h cruise dicing with a few tricycles and jeepneys to get from Luzon Ave., via Congressional Ave. Extension and on to Mindanao Ave. Here, the view is typical mixed-use Quezon City urban sprawl, where the desolate and the sublime exist side by side.
Spot the many U-turns
Mindanao Ave. moves at a smooth 40km/h at peak hour time, though its many U-turn slots are not clearly marked, causing the confused to bunch up at U-turn entries and exits. One hopes that the green directional signs on the median lamp posts are well maintained else one can easily miss a turn. After the Quirino Ave. underpass one can already see the welcome view of the NLEx Toll plaza and onward to the new Smart Connect Cloverleaf.
Time trial, EDSA
So how long does it take? On EDSA at the 1800hrs. Peak hour, it takes about an hour to crawl from Magallanes to Ortigas, 30 mins. from White Plains Ave. to Nepa Q Mart and another 20 mins from Trinoma to Roosevelt-Congressional. Not accounting for the few minutes used to traverse the slightly less trafficked sections in between, EDSA Magallanes to Balintawak clover leaf takes at least 2 hours.
Time trial, C-5
The C-5 crawl, on the other hand, from Mckinley Hill to Ugong Pasig City takes 30 minutes. From the Ortigas flyover to Libis Blue Ridge ramp, 20 minutes. But here's the clincher; from Blue Ridge to NLEx Mindanao Ave. plaza, it took 40 minutes! That's one and half hours from Skyway to NLEx. This was for a normal, rainy July week day. Perhaps, as more motorists learn to navigate this route, average times may lengthen, but for a 30 minute saving over EDSA traffic, C-5 is not such a bad deal. Here, one doesn't deal with the huge and unruly buses.
Of course we still do have our wishes for C-5. We'd like to see plans on how the Skyway can link with C-5, now that the FTI area is up for sale and will include an intermodal bus/rail terminal. We'd like to see C-5 link up with Senator Villar's C-5 extension and for the extension to link up with CAVITEx. We look forward to MNTC's NLEx Segment 8.2 extension to proceed beyond Mindanao Ave and link up with Luzon Ave. at the foot of the Commonwealth-Katipunan flyover. And in the meantime, we'd like to see the DPWH finish clearing up the blockading squatters, while MMDA and the QC government clear up the mess of garbage, tricycle terminals, and impromptu flea market on the Luzon Ave. side of the flyover so DPWH can open the southbound ramp. And don't forget to sign post those median cuts and U-turn slots on Congressional Ave. Extension, Mindanao Ave. and Katipunan around UP-Balara.
As the lawyers, investment bankers and the bureaucrats sweat the details before work on the NLEx-SLEx connector, Skyway Stage 3 and Skybridge begin, all is not hopeless for north-south travelers that bear with EDSA. We have C-5 to try.