THE KATIPUNAN ROAD CONTROVERSEY AT LOYOLA HEIGHTS
Save Our Trees
Katipunan Road links C-5 (Rodriguez Ave) in Libis with Commonwealth Avenue and points northeast, to and beyond Novaliches. It has become almost as busy as EDSA, though thankfully only at rush hours and when school’s out. Praise the Lord above there are no malls to generate even more traffic along this stretch. Having said that, I’m sure the place has been scouted for possible sites of conspicuous consumption. Like death and taxes, malls are an inescapable element of our modern lives.
I remember Katipunan as a lonely two-lane stretch where the only decent stop was a restaurant called (of course) Katipunan Restaurant. It was owned by a friend of the family and had a big ‘K’ on its one-story façade. There were swards of trees in spots along the campuses of Ateneo and Maryknoll. These bunched up into continuous rows of grand acacias leading into the UP campus. In the ’70s, more trees were planted on the islands separating the service roads from the main thoroughfare. The trees matured nicely in the early Nineties. Then the pavement started to take over.
Growing traffic, generated mainly by increasing population in ever-expanding residential suburbs, put pressure on Katipunan to increase its capacity. Stretches of Katipunan were widened by eliminating side islands and the trees on them. The opening of the flyover on Aurora Boulevard brought even more traffic and plans were prepared in the late ’90s to widen the whole stretch through to Commonwealth. It was to be a huge infrastructure project. The Katipunan Business Association, COCAP and various educational institutions rallied to protest these plans. Citizens went out to hug the trees and save them from DPWH’s bulldozers. They prevailed, the trees were saved … for the moment.
The Greening Of Katipunan
In 2001, these citizens and institutions, led by Annie Cruz, started the Greening of Katipunan Project to make sure that the rest of Katipunan was replanted with street trees and the gains of the previous years would be consolidated and strengthened. The project was supported by MMDA (then under chairman Benjamin Abalos), DENR, DPWH, local businesses, schools and the Rotary Club of Loyola Heights.
The project continued in 2002 with more homeowner associations from White Plains, Loyola Grand, and La Vista, among others, getting into the act. Miriam and Ateneo continued their participation and many more businesses in the area pitched in. It was a well-coordinated community effort.
Many were concerned with issues of children’s and general pedestrian safety and felt that the trees and green buffers provided some protection from speeding vehicles on the side streets and at the entrances to the schools and commercial establishments. Accident reports belie the dangers of the stretch. Friends of mine lost their son (an Ateneo student) to a speeding jeepney.
More banaba and mahogany saplings were planted that year. MMDA gardeners were assigned and Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte lent even more support through the QC Parks department. More restaurants, cafes and convenience stores sprouted to make the stretch more resident-friendly (and to stave off the need for a mall). All are good developments save for the fact that middle-class cars need parking, which means that pedestrians lose out in a good number of these frontages.
Meanwhile, on the UP side of Katipunan, the trees were saved but informal vendors had turned the stretch from UP High School to past the MWSS compound to a linear market. In the first few years of the decade, the temporary stands built between the curb and UP’s fence evolved into concrete structures housing, carinderias, tricycle repair shops, fruit stands and beer gardens with full karaoke equipment!
This linear market served both the UP and Balara communities — informal settlers grew to tens of thousands in the area. With no access to housing or proper markets, these settlers took over public land for survival … and livelihood too. By the mid-’90s, the development covered both sides of the road. All this led to more traffic and, like the middle-class commercial establishments above, denied pedestrians clear passage.
By the start of the new century, traffic and informal (or illegal) usurpation of public land had become unbearable along Katipunan. A heroic effort was deemed necessary to correct the situation. Enter the new improved MMDA and its love-him, hate-him yet-still-charismatic chairman. Bayani Fernando.
First to go was the informal linear mall at the UP stretch. In a single day, the blue-colored heavy machinery of the MMDA sidewalk clearing division made mincemeat of the informal linear market. UP students and civic groups protested, along with the informal entrepreneurs. They could not stop the onslaught. By the next day, that stretch was clean as a whistle. Many (mostly in cars) sighed in collective relief seeing the improvement of the clearing effort.
