Editorial: Chasing traffic solutions

WHILE they waited for President Rodrigo Duterte last Monday, some of Cebu’s mayors agreed on the need for a unified system to fix Cebu’s traffic problems. They didn’t get a chance to discuss it at length when the President arrived past 9 p.m. but we hope they’ll pursue that idea.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Cebu’s traffic problem is not that no one has a solution. It’s that possible comprehensive solutions were explored as early as two decades ago, yet only piecemeal answers have been realized.

A coordinated effort among Metro Cebu’s local officials to improve transport management, planning, and infrastructure is overdue. The need for effective traffic management and public transportation stretches beyond each town or city’s boundaries, the way poor flood control in one town can spawn fatal flash floods in the next city or town. Lax traffic enforcement in one city can cause a gridlock that disrupts the schedules of commuters in its neighboring towns. It is neither fair nor realistic to expect a mayor to solve traffic on his or her own. It also cannot be left to the National Government, whose officials wouldn’t know local realities as well as mayors or governors do.

Writing in 1996, the Australian city policy professor Peter Newman pointed out that traffic congestion is such a tough problem to crack because “very rarely is there an agency in a city or metropolitan area that has the authority to promote comprehensive solutions.”

A handful of Cebu’s leaders have long realized that, which is why the proposal to study a light rail transit or “any other appropriate modern mass transport system in Metro Cebu” surfaced as far back as 2004. A decade before that, a Metro Cebu Development Authority that would have taken care of traffic and other metropolitan challenges was also proposed in the Lower House. In 2013-2016, about seven congressional terms after that proposal first surfaced, Congress had yet to approve the proposed Mega Cebu Development Authority, whose ambit would include traffic and transport management.

And we wonder why we have to endure uglier spells of traffic congestion in Metro Cebu.

There is no shortage of ideas for fixing traffic congestion and, as a bonus, improving air quality and preventing accidental deaths and injuries on the road. “A city should provide something more appealing to its citizens than automobile-based decisions can provide,” Newman wrote. He had observed that Asia’s most prosperous cities—Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong—were also among the least dependent on cars and whose residents spent the most time using public transport or walking or cycling.

Who will take the lead in Cebu?
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