The “ber” months warning

While we focus on how to get by the ever aggravating traffic that visits us every annual 90 day 4th quarter a.k.a. “ber” months leading to Christmas, things are a bit more positive outside the coagulating Metro. MNTC, tollway operators of the NLEx, SCTEx and SFEx [Tipo Expwy] beefed up toll collection at Bocaue ever since the SCTEx was integrated with the NLEx, resulting in the removal of the Dau and Mabalacat toll barriers. To handle even greater volumes, they have just commissioned the expanded Bocaue Toll Barrier.

All saints day

North bound travelers on return to the city, now hitting volumes of 280,000 per day on the critical “Dia de los Muertos” holidays, are aware that toll paying queues can reach up to Sta. Rita. Now that Bocaue is augmented to total 34 lanes, with fixed and mobile toll collectors per lane, we expect to see considerable relief in transit times by Nov. 2.

More NLEx lanes

It is also our hope that there would be a reduction in frequent rear-ender shunts this time of the year, as the NLEx expands the Bulacan and Pampanga segment to 3x3 carriageways. Appended to this ongoing expansion is the upcoming fulfillment of the 1981 plan to have 2x2 carriageways all the way from Balem to Sta. Inez.

TPLEx marches forward

Further North, travelers to the Ilocos Region and Baguio City no longer have to crawl back to the Manila North Road upon reaching Urdaneta. TPLEx, in its continuous march northward, have opened the Binalonan interchange, thus segregating traffic bound for western Pangasinan, including Manaoag shrine religious pilgrims, from those traveling further north to Baguio and Ilocos.

MMSS3 delays

South of the Metro, the traffic build ups have become a fact of life as motorists who have made driving on the Skyway elevated a habit, now bear with traffic tailbacks from the usual suspects on Dr. A. Santos in Sucat. MMSS3 [Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3] is making progress over Osmena Highway up to Quirino while the Northern half on top of G. Araneta Ave. and A. Bonifacio continues with column erection.

Emergency: Sec. Villar, DPWH

What DPWH Sec. Villar has to do, with or without emergency powers, but with at least a sense of urgency is what potentially can turn into the missing link of MMSS3 – Section 2 from Qurino Ave, crossing the river, grazing by PUP and linking up with G Araneta Ave. Not only is this Section 2 material to MMSS3 but it serves as the common alignment of MMSS3 with Metro Pacific's Metro Link Expwy, the connector between NLEx and SLEx. This connector expressway, elevated over the PNR rail right of way, connects to NLEx Karuhatan, via the Harbor Link. It would do Secy. Villar a whole lot of good to expedite all the approach RROW of the Harbor Link and NLEx connector, along with MMSS3's “missing link” at PUP, lest we end up with a Skyway that is cut off right in the middle.

Airport Express

Other southern choke points, like CAVITEx Roxas Boulevard are somewhat relieved with the commissioning of NAIAx phase 2-B from Macapagal to NAIA 1 & 2. Greater traffic relief will come just before the OCW's return home to spend the Holidays with their families, when NAIAx 2-A opens for NAIA 3.

A traffic czar, finally

In the meantime, the Metro has been divvied up to 10 administrative sectors for the new traffic super body called i/ACT with the PNP HPG chief at the helm as MMDA is now chaired by Tim Orbos. Their most recent traffic relieving program is the suspension of the coding window in several R [radial] and Circumferential roads plus adding one more evening hour for the coding restriction until 31 January 2017. As it stands, the functional “traffic czar” is the PNP HPG chief who heads i/ACT. MMDA now concentrates on floods, garbage and other urban problems, although, it provides the bulk of the traffic enforcers under the command of the PNP HPG troopers.

EDSA Mindset

Post-APEC summit

As far as traffic is concerned, the major adjustments in EDSA are in keeping with traffic law enforcement, through improved through put of vehicles through EDSA. Ever since PNP HPG took over during the APEC summit months in 2015, Balintawak market traffic jams, a bane of the area since 1986, became history. After toying around with EDSA-Roosevelt-Congressional junction's return to traffic light control, that key junction was rehashed back to U-turn passage, albeit with the western U-turn farther out.

