Manila Traffic Seen From A Vantage Point

No traffic solution discussed or devised by authorities will ever work in the long term in the Philippines. Key words here are long term. Even if we magically managed to double, triple or quadruple our road space. Of that I am certain. Not in our lifetime anyway, although we have to keep trying out the well-intentioned suggestions and delude ourselves (for our sanity’s sake) that somehow something MIGHT work. We’re well on our way to (successfully) converting our roads into parking lots. Widening or creating new roads and bridges, putting the HPG in EDSA, building or expanding the mass transport system, fighting corruption, removing the jeepneys, limiting the number of cars, staggered work hours etc. are all Band-Aid measures to ease traffIc somewhat and temporarily (key word — temporarily). Down the road (pun intended), even if we do these things now, our children and children’s children will EVENTUALLY suffer the same fate we do now. And that is because we are a people who so completely lack the basic ingredient that underpins successful traffic management programs anywhere in the world.


One doesn’t “urge” pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk so as not to limit the flow of vehicles–you arrest and fine them. Pedestrians who occupy a road lane (or two), should be fined heavily (see News about Taft Ave in Pasay). One doesn’t “whistle” buses to go back to their lane, you arrest and heavily fine the bus driver (or better, heavily fine the bus line operators too for hiring stupid, criminally-minded and reckless drivers). One doesn’t allow vehicle drivers, including and especially motorcyclists, to rudely occupy pedestrian lanes and block people from safely and quickly crossing the street. You arrest and fine them. While on motorcyclists — arrogantly weaving thru cars and jumping the line (even using the sidewalk) to go in front of others who are already in the lane only pushes back other vehicles and initiates the ‘accordion effect’ — effectively making traffic worse. They think that they are ‘decongesting’ the road when they do that. It is a blatant ‘in-your-face’ stealing of the time and effort of others who leave their houses early. Ditto with those who block the ‘straight thru’ lane by going in front of those making a left turn. Or those who do not understand the alternate rule of proceeding in lanes that bottleneck. Or that one is supposed to drive between lane lines, not on the line. One doesn’t allow vendors to ply their trade in the sidewalks. And certainly not on the roads during rush hour.

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You institutionalize the ‘correct’ behavior by force and making it really, really unpleasant for those who violate the rules of the road. Madadala yan if you consistently hurt their wallets. While at it, the MMDA shouldn’t hire so-called ‘enforcers’ who can’t see that filling up the yellow box at intersections with vehicles before signaling the opposite lane to ‘GO’ is really the most effective way of making them ‘STOP’. All of the above are not simply behaviors that are ‘in-response-to’ or reactions to the environment. They are displays of ignorance and stupidity. And sadly, these are now ingrained habits in our culture as well (with apologies to Webster for its definition of culture). Which is why traffic will continue to persist even if we did all the suggested solutions.

Up until people’s brains are ‘wired’ to understand the need for and follow the rules, (which should be learned from childhood), there will be no traffic solution that will work here or for that matter, any city in the world. We see harassed mothers and yayas tugging children to jaywalk to go to schools. Like any mammal, children observe the adults and will ‘wire’ their minds to the notion that all of the scenes cited above are the ‘CORRECT’ behavior they will apply as adults. Cities and nations that have ‘wired’ the majority of their population (it doesn’t even have to be everyone) to follow the rules are the ones that ‘RULE’. The uber-quick economic rise of Japan, Germany and Singapore after the devastation of World War II was not a fluke. They are classic examples of what a disciplined people are capable of achieving. The rest who do not have these traits remain basket weavers and sufferers of insufferable, perennial city traffic.

My hope is that we start educating the young on habits and behaviors that are necessary for communities and urban areas to function. Teach them the value of falling in line. Teach them empathy, of putting themselves in the shoes of another. Teach them to call out and be angry at those who do not follow the rules. That is how ‘a community’, ‘a sense of country’, ‘an all-together-now’ and the most necessary of all ingredients in urban living — DISCIPLINE — are ingrained — ‘wired’ — into the minds of the population of the future. You can’t legislate, cajole, urge and encourage a people to exhibit the behavior you want and expect it to work. That approach will fail (except maybe in places like China, where the threat of incarceration for a long time or a bullet at the back of the head is very real). One can’t conjure discipline. It is worked on steadily by adults to their children from a very young age. It is the formula for success of nations that have evolved. While undoubtedly and admittedly not the only one, it is the long-term solution that should underpin all our traffic management strategies.

If we fail to do that now, I am willing to bet that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be doomed to endure the very stressful kind of life we experience every single day in this city of ours. Even if we have mass transport systems, a thousand HPGs and a 12-lane, 5-level Skyway in EDSA by then. I wouldn’t bet after my great-grandchildren because the rising sea level would have swallowed this country by then and FINALLY, we will see no more gridlocked Manila traffic.

