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SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2020 - 12:00am

On New Year’s Day I had to take a detour from Roxas Boulevard to Quirino Avenue in Parañaque because traffic was moving at turtle’s pace along the boulevard from the MIA Road junction.

Traffic moved smoothly along the avenue, now lined with Chinese restaurants and grocery stores catering to POGO employees.

Near the street going to the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, however, traffic again began slowing down as the road curved toward Taft Avenue in Pasay.

The reason became evident quickly enough: vendors had taken over not only the sidewalks on both sides of the avenue, spilling into the street, but even the center portion under the Light Rail Transit tracks.

With hardly any space left for pedestrians, people then walked in the middle of the street, competing for tight space with cars, jeepneys, delivery trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and tricycles.

This continued almost up to the EDSA junction.

The mayors of Pasay and Parañaque are clearly no Isko Moreno, who stood firm on his policy of leaving roads open for vehicular traffic even during the holidays, and even in Divisoria, the country’s busiest public market.

If the Department of the Interior and Local Government would send inspectors to that area in the Pasay-Parañaque boundary in Baclaran, the two cities would flunk the road clearing order issued by the DILG.

Mayor Isko had inspired the DILG order so for sure he doesn’t need prodding from the department to sustain his campaign. He has often said that if the vendors he had driven away from the streets and sidewalks returned, it would mean he had accepted gifts from “Pati and Edi” – his euphemism for bribers.

The performance of several of the new, mostly relatively young mayors of Metro Manila is one of the positive developments in the past year. They are more keenly aware than their elders, it seems, of the situation in other parts of the world. They understand the need for sustainability and the concept of smart cities, and they don’t associate beautification with the excesses of Imelda Marcos. Maybe their ideas and enthusiasm will rub off on the old-timers.

*      *      *

We need fresh ideas if we are to address the chronic problems in blighted Metro Manila.

Traffic, for example, eased with the road-clearing campaign. But where do motorists park if they can no longer use the streets? Mayors Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina and Francis Zamora of San Juan thought of encouraging owners of idle private lots to convert these into pay parking areas, with incentives provided by the city government.

Political will is also needed to open certain private subdivision roads to the public for free to ease traffic on major thoroughfares. If President Duterte lived in Metro Manila and could move around without security escorts to part traffic for him, he would see the need for this, and how it can help achieve his avowed objective of reducing traffic gridlocks in the National Capital Region.

Laws on private subdivisions and homeowners may need to be revisited or amended to facilitate this move. Perhaps Sen. Cynthia Villar can spearhead the effort. She understands the subdivision business and her relatives have successfully opened private roads in their political turf Las Piñas to free public use.

The Aguilar-Villar clan, which has dominated Las Piñas politics, has also constructed scenic riverside bypass roads to decongest the main roads in the city.

*      *      *

Metro Manila traffic is expected to worsen this year as more infrastructure projects get underway. President Duterte’s hoped-for five-minute drive along EDSA from Cubao to Makati by the end of 2019 did not materialize, and it has even less chances of attainment this year.

The guy in charge of EDSA traffic management in the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Bong Nebrija, is probably saying, I told you so: the five-minute challenge is just plain “mathematically impossible.”

President Duterte might yet see his five-minute target realized – but only long after his term is over.

Even if all the overpasses and bypass roads now under construction all over Metro Manila are finally completed and opened, I’m betting ground level traffic will persist. Most of the bypass roads are toll roads. If you combine all the tolls for the daily drive to and from home and office or school, five or six days a week, plus fuel expenses that have gone up this year because of the higher fuel excise tax effective Jan. 1, the amount can be painful even for middle class motorists.

The provision of roads in areas with high-density vehicular traffic is one of the basic functions of government. Yet it seems everywhere we turn these days in traffic-choked Metro Manila, there is a toll road or one under construction. Why do we have to pay road tolls, and often in perpetuity? Where do our taxes go? Where does the road user’s tax go?

Before the Christmas holidays, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar told STAR editors that he would look into the matter. Let’s hope the holiday feasts and celebrations didn’t make him forget.

Villar also told us he hadn’t given up on Duterte’s five-minute EDSA challenge.

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