That EDSA mentality

EDSA Quezon Ave. at grade has fully reverted to traffic light control, whereas many U-turn slots on EDSA north of Quezon Ave. were closed, leaving only the Bansalangin U-turn open. This has resulted in longer traffic queues on EDSA north bound in the morning as the vital Trinoma U-turn was closed. Moreover, vehicles coming from West Avenue now have a far longer detour to take in order to cross to North Avenue. EDSA may have smoother traffic but it had been attained by aggravating traffic on the side streets. Which lead many to question the priority given to EDSA against a cost benefit ratio that leads to an overall worsening of traffic flow. In fact, the combined forces of the 4th quarter seasonal traffic, no-coding window and shut down U-turns have stretched the morning EDSA commute Cubao traffic queue from its former tail back to 680 Home Appliances/SeaOil fuel forecourt to West Avenue, almost twice the distance!

7 minutes: That's all

Overall time savings for a typical EDSA journey from Monumento to Taft due to the no-coding window and assorted access blockade quoted range from 7 to 10 minutes. This savings is greatly felt between Crame and Shaw Blvd. Much of this savings is due to the comprehensive blockade of Ortigas Centre bound traffic merging from Annapolis-EDSA and Connecticut-EDSA squeezing the Ortigas center bound motorists to make do with just Ortigas Ave.

Squeezed out and double duration

This has resulted in lengthening the average off peak hour traffic queue to cross EDSA on Ortigas Ave. Prior to the EDSA blockade, it took 30 minutes to cross EDSA on Ortigas, with traffic backed up to Annapolis. With the bollard blockade, the traffic on Ortigas is now backed up to Gilmore, Aurora Blvd. doubling the transit time to EDSA to one hour. This is where we question if the 7 or 10 minute time savings is worth it. Whereas before the blockade, EDSA from Crame to Ortigas flyover was a long ballet of merging traffic as east bound traffic merged with south bound traffic. Now it is mostly clear because east bound traffic is squeezed to just Ortigas Ave.

Also improve traffic on affected cities.

While we recognize EDSA as the most critical arterial/access/service road in the Metro, we do not believe that it is correct traffic flow management to sacrifice the east-west bound cross traffic for the benefit of only southbound EDSA traffic, specially if the time wasted doubles in duration. We picture that this lop sided priority is also what is happening in North/West Avenue. The object is not a zero sum game where only EDSA benefits while all the other streets suffer. The objective of traffic flow management is to keep traffic moving in all, note, all, directions – the proverbial win-win situation. This narrow mindset of focusing only on EDSA advantages is flawed and counterproductive. It's tantamount to improving traffic flow on EDSA by prohibiting any kind of cross traffic to merge or enter EDSA. Closing too many U-turns and merge points has to be revisited as traffic has worsened on the side streets and this is not because of the suspension of the coding window.

EDSA Mindset

Here come the drones

This problem highlights the lack of a “birds' eye view” of overall traffic congestion. Which is why Tim Orbos's plan to hire drones to monitor a bigger and active picture of traffic in real time is a game changer. Drones can see a far bigger picture than toggling through half a dozen CCTV images. Decision makers will see that restricting cross traffic on EDSA has dire effects on the rest of traffic along EDSA.

BF; the trail blazer

When the left turns on EDSA were banned in preparation for the implementation of the U-turn system during Bayani Fernando's chairmanship of the MMDA [2005-2009], many motorists complained that their diversion or detour took them far away from their destination. But that was the raison d' etre of the U-turn system; to take advantage of vacant road capacity in order to keep traffic moving instead of turning stretches of road into on and off parking lots. The key was to keep moving, better for emissions than idling and for so long as the U-turn slots were not clogged, the U-turn system proved to be a time saver, point to point, over computer controlled traffic lights.

