Having resumed our back to the grind, we invite you to revisit two other events that had impacted a change in traffic patterns during the last quarter of 2014. One was the increased truck traffic caused by the timing of the truck ban and the congestion at the Port of Manila. The other was the closure of some U-turn slots and a return to traffic light control for some vital junctions on Quezon Ave. , Katipunan Ave. and C-5.

Exposing the root cause

First; the truck ban turned out to be a long simmering “volcano” of a problem, waiting to erupt. The City of Manila's more severe truck ban in the early 2nd quarter of last year triggered howls of protest from the Trucking industry and many importers business groups. As in the law of unintended consequences, Manila's truck ban exposed the true root cause of the problem; port congestion caused by limited parking space, overwhelmed bureaucratic procedure and limited container storage capacity.

Carrot with stick

It shows our growing economy's absolute dependence on imports, and by extension, freight transport [trucks] and ports. We have always opined that too restrictive a truck ban hurts the greater economy for the simple reason that there is no airborne, waterborne and rail alternative to freight transport by road in our country. We even proposed a carrot and stick deal. Easing the truck ban, would be the carrot while the DPWH's no exemption weighing of all trucks going in and out of the port be the stick. This would entail building better parking facilities for port bound trucks too.

Back to square one

Not lacking in action and solutions, MMDA applied the one truck lane policy on certain critical streets in the Metro and the LASMAYL exemption for port bound trucks. In a bid to reduce the truck queues entering and overstaying containers in the Port of Manila's premises, the authorities declared the Ports of Batangas and Subic as extensions of Manila in order to accommodate said overstaying containers. To avert a repeat of the September Black Friday 10km/10 hour long monster traffic jam on A. Bonifacio, counterflow schedules on the NLEx were established. Of all, the most effective solution was, ironically, Manila Mayor Estrada's surprise backdown, lifting the City of Manila's distinct truck ban.

Legal hurdles

After considerable delays in DPWH right-of-way clearing for NLEx Segment 9, this spur expressway heading west from the Smart Connect cloverleaf should instead divert traffic heading for Balintawak to Karuhatan, Valenzuela, along MacArthur highway on the Malabon-Monumento-Rizal Ave. Ext. segment instead. Further into the near future, we need quicker resolution of the legal hurdles, whether Swiss Challenge or PNCC joint venture STOA [supplemental toll operations agreement] of the Metro NLEx link expressway or so-called NLEx connector, to which the Harbor expressway link is now integrated. The Harbor Link will greatly relieve current truck routes on C-3, R-10 and A. Bonifacio which are just too congested for the amount of truck traffic that goes through it, truck ban or no truck ban.

Get used to it

Still long queues of trucks are not unheard of in port cities; witness the daily queues at Rotterdam, Yokohama, Kwai Chung and Oakland. Its not just ports. The air cargo business of Flüghafen Frankfurt Am Main and München Franz Josef Strauss have long truck queues. European truckers are used to this as they are subjected to long waits at customs zones when crossing borders. Most drivers adopt by bringing camping equipment to lounge by and electric folding bikes to get around.

Long way to go

Ideas? Over the Christmas holidays 2014, the MMDA implemented an odd/even M-T-W/Th-F-S schedule for busses using EDSA underpasses. They may well consider a modified truck ban; alternating odd-even plate numbers from Monday to Saturday, while trucks which are not covered by the ban are allowed 24 hour access. We should understand that this is a work in progress because as our economy grows, processing capacity at Manila's port won't be able to catch up in time while Subic and Batangas are just beginning to ramp up processing capacity.

The good news

As for the second one, the restoration of traffic light controls on the Pasig segment of C-5 saw a marked improvement in journey times. Eastwood bound commuters from Paranaque feel that morning journey times were halved, although at the expense of slow going through the feeder avenues leading to Ortigas CBD. Granted that there is now more traffic on the perpendicular roads into Ortigas Center, at least you have less motorists clogging through transit traffic on C-5.

Genetically impaired

What this also shows is that even after some 8 years of getting used to the Bayani Fernando U-turn system and even with 50% more motorists on C-5 today, our drivers are just bad at give-and-take lane merging. For instance, the road geometry under the Ortigas C-5 flyover has generous 2-lane U-turns good enough even for trucks. Still skirmishing is the rule rather than the exception simply because it is in our genetic make up to be instinctly aggressive when wheel to wheel with another motorist, unless we live in another time [Peacetime 1938] or in another country [Subic 1998]. As for Quezon Ave., the jury is deadlocked between marginally improved vs. marginally worse ever since Delta and Roosevelt reverted to traffic light signals and the U-turn slots closed.

Disaster spills over

What has worsened is the Katipunan section where the traffic lights were restored at Miriam and Ateneo. There are just too many cars going in and out of the two major schools at all times of the day. Moreover, with the new system under the C-5 Aurora flyover, the traffic queues have spilled over to Marcos Highway even during off peak hours. In an effort to try other means, MMDA is encouraging biking from parking lot to campus for students going in and out of the Loyola grounds.

Pre fab bridges subject to Spanish inquisition

There were plans to build pre-fab alloy flyovers from England over the C. P. Garcia junction. These flyovers can be as wide as 3x3 carriageways, carry trucks and be up and inaugurated for passage in 90 days. Examples of these are the MacArthur Highway-Bocaue junction flyover and the Olongapo-Gapan Highway overpass over at San Fernando, MacArthur Highway. But being a GMA era solution, just like the Bayani Fernando MMDA U-turns, deploying those pre-fab flyovers may be subject to another Spanish Inquisition.

Schedule of closures

Our column once suggested setting an open and closing schedule for traffic light left turns from Katipunan into the schools and re-opening the U-turns 24/7 as an alternative. Without a doubt the transfer of traffic loads to Marcos Highway and further C-5 is due to the revival of left turns on the major avenues along Katipunan. MMDA should even consider a return to the old U-turn system regardless if it was an idea applied during the previous administration.

No pork barrel, no budget?

As always, the next problem is how to sustain the MMDA traffic management and traffic enforcement teams now that all the reopened traffic lights need more “boots on the ground”, considering that the MMDA, horror of horrors, has to operate on a decreased budget this 2015. And to think DPWH will begin construction of overpasses on EDSA Congressional, EDSA-North Ave. and the Buendia underpass through Makati and Paseo avenues soon.