19 Replies to “Manila Traffic Seen From A Vantage Point”

  1. I’d actually wish for this country to be swallowed up by the ocean. It has outlived its every conceivable purpose to exist any longer (well, except for providing cheap English-speaking labour to practically every other country in the world, maybe).

    1. Don’t worry about that last part, countries like Nigeria are predicted for massive population growth in the next few decades, so there’ll never be a shortage of cheap labor. As far as the English speaking goes, many call centers in the Philippines and elsewhere already use soundboard recordings so callers think they’re talking to an American rather than a Filipino selecting responses from a screen, and as this technology advances (think a really realistic Stephen Hawking voice synthesizer) the accent won’t even be an issue any more.

  2. Extremely well put, well worded commentary. Again, The same things I have been saying and preaching to my Fiancee, her brothers , and anyone else who would listen , but put in a much more eloquent way ! I shake my head in disbelief and have to really remind myself to be calm and not have a heart attack everytime I drive and I am in the Best “Small – Big city” in the Visayas…. I am afraid, it too will become another Cebu followed by an even worse Manila. I won’t be there to see it up close … I will be up in the Mountains or back in the USA , still shaking my head , having given up on any hope of anything ever changing……

  3. There is no solution to the stupidity of : people, drivers, pedestrians and our leaders.

    How can you teach stupid people; not to become stupid?

  4. There is no long-term solution to the Philippines’ traffic problems (and air pollution emitted by motor vehicles), unless the government greatly reduces the numbers of privately-owned vehicles (automobiles and motorcycles) to one per household, and restrict the use of automobiles for carpooling only on weekdays; eliminate commercial bus companies and convert the buses into government-run transportation that operate on 365/24/7 schedule; limit the driving sectors of taxis to avoid sporadic traffic congestion throughout the metropolis; eliminate poorly maintained and uninsured jeepneys and tricycles altogether, promote pedicabs (bicycles with sidecars) and Kalesas (horse-draw carriage), on neigborhood roads and streets, to slow down the pace of life in the country and encourage environmental awareness.

  5. If nothing works in the end, then each individual Filipino holds the power to end it. How? If the population decreases then the traffic problems will also decrease.

    Look at the traffic congestion through a drone and what will you see? A million ants trying to get there first. Now look at the population and what do you see? Again. A million ants.

    What is the population of the greater metro Manila? 20 million? I would not be surprised if that number will increase significantly.

    Normally, in a civilized western country, a government should take draconic measures. But it looks like the Manila city government and the national government doesnt do diddly. So that leaves us with only one other variable in the equation. The people.

    The problem is that I dont expect anything from the people. So there will come a time that Manila will come to a total stand still.

    1. Robert Haighton,

      It’s a lot easier to pressure the government to reduce the numbers of motor vehicles on the road, then to convince the Filipino people–or the whole world for that matter–to hold back on having sex and making babies. The biggest problem with over-population is what the people are going to eat than what they’re going to ride to and fro.

      The reason why there are 20 million plus people in Manila is because that is where everything is, and the people have been conditioned to flock to the metropolis instead of spreading throughout the archipelago.

      What’s going to happen to the Philippines when the major metropolis “comes to a total stand still” is people will be forced to either leave the country or move back to their respective provinces go back to their traditional way of life: fishing, farming, and making basic things with their own hand—which is what the Philippines was designed for by Mother Nature, and not tranformed into a “concrete jungle” for the sake of modernization (shopping malls, high rise condominiums, and other commercial properties).

      That someday is just around the corner.


  6. the real possibility exists of a day when for a number of unrelated reasons a perfect storm will arise – earthquake + typhoon + gridlock – which will result in a significant number of fatalities which will dwarf anything Yolanda delivered in one night.
    Manila seems to be in an extremely vulnerable and delicate situation, and if there are any people with any foresight left, the only viable solution would seem to be to decentralize this megalopolis to the Visayas and Mindanao, and also have alternate seats of government should a major catastrophe befall Manila.

    1. walter p k Historically, many societies (and cities) after catastrophic and devastating events, used it as an opportunity for change. Today, the wide avenues of Munich, Berlin, Paris and closer to us, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were only made possible because these entire cities could be redesigned. And redesigned for the better. Kobe suffered a devastating city-wide destruction from a massive earthquake 2 decades and a half ago. Today, no sign that it was destroyed exists and it is a bustling metropolis. Hope somebody posts pictures of these places, before and after. The Chinese character for crisis also means opportunity. Except for clues like the Eiffel, one will not recognize these cities from aerial photography comparisons of then and now. But then again, it required highly disciplined societies.
      Notice however that places like Haiti, for example, will probably not rise from the ashes of the devastating earthquake it experienced a few years ago. Despite very massive aid. It is a society plagued with the same set of conditions we have here – lack of discipline generously sprinkled with ignorance and stupidity. I truly, truly wonder whether crisis can be turned into an opportunity here. I doubt it because we don’t have the ingredients of what it takes. Munich or Haiti? Likelihood is that the crisis here, if such events happen here, will last until rising sea levels inundate Manila, in which case the crisis ends. I sincerely hope I am wrong, for my children and grandchildren’s sake.