Roads VS Trees (Myth Vs Reality)
Next, the MMDA set its sights on the rest of Katipunan and the shelved plans for widening. The removal (or moving) of all the trees was the best option, in their judgement, to ease traffic. (Obviously, they have not heard of Braess’ paradox, which states that the more roads you provide, the more traffic will fill it.)
The trees needed to be removed anyway, said the MMDA, as its roots were damaging the pavement. This was not, of course, true. There are some species whose roots are invasive, but the trees planted were in accordance with the guidelines set by the MMDA itself (in association with the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects) in an official publication dating back to 1993.
Trees, the MMDA chairman says, belong in parks and are not compatible with roads. Trees do belong in parks but they also belong everywhere else we can plant them. No other organic intervention yields the best long-term results to mitigating pollution, covering up "uglytecture," and calming stressed urban lives. By saner logic, trees and people deserve priority over cars and roads.
Of course, we cannot blame the MMDA and its chairman (who has undeniably had much – though often controversial – success in combating many other urban problems). These are the options that straightforward traffic planning and engineering will provide. What is forgotten very often is that these problems affect communities and its thousands of citizens. Many of these citizens also can and want to provide alternative solutions to solve the problem – solutions that allow trees, people and transport to be accommodated in a humane way.
RX: A Tow-Away Zone
Katipunan citizens would like to discuss solutions with MMDA, such as better implementation of traffic rules and regulations. Some suggest a tow-away zone on the western side of Katipunan. Jeepney stops and lay-bys (with sheds) are also suggested for various locations. These ensure free flow of traffic and also give commuters more convenience and safety.
Commercial establishments along Katipunan are willing to discuss managing their front parking requirements. Some, like the restaurant Cravings, properly accommodate parking within their properties.
The three campuses (Ateneo, Miriam, UP) are looking at solutions involving infrastructure and traffic management. Alternative access infrastructure for the 30,000 or so cars that go in and out of the three need also to be thought out within a larger strategy of rational traffic management for the entire district of Diliman. (If congressmen can fund their own grade-separated access to Batasan Loop, then there should be no reason why funds cannot be allocated for us ordinary citizens.) The larger project, too, of connecting C-5 to Commonwealth should be discussed with all concerned now and not when heavy equipment is puffing its way across greenfields.
Many other solutions can be thought up, discussed and finally implemented. Citizens are willing to talk and cooperate. Understandably, the chairman is often busy; Metro Manila is, indeed, a large problematic animal and he is spread out too thinly. Nevertheless, community consultation and participation is the democratic way to go.
More Trees, Not More Roads
Besides, why take it out on poor, only-God-can-make trees? Even the balling out procedure proposed by the MMDA is flawed. It normally takes several weeks to several months to ball out and move a mature tree. Trenching is first needed, along with massive pruning, to help the tree in the transfer trauma. The move itself must be carefully carried out with the transfer location chosen as near to the site as possible. Then another few months is needed to nurse the tree back to health. Mortality rates are high for mature trees. One in five are lucky to survive in our conditions. That is, of course, if moving trees is the solution to easing traffic.
Not too long ago, the DPWH had a landscape division. Highway planners of the department received training that included landscape architectural design as part of road and highway design. All other progressive countries incorporate trees and planting for both functional and aesthetic considerations in the design of all roads. Must we fall back to Third World standards in our infrastructure programs?
The problems of traffic cannot be solved by cutting trees or building more roads … or by continuing the bigger paradigm of car-based transport systems. We still are not looking at the longer-term, the more environmentally-sustainable correct solutions to metropolitan problems. We deal with these more seasonally than systematically. When will we find the right path?
We need not abolish the MMDA to solve our urban problems. I do not think that is the solution. The chaos that that proposal would lead to would be catastrophic. Let us not confuse heroic gung-ho-ism with rational problem- solving. Heroism is a trait that all concerned citizens possess. It is in harnessing this collective energy where sustainable and humane solutions lie.
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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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