One year into the Du30 era traffic emergency

This year's pre-Christmas and last year's is a good time frame to judge if traffic flow through the Metro improved or was, at least, mantained. Which probably goes to show that, with or without a functioning i/ACT [inter-agency commission on traffic] traffic czar, what really matters is what happens and what is done on the ground by the “boots-on-the-ground”. And that is exactly what MMDA does not have in adequate numbers. From a high need for 22,000 traffic aides, all the cops, traffic aides of MMDA and LGU [local government units] traffic aides working on main thoroughfares do not even amount to a third of that. So when the PNP Highway Patrol Group was again asked to go back to EDSA, it was more for the need to raise the body count rather than the need for highly trained law enforcement minds to argue the nuances of the ADDA [anti distracted driving] law and the upcoming restriction on near opaque car tint film.

A man named Tim

One advantage that then MMDA Chairman/GM Tim Orbos had was that he was not afraid to terminate the implementation of many poorly studied, rehashed and failed traffic management applications that worsened traffic management in the months of 2015 leading up to the APEC Conference. First, Tim did not have to answer to a traffic czar who may well be some hurriedly appointed inexperienced outsider, led astray by bumbling and unimaginative sub-alterns who just copied the traffic solutions of the 70s and early 90s, without bothering to analyze if they worked or why they didn't work. If 2015 traffic solutions didn't work, why reapply the same useless rehashed so-called solutions. Those wholesale lane segregation schemes, implemented with several gazillions worth of APEC budget funded orange bollards and those tire shredding concrete wedges, which tore, many a low profile tire or even heavy duty bus tire. If only history was not erased, it would become known that segregation schemes tried by MMC Governor Mel Mathay in the mid-seventies were promptly junked because it didn't work. Not only did the barriers curtail business access but some of those diabolical wedges even capsized a brand new City Bus.

Status quo, no!

Secondly, Tim didn't set out to change the world with some legislator inspired hare-brained ideas masquerading as the silver bullet to slay the traffic beast. All the newish thrusts and major innovations – pink/blue fences, prefab footbridges, U-turn slots, No Left Turn, scheduled bus stops- were all implemented by BF before but patchily maintained thereafter. Moreover, the ever vigilant traffic hawk, Sen. Poe, was not going to sit idly by while MMDA tighten the screws on private transportation while mass transit and public transpo goes to rot day by passing day. Tim tried to do a zipper lane lane counterflow for the morning EDSA-Makati bound rush hour at EDSA Ortigas flyover, but it failed because the all important between-the-flyovers median “filler” lane has not been proposed and constructed. But his removal of the Greenhills bollard wall from Annapolis to Ortigas greatly eased traffic in the Greenhills and Ortigas center networks.

Metro's traffic, one year under Du30

Succeeded by a General

Just like his successor, Gen. Danny Lim, Tim [appointed as USEc for land transport at the DoTr] believed that barring mega-buck infra projects, 24/7 vigilance of traffic management rules is a non-negotiable must. Fine tuning whatever rules are in effect were the hallmarks of his brief tenure as MMDA GM; urban clearways/tow away zones [Mabuhay/Christmas lanes] where no parking ordinances were strictly enforced by making LGU [local government units] officers and stakeholders responsible for keeping their zones compliant; the selective access to Cubao underpass for provincial buses; the strict application of bus terminal ingress/egress into EDSA RROW, tough measures against illegal vending at Balintawak market curbside, Guadalupe EDSA sidewalk and other MMDA foot bridges. The Balintawak market is of particular note as sidewalk clearance was a rarity before but it has now become the rule rather than the exception.

Bollards: use 'em or loose 'em

The improvement of traffic on EDSA is due to smarter deployment of those same orange bollards that caused so much mayhem in 2015. Even in their greatly reduced presence, being properly deployed make them far better at traffic control and flow than the endless walls the traffic czar put up in 2015. Noteworthy are the following deployments: Walter Mart/Munoz UV Express/bus stop, blockage of Roosevelt to Congressional at EDSA, defined U-turn lanes from Balintawak to Quezon Ave EDSA medians, defined lanes from White Plains Ave. to Santolan U-turns and many more. The best modified application I saw was the long segregated Cubao bound lane for Trinoma U-turns which effectively blocked the unruly traffic coming from West Avenue. Such a simple idea, yet so very effective.