  7. The future is as blank as a plane sheet if you don’t have an eagle’s eye, that’s why you should climb to a vantage point to get a good perspective view at your future.

    For the Failipinos in the Failippines, they never had the word “foresight” in their wasted pale blood.

  8. Good point but can’t be applied on a full scale basis.

    My idea is a zoning strategy. Create highly disciplined zones like Subic and UP Diliman. They provide the model urban areas that demonstrate how an orderly community can operate.

    Once a driver enters such a zone his mindset needs to switch to first-world disciplined behavior. Rules are strictly enforced.

    Then the Phil will see there’s a difference between a Zaxxun Zone and what is not. That will be the wake up call to replicate the zone elsewhere till the entire country is engulfed.

    divide and conquer with Zaxxun zones!

    1. zaxx, the article was really about why the future generations of Filipinos will still experience the same stress. Your suggestion has actually crossed my mind before, albeit at areas where people are more likely to follow the rules because of the relatively stronger political will of local officials (Marikina comes to mind). Better road design, The use of raised cat-eye lane lines ( which are uncomfortable if one’s wheels run on them and I believe are more likely to keep people in the lane and keep motorcyclists from “white-lining”) should probably be part of these designs. Filipinos still need guide posts to be herded — much like sheep or cattle in going to a pen. Stricter law-enforcing groups to act like “bastoneros” – cane or whip (figure-of speech) to move them along.
      And, like I previously wrote, work on the young feverishly to change how future generations will behave in the streets.
      As one eloquent foreigner once said —“Show me how a people use and behave in their streets and I will tell you who they are” No guesswork needed if you show them a typical Manileño.

    2. @fruiteater Filipinos actually have the capacity to behave correctly on the road, even without strong enforcement. In first world countries, they drive with manners because everyone else is.

      We just need to provide Filipinos these Zaxxun zones. I am nearing completion of my project: the Zaxxun Zones of Luzon. I’ll announce it shortly. This will define the boundaries of the “Singapore ” within the Philippines.

    3. Introducing the “Singapore of the Philippines” –> the Zaxxun Zones of Luzon. Stay within these zones and it will feel like living in Singapore!

      View the zones in:

      Yes, sometimes we can be proud to be Pinoy. Expand these zones and maybe we’ll wake up in a first world country someday.

      Foreign tourists should travel within ZaZoZon to ensure a fun eyesore&crime-free stay in the Luzon mainland.

    1. Hmmm… Let me answer:

      1. I don’t cross a ped xing until the “walk” light is lit even when there are no vehicles passing by.

      2. I use footbridges and the overpass.

      3. I don’t get rides or alight in a spot where I know a stop would disrupt traffic flow.

      4. I always bring my laptop with me so if I find that it is quite hard to get home, I’d stop somewhere to let time pass but still being productive. By saying that, I have always prepared myself daily that I might come home late.

      5. Most of the time I report late for work to avoid being caught in the rush hour. It is my way of demonstrating to my company that the 8-5 work schedule should be reconsidered. I believe that private companies should do their part in alleviating the problem by either, in my humble opinion, adjusting the working hours or, every now and then, allow work-at-home instead of a 4-day work week. I suggested that based on what is applicable to my occupation.

      It is also my way of telling my superiors that we should come up with a business continuity plan in case some employees, especially the key ones, are not able to report on time. At present, our HR is still imposing penalties to those who come late. Their argument is that everyone should leave their homes early. However, I strongly disagree because most commuters are already doing that and roads are already congested as early as 6am. I know one person who needs to leave his home as early as 3am just to arrive on time. Such practice, I humbly submit, is not healthy and thus will be counter-productive in the long run. Imposing discipline is good but employees should be given enough time and space to exercise it.

      6. As much as possible I stay home.

      7. I am saving money so that I can leave Manila and go to the province in a few years (say less than 10) and practice my profession there, preferably, as a freelance. And continue contributing to GRP from there. It is also my way of showing there if life outside Metro Manila.

    2. To Jam1016– I walk to work when I can. Also # 1,2,4 and 6 of Vincent’s reply. The rest of what Vincent does seems not applicable to me although I wouldn’t hesitate to do what he does if I were placed in a situation which demands that behavior. I dream of Vincent’s # 7

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