Marikina got the wrong end

The problem with the U-turn system came to light on C-5, where the U-turns themselves became just as clogged as when the traffic lights were operational. Despite the wide U-turn slots, driver error led to frequent scrapes and fender benders. By 2013, the MMDA took out some U-turns and returned traffic light control to C-5. This, along with strict one-lane only for trucks at night, has vastly improved traffic flow on most of the southern portion of C-5. Unfortunately, this did not work out for the Aurora boulevard portion of C-5, along with the sections in front of Miriam and Ateneo, where long back ups to Marikina, has worsened because of the traffic lights.

EDSA Mindset

Pocholo's racing line

What happened in C-5 actually highlights the problem of our drivers and not the U-turn system per se. The late Grand old man of Philippine Racing, Pocholo Ramirez used to remark that proper driving through a U-turn isn't any different from taking the racing line through a curve in a race circuit. The problem is, not only don't the average driver understand a racing line, but he/she cannot visualize, hence practice the concept of keeping lane.

Hates wheel to wheel

Give this kind of driver a 5-lane highway and he/she wouldn't know how to position his/her car to allow unobstructed passage for the other adjacent lanes. Once behind the wheel, these drivers, as if by instinct, turn avaricious with the intent of “owning” as much of the road and denying any other driver the right to drive beside him/her, wheel to wheel. What more if the imaginary “lane” happens to be the curve of a U-turn? Hence, even in U-turns where a 22-wheeler truck-trailer can negotiate at ease, without braking, you will find two small cars scraping and shunting each other.

Real Police, at work

Where the PNP HPG mindset truly shines is during the off hours late in the night, at 2300hrs. It used to be that when SM City shuts down its bus terminal, traffic flow on EDSA is reduced to one lane as city buses make EDSA's 5 other lanes a make shift terminal. This does not happen when HPG's troops and Altis patrol cars are present, late at night.

Simplistic solutions won't work

It is true that a major problem of traffic here today is that the majority of drivers are not instinctually law abiding and the solution is just to put more enforcers. Even today, many government authorities brush off the traffic problem in this simplistic dismissive manner. We do not dispute the numbers of iACT saying that they need 13,000 enforcers vs. a complete complement of a little over 2,000 today. We even hope that this 13,000 will be given reasonable, overlapping shift hours as traffic enforcement is a high stress job which should not be done continuously for more than 3 hours a stretch.

Doing nothing? Not an option

So what do we do in the meantime while emergency powers are still being studied by the lawmakers? When infrastructure has to play catch up? Driver education needs a couple of generations for a sea change in attitude. Still, there is something we can do instead of just throwing up our hands and say “c'est la vie”. It is not impossible to alter behavior patterns to comply with staggered work hours. Besides, even if we throw more men at traffic, as most military trained commanders are apt to do following such simplistic logic, without a multi-faceted plan to solve a multi-faceted problem, it will not solve the mess. Remember it was military minds that sent troops, piling warm body upon body resulting in useless slaughters like the Crimean War [Charge of the Light Brigade] and the bloody Battle of Stalingrad.

Priority: EDSA and all

We fully understand and expect EDSA traffic to continue to be congested for so long as C-5's connection to NLEx and CAVITEx are not finished, and the same for the MMSS3 and NLEx connector. However, we do not believe that the rest of the traffic flow of other main thoroughfares that cross EDSA should suffer just so EDSA can claim a 7 or 10 minute time savings. We have often recommended the reversal of the traffic authorities priorities so that instead of limiting traffic access the whole day, applying an ODD-EVEN ban only during rush hour, depending or calendar day [odd date, odd OK, even banned] and exempt HOV's and PUV's will change the way the Metro works and commutes. With the return of the window, traffic will definitely be heavier for most of the day from 0900hrs to 1600hrs or 1700hrs so the 40% volume reduction during rush hour would provide a break for traffic to clear up somewhat. Hence more traffic enforcers are needed during the window time to keep the flow going instead of concentrating their presence during the coding/odd-even hours for the purpose of catching coding/odd-even violators. The odd-even ban will also enforce offices to impose staggered working hours. Any kind of traffic restriction measure must come with some kind of catalyst for a change in established behavior. Coding was effective up to a certain traffic volume, but now, we need something more drastic.

As it is, coding all day, doesn't promote a complimentary shift in the way we go to work and when. Odd-Even does. It's about time.