Wisdom > Frankly

Will the president’s Traffic Summit solve Metro Manila’s issues?

Can we trust what PBBM is saying?

We honestly did not expect this to come out of nowhere. IMAGE FROM FACEBOOK

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on how Metro Manila traffic can negatively affect your marriage. In it, I said: “Traffic in the Philippines is a problem of presidential proportions…It requires a presidential solution.”

And then President Bongbong Marcos announced on his Facebook account that he’d be holding a Traffic Summit on April 10, and that we must find ways to “provide immediate relief from traffic.” Funny coincidence, isn’t it?

Could this have been the catalyst of the president's sudden response? IMAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Seriously, I don’t think that my story has moved the president of this beautiful country to finally do something about traffic.

It was probably more the frontman of Coldplay who publicly called out the problems we were having on the road while the chief was watching their recent concert. But I sure am happy that the urgency of the issue appears to have reached the office of the nation’s CEO.

Makati is an example of just how good and how bad our traffic is. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Without wanting to negatively affect the sometimes fragile egos of the people supposed to run the capital’s roads, I think many people will agree that the MMDA and other associated agencies have sufficiently proven that they are struggling to find solutions (and that’s putting it very politely).

They have had yearsdecadesto come up with somethinganythingyet here we are with traffic seemingly worse than ever before. Instead of embracing alternative mobility solutions, they are banning them and they continue to push a flawed narrative.

Instead of forcing mayors to create more bicycle lanes or make cities more walkable (keyword: sidewalks), they stand by as some of these bike lanes are even removed. Instead of learning from other cities in other countries, they are seemingly insisting on knowing better than anyone else.

The current mess we are in would suggest otherwise. This is a shame because the traffic issues of this megalopolis are very much solvable.

Other countries show what's possible instead of just building more roads and expressways. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited most megacities in Asia and also many other places in other nations. I also grew up in cycling-mad Germany, where my parents would have told me to get lost if I had asked them to drive me to school every day.

Just recently, I spent some time in Bangkok and was amazed at how much nicer the place is compared to Metro Manila. The same goes for Taiwan, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, and the list goes on.

You might now say: “Yes, but we aren’t those cities and can’t do what they do!

To which I would reply: Why not?

We already sent a delegation to Amsterdam, a city that blew my socks off with its amazing cycling culture. Have they learned nothing from it?

Many of the ideas that could alleviate traffic issues around here aren’t exactly rocket science, but they do require that the people in power grow some cojones and make some initially unpopular decisions. With that, I mean decisions that go against the constant worship of the automobile. Because that’s really what the MMDA and others are doing.

Are we just going to be the laughingstock of the Southeast Asian region when it comes to traffic? PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Cars, cars, cars. Why exactly is this the persistent attitude when there is ample evidence that we urgently need to move away from our dependency on private vehicles?

Just in case you now think I’m some sort of greenie Lycra-wearing loony who loves cycling and hates cars: I love driving.

But what we do in Metro Manila is not driving. It’s torture. Tax-financed failure that cannot be allowed to go on. Thousands of people are already paying the ultimate price for it every year, through accidents, air pollution, and ambulances not being able to reach hospitals on time (queue another MMDA PR masterpiece saying empty ambulances cannot use the bus lane).

It's like our traffic rules are evolving, but backwards. IMAGE FROM FACEBOOK

It has to stop, and it has to stop now. The rest of Asia is swiftly overtaking us and laughing at us in the process. The economy is losing billions because of it, and it’s time this issue is taken care of at the top.

So, let’s provide constructive feedback to the boss, provide him with some good ideas to consider, and give him a chance to take charge. Because God knows someone needs to.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.