Modern Living

10 reasons why EDSA is the avenue of hell

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

My column last week, on the 10 reasons why it floods in the metropolis, resonated with many readers. Many Metro Manilans were deluged where they lived, worked or while in transit. I was inundated with feedback on the issue, so I decided a follow-up was in order.

The last week of rains, floods, and the opening of the school season turned EDSA into one big parking lot. If hell had a liquid equivalent it was sections of our main circumferential road. EDSA (the original name was 19 de Junio, celebrating Rizal’s birthday) reportedly contributes a huge chunk of the P150 billion lost every year to traffic, according to a study by a UP professor and as reported in the Philippine STAR on June 19.

Here are 10 major reasons why EDSA sucks:

1. Flooding. When it rains, EDSA fills not only with water, but also with traffic. Clogged drains (see my column last week) are the culprit, but so too is the fact that all the surrounding areas along the 20-plus kilometres of avenue, which used to be cogon and rice fields in my childhood, are now filled with sprawl and concrete. All this contributes to dumping millions of liters of storm water straight into insufficient (and insufficiently-maintained) drains designed decades ago.

2. The lack of roadside trees and greens. Connected to the reason above — there is little to speak of in terms of trees and vegetation. Singapore has tons of these elements beside all of its roads, which help absorb rain during a downpour and provide shade when the sun beats down. So on EDSA, its either we drown in our sorrows or we fry in the sun. There is no escape from this linear hell.

3. Too many buses and no proper bus stops. The government franchise-giving body (LTFRB) seems to operate without any reference to the actual capacity of EDSA to take all the buses plying the route daily. Specifically, the problem lies in the capacity of the main intersections of EDSA to cater to people moving from one route to the other. The lack of bus stops and adequate lay-bys for the all-too-many-but mostly-empty buses at crossings clog EDSA as much as flooding in heavy rains. The same is the case, in fact, for most of Metro Manila’s streets. All were seemingly planned with only private cars in mind and no public transport accommodations. Imagine buses as heavy logs in a narrow stream. Even a few of these will mess up flow. What about the trains? Well, theoretically we wouldn’t need any of the buses at all if our train system were built properly and maximized. Buses would service secondary routes or be allowed in controlled numbers.

4. Provincial bus terminals. The ranks of city buses are joined by as many buses that ply routes to the provinces north, south and east. None of these were supposed to be allowed along EDSA. Planned provincial terminals proposed since the 1950s still haven’t been built.

5. Businesses along EDSA. Not only bus terminals are allowed to operate businesses along EDSA, every Tom, Dick and Manong with a repair shop, restaurant, or office building can access the avenue and most provide parking directly from it, causing even more traffic. When EDSA, or Highway 54 as it was called then, was being paved in the 1950s, the National Planning Commission recommended that it be a freeway, with service lanes and no businesses fronting it. Speculators who bought along the highway balked and forced the NPC, through political pressure, to back down. The rest is history.

6. Street retail, beggars and thieves. You can buy almost anything on EDSA, from snacks to cigarettes, cell phone chargers to cowboy hats, mineral water (of dubious origins), to smuggled toys from China. Beggars remind us of our sorry state at each stop but locked doors and closed windows are the norm for commuters fearful of lightning heists. What you cannot buy is a quick ride home.

7. Marketing traffic — onli indapilipins. Only in this fun metropolis of ours do authorities allow public markets to flow into a major avenue. Parking for buyers and cargo vans are directly off EDSA and market day brings all manner of makeshift tiangges and their customers directly on to the pavement. Most malls now build lay-bys or access into their properties but these behemoths of commerce generate volumes of traffic that should have been factored into infrastructure before and not after the fact.

8. Unbuilt infrastructure. Many of EDSA’s crossings were meant to have classical clover-leaf intersections for through traffic. They were supposed to replace the ‘40s- era rotundas and simple crossings that existed until the ‘60s. The government never built all of them or had enough money to buy enough land to build them. Today land prices are beyond reach and urbanization too dense to allow any but the most convoluted and expensive interventions (that forget the needs of pedestrians crossing from either side or who need to get to buses and trains).

9. Billboard blight, noise and air pollution. Commuting in private or public vehicles is hell along EDSA because billboards cover any scenery of note and present clear and present dangers to life and limb in an earthquake or typhoon. EDSA is clogged not only with traffic but by a permanent haze that is killing all of us slowly. Road noise is deafening and filter through closed windows and ipod earphones. Riding along bumpy EDSA and its  purgatorial paving adds to the living hell we are made to suffer through daily.

10. Politics and the failure of planning. Finally, as with the problem of flooding, we can look at politics (and its similarly-evil twin, corruption) to blame for EDSA’s hellish state. The circumferential roads of Metro Manila were originally meant as secondary connections to the radials that were supposed to connect central Manila to its suburbs. The unmanaged growth of the metropolis shifted the load to EDSA and other circumferentials as it expanded without control. The avenue passes through five of the 16 cities of the metropolis. Local and national roads connect to it. The DPWH build it. The MMDA enforces traffic. The different cities have different regulations as you go through them. Dozens of large privately-developed enclaves feed traffic into it. All expansion is incremental and largely unplanned as layers of flyovers and bridges for vehicles, trains and people compete with other infrastructure within an easement designed half a century ago. Cracked pavements, wobbly pylons and all manner of urban detritus clearly define our main thoroughfare, how it was built, how it is ill-maintained and how it may proceed shakily into a smog-obscured future.

EDSA sucks. We all wish the floodwaters that come when the rains fall are siphoned quickly away. The only thing, though, that gets drained as we ply unsteadily through it is our sanity. EDSA is insane, but many will agree that this indeed is a reflection of our metropolitan mayhem, our dysfunctional metropolitan governance and mangled metropolitan way of life.

Epifanio de los Santos was a historian, yet we never learn the lessons of history that clearly point out the hellish problems of EDSA …and to the solutions that seem as far and a long time away as our destinations when we start any our daily journeys trough it.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

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