Claims on the cloverleaf

Though not as visibly intensive as before, MMDA continues putting up foot bridges. Of late, DPWH has finally recognized growing pedestrian traffic on Balintawak cloverleaf and is at last installing a long footbridge. We hope it doesn't end there as Balintawak cloverleaf needs a network of footbridges, considering that flooding still happens. Unfortunately, some property claimants of the cloverleaf itself filed a court suit that is preventing NLEx management from activating their new multi-million peso anti-flood pumping station built to clear heavy downpour flood waters in minutes.

The Window works

With Sen. Poe against more traffic circulation restrictions and burdens on private citizens, the most tinkering Tim could do to MMDA regulation was the cancellation of the 9-3 coding window. Much as we were [and still are on account of restrictions to one-car families] against the cancellation of the 900AM-300PM coding window, we cannot deny that traffic along EDSA has been consistently better distributed from pre-Christmas rush 2016 to pre-Christmas rush 2017. Our proof lies at the critical point of traffic queueing that happens everyday at the Cubao bound side of EDSA Quezon Ave., just under the MRT Q. Ave station. Even during the pre-BF MMDA of 2005 and long after the window was instituted, you could even tell the time of day by your position in the 4.0km long crawl to Cubao. Traffic queueing to Cubao promptly becomes stop/go at this point by 900AM. With the cancellation of the window, traffic queueing only begins in front of GMA 7 and the duration per stop is not very very long. Definitely there has been a sustained improvement of traffic flow, on a daily basis.

Metro's traffic, one year under Du30

NAIAx as traffic relief

Another major reliever for traffic for the southend is the accessibility afforded by San Miguel-Vertex infrastructure's NAIAx. Now more than a year old, NAIAx has provided relief to commuters living as far south as Cavite and Las Pinas. Taking advantage of ex-Cong. Mark Villar's riverside road avoiding heavily trafficked Zapote-Alabang road with easy access to CAVITEx, NAIAx and Makati, commuting is much relieved. It is now common to hear about commutes to Makati falling below the critically bearable one hour mark. Naturally, as NAIAx displaced and redistributed traffic down south, we are seeing longer and longer traffic queues on Dr. Santos, pushing traffic queueing on the barely 8-year old elevated Skyway Stage 2. At least Metro Pacific is already pile boring for the C-5-CAVITEx flyover link road over the SLEx as this, when finished, will fully utilize C-5 as the direct gateway to Manila Bay and Cavite.

Tight integration, no room for error

Of course, these factors suspend their positive influence once you have serious standstill traffic bottlenecks elsewhere in the Metro because, believe it or not, traffic flow across all of MMDA's main thoroughfares are tightly integrated. Get a stalled extra long 18 wheeler under the Bagong Ilog viaduct on C-5 and you have traffic crawling for hours in Antipolo, Shaw Blvd., Cubao and Katipunan. You might think they are too far from the traffic causing incident but it is not so. Major jams in Southwoods, Las Pinas, Dr. Santos, C-3/R-10, Roxas Blvd., Tandang Sora, Ortigas Ave. in Cainta and Balintawak have the capacity to paralyze the rest of Metro Manila's road system in a Filipino instant. Just add water [rain], lots of water.

Trouble in Section 2

Medium/Long term prospects? Skyway Stage 3 has at last solved the section impasse at the Burgos bridge. Citra opted to do what Vertex did for NAIAx when it constructed the skyway over the Tripa de Gallina; Section 2 goes over the Beata tributary, crosses the Pasig and shadows the San Juan River to connect to the New Panaderos bridge over and past SM Centerpoint. Whatever right of way it needs on land will mostly likely eject warehouses. This recent change in Skyway Stage 3's route now poses a challenge or two to Secy. Mark Villar. His first challenge is if the G. Lo eco-warrior sympathizers at DENR will allow clearance for the passage of the stacked expressway over the San Juan River, never mind that “Build, build, build” envisages 11 Pasig River crossings. The next challenge is how to speed up or play catch up with the scheduled full opening of Skyway Stage 3 by 2020, considering the 2-year delay of this Section 2. The solution may actually lie in DPWH expediting the design and construction of the Connector-Stage 3 common alignment by PUP. Since Metro Pac's metro link connector passes over the PNR rail right of way, Leighton, its contractor, can already start building the interchange to Stage 3 at the Burgos River Bridge approach. As it is, Leighton is close to finishing the Harbor Link to C-3 and R-1 and will just need clearance to proceed building along the PNR tracks heading for Espana/Gov. Forbes junction. This way, the connector may provide the contiguous link to Skyway Stage 3 as DMCI and EEI finish Section 3 &4.

