Nicholas: Metro-Baguio traffic hell

The Greater Good

THE thorny issue of traffic congestion is a pervasive and growing complaint. If a person can walk from La Trinidad to Mine's View Park faster than driving it during rush hour or on the weekends during the normal season of tourists, something is terribly broken.

Efficiency experts that I worked with from the W. Edwards Deming Users Group in the Silicon Valley who consulted to businesses and governments worldwide, revealed that the place they started when attempting to improve a system was to identify complexity in the process.

The first thing that seems readily apparent when it comes to complexity as a potential symptom of problems and therefore also a potential area of improvement, is the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). I could find no scholarly research whose findings said the UVVRP improved traffic or pollution problems. Another tell-tale sign is that there is no other country that has copied UVVRP that I could find. Good ideas are usually copied. In fact, the deeper I looked in my research, the worse UVVRP looks. It is not uniformly applied across the Philippines. One researcher found that UVVRP was applied differently across metro manila and the Philippines and seemed to be changed somewhat at whim.

So why does it still exist? The obvious answer: Somebody really smart thought up what seemed to be a great idea, it was implemented and has become a way of life that has already been in existence for decades. I may be wrong, however; I could not find research that would justify keeping UVVRP.

Prioritize the types of transportation as priorities 1, 2, and 10. Why 1, 2, and 10? It seems obvious that public and commercial transportation is the top priority for both residents, students, businesses, and tourism. Public and commercial transportation is priority 1.

During a recent presentation made by City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) Coordinator Architect Donna Tabangin, she made the recommendation to Mayor Magalong and city managers, that a pedestrian-friendly city should be a priority. This suggests pedestrian traffic should be priority 2.

Priority 10 would be all else: private vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles. There is not enough capacity to give both priority 1 and priority 10 methods the same status. And there is no place to add lanes in most of the areas of the metro Baguio area. Houses would have to be removed in order to widen the roads and businesses would have been torn down in order to allow road widening. And even if that were done, the sheer volume of traffic would quickly exceed that new capacity.

Why priority 10 not 3, etc.? Because all traffic besides priority 1 and 2 needs to be treated with far less status if any significant progress is to be made on the severe traffic problems in the metro Baguio area. A wide margin between these is conceptually important as an example of separating essential transportation (priorities 1 and 2) from non-essential transportation (priority 10). All policies and investments should elevate and segregate essential transportation from non-essential. Otherwise, there is little hope for improvement. I realize that priority 10 transportation may be considered the most important to many people.

If UVVRP were abandoned (much to the applause of everyone most likely!) that would mean that measures would have to be taken to improve traffic flow for public and commercial vehicles. And disincentives applied to priority 10 methods. An initial idea of how to reduce private vehicles in the heart of Baguio would be to reduce parking available. Yes, you read that right. Make it nearly impossible to find a parking spot and make all parking, pay parking.

If priority 1 is public and commercial vehicles, remove all parking spaces on Sessions to be used only by public and commercial vehicles. There are no alleys for commercial vehicles to pick up and deliver to Sessions Road businesses. In short term, limited parking for drug stores where drivers would be required to stay in their vehicles, no public parking in Baguio city. This is an example of ideas that would force people to consider public transportation, whether local residents or tourists. Why bring a car into the city if there is nowhere to park. By design? And get SM Mall parking on the same thing...encourage them to charge an hourly rate that will keep people from parking there all day.

Keep transportation moving.

Another idea. Instead of building a parking garage on Burnham Park parking lot, instead, have Robinsons or whoever gets the Public Market contract to build on that lot. Remove parking, don't add parking. If we have 30-40,000 vehicles coming in on a weekend or holiday let's be honest: a parking garage or two is not going to fix much of anything. Kill parking. Make it simple: "Metro Baguio Area has abolished public parking." Do not bring private vehicles to the area unless you have off-public street parking arrangements in place.

Let's face it, there is no place to park 30 to 40,000 vehicles, and attempting to reduce the parking stress only attracts more vehicles; "Say, did you hear that they are building parking garages and ______ (fill in the blank)" that encourages more people to drive private vehicles to the area. Force tourists and locals to leave their cars at their homes or hotels. Radical, huh? Make bringing a vehicle to town largely a waste of time.

