Saturday, April 25, 2015

Of traffic congestion and shopping malls

THE “malling” culture has never been as visible as it is in the Philippines today. Big malls proliferate in North America and in the Asian region, but these are normally located in the suburbs to service far-flung developments. In the Philippines, malls are located in built up areas and urban centers within cities. While some become anchor developments for many of the growth centers outside Metro Manila, many of the shopping malls contribute to the “car-mageddon” especially along EDSA.
Back in 2011, GMA 7 reported that 31 malls and shopping centers were located along the 24-kilometer stretch of EDSA. This, along with other factors like increase in urban population, contributes to the traffic congestion in the area, especially between November and December. According to the Manila Metropolitan Development Authority (MMDA), an increase of 15 to 20 percent in traffic volume along EDSA and other major roads is usually expected during the holiday season. In reaction, mall operators adjust the mall hours and the MMDA deploys more traffic enforcers. These, however, are only band-aid solutions and do not address the problem in the long run.
Going to the mall is a Filipino pastime. Aside from being air-conditioned, malls offer the convenience of having everything you need in one place: shopping, entertainment, dining, and worship, among others. The bigger malls along EDSA, which are causing traffic congestion, are what you call super-regional malls. In order to ease the traffic going to these centers, there should be more neighborhood stores, groceries, and corner stores in nearby residential areas as opposed to gated communities where majority of people have no access.
It could also help if Filipinos have many other options to pass the time within the city. In my previous article, I emphasized the need for more open and green spaces in the urban areas. Aside from being the lungs of the city, parks and open areas are a healthier alternative to malls. It provides an active space where one can be closer to nature. Open and green spaces may also be programmed to host a plethora of activities, from cultural to sporting events.
Gated subdivisions, meanwhile, have created superblocks at the cost of inaccessibility for pedestrians, motorists, and residents of surrounding communities and access to job centers like Central Business Districts. However, gated subdivisions can have negative impacts in the form of segregation in both a physical and social sense if not managed in an appropriate manner. Developing gated communities isolates the residents from any interaction from the surrounding areas and reduces the traffic flow, creating a more separated neighborhood.
For our project in San Juan City, we proposed that the existing gated residential subdivisions need to be gradually opened for increased and enhanced access whilst maintaining the level of security and privacy its residents expect. This will be achieved during phases over a course of 1-3 years in order to allow the local residents to adjust and amend.
The first phase will consist of opening up main roads and gates at certain intervals during the day, for instance during busy shopping hours and rush hour. The second phase shall incorporate a by-pass system, like that of Bel-Air 2 Village Orbit Street and San Miguel Village F. Zobel Street in Makati , where access is permitted for non-residents from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. Gradually eliminating the restricted zones, this will eventually lead to the phasing out of closed roads.
Another major thing to be addressed is the hierarchy of our road networks. Roads are usually categorized according to their functions or capacities. For example, the US Department of Transportation classifies their roads into freeways, arterials, collectors, and local roads. Freeways are designed for high-speed, continuous travel. Arterials are roads built to accommodate a large volume of traffic. Collectors, on the other hand, connect the local roads to the arterials. When I was working in DOTC back in the 70s, in fulfillment of my United Nations Development Program scholarship, such hierarchy of roads had been proposed to connect the whole of Metro Manila. Unfortunately, some of the proposed roads like the circumferential road-6 (C-6) have not yet seen the light of day, seventy years later.
Last March 16, I presented my vision plan for the Philippines 2021 to 2050 and beyond and Manila Megalopolis at the American Chamber of Commerce. The plan calls for a bet-connected Philippines, which includes additional circumferential roads, railways, airports, and seaports. I proposed to add five more to the existing circumferential roads (C1 to C5), of which C10 will be connecting Bataan to Cavite at the entrance of the Manila Bay. These circumferential and radial roads will help ease the load from the congestion in EDSA. On a larger scale, these roads will allow a more efficient way to travel from the West Philippine Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Long-term solutions like these are necessary if we want to see major improvements from the heavy traffic we experience in Metro Manila. Today, Filipinos spend around 1,000 hours per year in traffic. That is a lot of productive time each of us is losing every day.
Developments, whether along EDSA or not, should always consider the potential contribution to heavy traffic and how this can be properly addressed. They should not only be built to reach the sky but should also effectively meet the ground.

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