Stuck in the North

And speaking of Section 4, the A. Bonifacio/C-3 works area of Skyway Stage 3, severe traffic disruption happens regularly causing major queues at NLEx stretching from Balintawak cloverleaf to Smart Connect cloverleaf. Construction at this zone has been haphazard causing several patches of partly finished work areas and work areas that are left untouched for weeks on end. This has been an ongoing agony for Manila bound NLEx commuters for 2 years and counting.

Metro's traffic, one year under Du30

NLEx goes faster

This traffic build-up is aggravated because of the higher throughput of NLEx traffic now that the well illuminated 3x3 section from Balagtas to San Fernando is fully operational. Traffic may have been higher than projected as the new 3rd lane or ex-shoulder along San Fernando grew bumpy sooner rather than later, necessitating a major repave in less than 6 months of use. Ditto for the north bound Candaba Viaduct's ex-shoulder. The 3rd lane's pavement has already worn very coarse compared to the south bound viaduct.

No drowse “S” curves

A welcome feature of the new 3x3 NLEx carriageway is not only the superb nighttime illumination of LED arrays but the gently radiused “S” curves marked by solid white road markings for several carriageway bridges and their approaches. Recall that this NLEx segment was planned in the 1970s when current highway designs preferred arrow straight alignments which, coupled to strict speed limit enforcement, induced monotonous highway drowsiness and drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. The design remedy that French and Japanese highway designers introduced then was to course the highway in an alternating curve route albeit at very gentle radii. Strictly observed, the gently curving solid white lines on these NLEx bridges actually achieve the same effect of preventing highway hypnosis. If only it isn't illegal, the NLEx as configured, is safe even beyond speeds of the metric equivalent of 130MPH.

Extra exits

Elsewhere on the older part of the NLEx, new auxiliary exits at Meycauayan Pandayan and Libtong, along with Valenzuela's Lingunan have greatly reduced the on-carriageway exit traffic queue duration and length. Similar constructions are being studied for the Angeles-Magalang exit where the old Magalang southbound on-ramp may be re-introduced if only to relieve the heavy Angeles and Magalang bound traffic on the roundabout shared by Toyota Angeles, Ayala's Marquee Place and Marquee Mall.

Metro's traffic, one year under Du30

Gotcha! by GATSO

With more lanes on NLEx, speed noggins now rear its ugly head. Having not had 100% speed reading accuracy for the mobile or hand held LIDAR speed cameras, as in Doc Dennis's unfortunate case of clumsy speed gun reading by MATES/SLEx last year, NLEX corp. leveled up their anti-speeding squads, by getting Tritec Integrated's world famous GATSO HD video fixed speed monitoring equipment from the Netherlands. The bane of many British, Commonwealth, Gulf States and Middle East drivers for decades, GATSO was known for its vandal prone bulky grey boxiness and its ability to shoot clear images of speeding violators at night, even with all lanes occupied. The eagle eye among you will spot these devices mounted on white poles beside CCTV modules mounted on the blue painted bunkers with yellow notices for the Hot Line. By this writing, the whole of NLEx is covered by these sophisticate, all weather sentinels of speed allowing night time enforcement of the speed limit by arresting officers at the tollway's end toll barriers. What is needed is contact-less ticketing just like MMDA's “mayhulikaba” internet based bulletin board, this time, for speeding violations.

Projected traffic because of “build, build, build” 

In the medium term, the looming introduction of a Japanese loan funded EDSA BRT only means that there will be further reduction in EDSA's remaining lanes, aggravating EDSA's under-capacity. This possible traffic aggravation is being keenly watched by Sen. Poe. This all the more cries for the quick acceptance of Metro Pac's offer to buy out the MRT-3 consortium and operations contract. This is where emergency powers can help if only to accelerate the vetting process and the necessary elapsed time for a Swiss Challenge. Now that i/ACT is hopefully up and running, this may be the time to utilize its emergency powers. If MRT-3 works efficiently sooner than sooner, then the EDSA BRT installation may shove commuter traffic to MRT-3 instead of increasing P2P buses that will just crowd EDSA just the same.

EJT? Cool it!

As for Tim, well, he still gets our sympathy whenever he honestly jokes about EJT [extra-judicial-transport] means of transportation [“habal-habal”, illegal Uber/Grab, colorum “padjaks”] despite the intolerant gaze of his formerly jovial boss. Might Tim's boss loss of joviality be the influence of the aggravating and intolerant mood at the LTFRB?