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.
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.