A process for drop off and vehicles queuing in designated areas that avoid clogging traffic with drivers ready to move as traffic directors require them too is worthy of study.

Keep vehicles moving.

Another observation: the changes to the traffic pattern on north sessions general area may not be working. I find it confusing. I notice people driving the wrong direction on the changes occasionally. I have noticed that permanent changes have not been made, which suggests that perhaps the traffic planners are not confident that these changes need to be permanent. I recommend that an independent survey be taken of bus drivers, taxi drivers, and jeepney drivers to get their perspective on whether none, some or all of the changes should be permanent. If I had a magic wand I would reverse all of those traffic patterns changes today and put it back like it was in order to eliminate the confusion. However, professional drivers on the street may see it differently.

Clearing the streets. Often there are vehicles double-parked in lanes of traffic on main roads. The Baguio government has done a superb job in clearing the streets, and is busy ticketing and taking license plates of illegally parked vehicles. But this must be taken further in order to clear the streets. A team should be investigating owners of vehicles parked on residential streets without a parking spot. Isn't it a requirement to have a parking spot if a person owns a vehicle? Realizing that dead-end streets and such are not going to have that luxury in many cases.

However, through streets where traffic must flow, owners should prove they have their parking spot or a paid parking spot. And to take it even further, if they have a property on a through the street, did their approved plans when getting their building permit shows a parking spot? Hmm, was that parking spot replaced with part of the structure sometime after the building permit was approved, meaning they no longer have a parking spot? How does the city deal with this type of problem?

Sidewalks. If priority 2 is pedestrian traffic, that means significant effort must be made to ensure there are sidewalks on at least one side and preferably both sides of all major roads. The status of sidewalks in the metro Baguio might be described as a "world-class trip-hazard!" This description may resonate with those who walk the streets routinely as I do. And many people just walk in the street because it is such a trip hazard. I know because I walk a lot and I see most others walking in the street, not on the sidewalk. If there is a sidewalk! And I have tripped and fallen a few times too because I try to stay on the sidewalk as much as I can. Better sidewalks would be an enabler for pedestrian-traffic.

Bikes and Motorcycles. Parking for commercial uses should be provided (part of priority 1). Private use is priority 10. Although the optimal situation for the safety of bikers is bike lanes, the harsh fact is that there is unfortunately no land to provide bike lanes. The government has done a great job of emphasizing the visibility of both motorcycle and bicycle riders, which is reaching the limits of the possible due to lack of available road space.

Theory of Constraints would suggest that co-mingling the demand of all priority 10 methods of transportation is probably optimal. There is not enough space to provide special lanes for buses, or taxis, jeepneys. Nor is there space for special private vehicle lanes, motorcycle lanes, or bicycle lanes in most areas.

The roads in Baguio City were designed to support primarily public transportation with a fraction of the current population. Previous efforts have been unable to increase the capacity of the roads which means traffic congestion has worsened across time despite numerous initiatives, however, it is within reach to decrease the number of vehicles on the road primarily through a change in public policy and laws and consistent enforcement of updated guidance.

Private vehicles must lose their priority on Baguio streets if any serious progress is to be made in reducing the Metro-Baguio traffic hell.

Management theories are often used to study and develop recommendations in order to improve systems. Here we are looking at traffic policies that may be ineffective, lack of prioritization between public and private transportation, how increasing parking spaces in the downtown Baguio area is likely to increase traffic congestion, and how clearing the streets and improving the sidewalks are all interconnected with potentially improving the metro Baguio transportation system. Taking the opposite approach in order to force change may be necessary.

The example given was instead of trying to increase parking, move dramatically and aggressively in the opposite direction by sharply reducing public parking and, in general, making parking availability an unlikely proposition in an effort to decongest traffic in central Baguio. Ideas such as these will face resistance from advocacy groups, potentially business groups, which will require courageous political will and skill in order to implement. But improving Metro-Baguio for ourselves, our visitors, and our future generations may contribute to the Greater Good.


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