Piecemeal approach: Not a good one
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - June 13, 2020 - 12:00am

In recent months, we blamed COVID-19 for all the miseries we went through. The list is so long to browse and too plenty to count. Yet, let’s pause for a moment. Is the list not that long before we learned how lethal COVID-19 is? Frankly, just as long or even longer. If there is any consolation, COVID-19 effectively solved our traffic woes. 

These are traffic woes (in Metro Manila alone) that resulted to, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), daily losses of P2.4 billion in 2014, which probably went up to P3.5 billion in 2017 and shall, possibly, be P5.4 billion by 2035, if we do nothing.  The same is true in Cebu but at a lesser magnitude.

These losses are due primarily to economic inactivity as movements of goods are hindered by the traffic jams and the unnecessary spending on fuel as trucks, buses, cars, etc., are rendered immobile at the middle of the road with engines on.  

Sadly though, these losses are just too negligible compared to the economic inactivity brought about by COVID-19 and the amount we spent just so our health care system can suppress COVID-19’s onslaught.

To slowly recover from this economic slump, we tried to reopen the economy, albeit, cautiously.  While the movement of goods is slowly getting back on track, the workers’ mobility leaves much to be desired. As our workers are simply relying on physical distancing and personal hygiene for protection, the need for an appropriate transport was brought to the fore.  For the time being, apart from personal cars and motorcycles, buses are the only viable option.

Learning from these experiences, we can surmise that, indeed, there are transport schemes (like Jeepneys and “habal-habal”) that we used to rely upon that won’t work in certain situations.  So that, some quarters are also floating the idea of intensifying the drive for the use of bikes as another viable option.

These discourses are good. However, we shouldn’t fall into the trap again of going for piecemeal approaches. Once and for all, as we are now slowly realizing what works for us and what won’t, we must harmonize our plans and understand each option’s benefits and safety requirements.

Actually, the possible solutions were already brought to the table long time ago. The mass transport system, bike lanes and “pedestrianization” were among those dreamed and openly discussed. Sadly though, all of them remained as that, a dream. 

As mass transport system, whether LRT or BRT, has been talked about for decades already, we just have to set that aside for the time being. However, let us not forget that the emphasis for a mass transport system has always been for car owners to patronize them and leave their vehicles at home. Thus, decongesting our roads. 

“Pedestrianization”, on the other hand, is well supported by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-7). The P3.5 million study was awarded to the University of the Philippines Planning and Development Research Foundation (UP PLANADES). They were tasked to “determine the probable economic impact of “pedestrianization” in stakeholders based on identified parameters such as local revenues, business activities, environment and foot traffic problem.” Gladly, the study found it feasible.

Moreover, if we should go for bicycles, separated lanes should be considered as well in streets that shall not be considered in the “pedestrianization” project. Truth to tell, other countries that have implemented it have already reaped their desired benefits. They’ve practically made cycling (bicycle) “a much safer and more attractive option”. Their separated bicycle lanes are “dedicated bike lanes with concrete medians and planters, bicycle parking corrals, or vehicle parking lanes that divide them from vehicle traffic”.

Furthermore, there is a need too to widen our streets’ sidewalks. With trees providing the shade, commuters might find some great feeling of comfort and enjoy the benefit of walking for health reasons. Knowing fully well that bike riders won’t be using the sidewalks, pedestrians will find these walkways very safe as well. So that those who are just a kilometer away from their desired destinations may just have to take a stroll than take public utility jeepneys, buses or even their private cars.

If harmoniously done, then we can’t just dream of keeping our economy back to pre-COVID-19 level but beyond as traffic jams that brought us daily losses in billions shall also be gone.

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