Street revolution

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WE ARE now celebrating the EDSA revolution but do we really now have a true democracy? Looking at our streets today, we do not have democracy.

Our political perspective on transportation is still far from what other world cities are doing. We have inherited and adopted the American way of life including their planning perspectives. We hold so dearly the individual’s right to own a vehicle that we always would protect the rights of the few rather than the rights of the majority.

Spinning inside my head right now is the courageous demand of Atty. Antonio Oposa, a renowned environmental lawyer, who has now taken the cudgels of the right to transportation of the poor. He has recently proposed that the streets be given back to the people. He has petitioned Supreme Court to issue a “writ of kalikasan (nature)” that would require the government to implement, devise and implement a road-sharing scheme for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. His data show that only few people (1 percent of the population) own private cars, majority of the people walk and use bicycles as well as take the public transportation every day. Then why in the world are those in the minority (private vehicle owners) given majority of the road space? Where is the equitable distribution of wealth? Where is inclusive growth in the transportation sector?


He is proposing the following – half of the roads should be allotted to clean and affordable modes of transportation and half be given to pedestrians, bikers and nature; the latter transforming the hard concrete into urban gardens to clean the urban air. Revolutionary? Indeed but very much needed.

Local executives and traffic managers have always turned a blind eye on the issue of modern modes and systems of public transportation. They have always been very lenient on the private vehicles but very strict on public transportation. Case in point – look at the on-street parking that our local government allows on many streets. The designated loading and unloading bays of the jeepneys are but a few and limited but on-street parking is allowed the whole day round. A jeepney transports at least 10 people and a car normally transports only two so why should private vehicle be it cars or motorcycles be allowed to occupy one or two lane exclusively thus further restricting the flow of traffic in the downtown area?

Like it or not if we are to prevent traffic gridlocks we have to eventually shift to better public transportation systems in our cities. Those towns and cities with tricycles as their main mode of public transportation system must now upgrade to having jeepneys to make their road use more efficient and less pollutive while those with jeepneys must upgrade these into bus systems.

Why buses? Because they are safer, more comfortable and can carry a lot more people than jeepneys. If implemented properly, the bus system can have scheduled stops so commuters can have more control of their time. If streets flood, buses can better handle high flood waters than jeepneys.

Why not LRT or MRT and any rail based system? There are only very few railway systems that are economically sustainable, one of which is Hong Kong – because mainly of its compact city design and being the most densely populated city in the world. If Davao City were to have one, then the local government must be prepared to subsidize the fares forever and the commuters must adjust to a much higher fare just to sustain its operations. The last time I checked we in the Visayas and Mindanao are paying for the subsidized fare that MRT and LRT riders are enjoying – to the tune of at least 6 BILLION pesos annually. In the far future, we will eventually have our MRT or LRT once we have the right spatial, demographic and economic conditions for its sustainable operations.

In the meantime, we have to push for drastic reforms in the public transportation system. We must demand safer and more comfortable public transportation systems. Let our local honorables in both executive and legislative branches commute to their offices even just once a week using the local public transportation so that they will feel the burden that their citizens are experiencing every day. Let them sweat, feel the cramped space, have rust stains on their barongs and be late in their meetings like their citizens experience every day. Of course they will not do this because their time and work are very important to the LGUs, not like the time and work of the commoners in the streets.

If we are to develop policies that aim to manage our traffic efficiently then we must design road use policies that:
Discourage/disallow on-street parking as roads should be used to move people and goods and since it is a public good then private usage must be prevented.

Allot more road space to environment friendly modes and high capacity public transportation vehicles. Bicycles and buses must be encouraged, low capacity and vehicles with only one or two passengers must be discouraged from plying the roads during peak traffic hours.

Pedestrians must be given wider and safer walkways. Sidewalks must be widened, obstructions like vendors, advertisements, vehicles and other structures must be removed.

Davao City may now be the envy of other world cities in terms of its proportion of commuters versus the private vehicle owners. We have to keep it that way. Private cars are the main cause of traffic congestion and we must find ways to discourage private vehicle ownership but at the same time work hard to provide our commuters with safe, comfortable, accessible and affordable public transportation systems. When commuters shift to private transportation by purchasing a motorcycle or a second hand car then we lose the battle against traffic congestion.

Atty. Oposa’s proposal is sound. One way to manage traffic congestion is by efficient road use. Give back the road space to the majority of the people so they will enjoy better transportation services.

More road space should be allotted for public transportation, cyclists and pedestrians if we truly are a democracy. By the way, EDSA was won by people walking and occupying the streets, let us do it again.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 27, 2014.


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