CITY SENSE: 10 REASONS WHY EDSA IS NOW THE AVENUE OF HELL



[EDSA floods even on flyways above ground.]

MANILA, JUNE 24, 2013 (PHILSTAR) CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren - My column last week (read below), on the 10 reasons why it floods in the metropolis, resonated with many readers. Many Metro Manilans were deluged where they lived, worked or while in transit. I was inundated with feedback on the issue, so I decided a follow-up was in order.

The last week of rains, floods, and the opening of the school season turned EDSA into one big parking lot. If hell had a liquid equivalent it was sections of our main circumferential road. EDSA (the original name was 19 de Junio, celebrating Rizal’s birthday) reportedly contributes a huge chunk of the P150 billion lost every year to traffic, according to a study by a UP professor and as reported in the Philippine STAR on June 19.


[EDSA 40 years ago was still civilized]


[Crossing EDSA on foot is life-threatening.]

Here are 10 major reasons why EDSA sucks:

1. Flooding. When it rains, EDSA fills not only with water, but also with traffic. Clogged drains (see my column last week) are the culprit, but so too is the fact that all the surrounding areas along the 20-plus kilometres of avenue, which used to be cogon and rice fields in my childhood, are now filled with sprawl and concrete. All this contributes to dumping millions of liters of storm water straight into insufficient (and insufficiently-maintained) drains designed decades ago.

2. The lack of roadside trees and greens. Connected to the reason above — there is little to speak of in terms of trees and vegetation. Singapore has tons of these elements beside all of its roads, which help absorb rain during a downpour and provide shade when the sun beats down. So on EDSA, its either we drown in our sorrows or we fry in the sun. There is no escape from this linear hell.

3. Too many buses and no proper bus stops. The government franchise-giving body (LTFRB) seems to operate without any reference to the actual capacity of EDSA to take all the buses plying the route daily. Specifically, the problem lies in the capacity of the main intersections of EDSA to cater to people moving from one route to the other. The lack of bus stops and adequate lay-bys for the all-too-many-but mostly-empty buses at crossings clog EDSA as much as flooding in heavy rains. The same is the case, in fact, for most of Metro Manila’s streets. All were seemingly planned with only private cars in mind and no public transport accommodations. Imagine buses as heavy logs in a narrow stream. Even a few of these will mess up flow. What about the trains? Well, theoretically we wouldn’t need any of the buses at all if our train system were built properly and maximized. Buses would service secondary routes or be allowed in controlled numbers.

4. Provincial bus terminals. The ranks of city buses are joined by as many buses that ply routes to the provinces north, south and east. None of these were supposed to be allowed along EDSA. Planned provincial terminals proposed since the 1950s still haven’t been built.

5. Businesses along EDSA. Not only bus terminals are allowed to operate businesses along EDSA, every Tom, Dick and Manong with a repair shop, restaurant, or office building can access the avenue and most provide parking directly from it, causing even more traffic. When EDSA, or Highway 54 as it was called then, was being paved in the 1950s, the National Planning Commission recommended that it be a freeway, with service lanes and no businesses fronting it. Speculators who bought along the highway balked and forced the NPC, through political pressure, to back down. The rest is history.

6. Street retail, beggars and thieves. You can buy almost anything on EDSA, from snacks to cigarettes, cell phone chargers to cowboy hats, mineral water (of dubious origins), to smuggled toys from China. Beggars remind us of our sorry state at each stop but locked doors and closed windows are the norm for commuters fearful of lightning heists. What you cannot buy is a quick ride home.

7. Marketing traffic — onli indapilipins. Only in this fun metropolis of ours do authorities allow public markets to flow into a major avenue. Parking for buyers and cargo vans are directly off EDSA and market day brings all manner of makeshift tiangges and their customers directly on to the pavement. Most malls now build lay-bys or access into their properties but these behemoths of commerce generate volumes of traffic that should have been factored into infrastructure before and not after the fact.

8. Unbuilt infrastructure. Many of EDSA’s crossings were meant to have classical clover-leaf intersections for through traffic. They were supposed to replace the ‘40s- era rotundas and simple crossings that existed until the ‘60s. The government never built all of them or had enough money to buy enough land to build them. Today land prices are beyond reach and urbanization too dense to allow any but the most convoluted and expensive interventions (that forget the needs of pedestrians crossing from either side or who need to get to buses and trains).

9. Billboard blight, noise and air pollution. Commuting in private or public vehicles is hell along EDSA because billboards cover any scenery of note and present clear and present dangers to life and limb in an earthquake or typhoon. EDSA is clogged not only with traffic but by a permanent haze that is killing all of us slowly. Road noise is deafening and filter through closed windows and ipod earphones. Riding along bumpy EDSA and its purgatorial paving adds to the living hell we are made to suffer through daily.

10. Politics and the failure of planning. Finally, as with the problem of flooding, we can look at politics (and its similarly-evil twin, corruption) to blame for EDSA’s hellish state. The circumferential roads of Metro Manila were originally meant as secondary connections to the radials that were supposed to connect central Manila to its suburbs. The unmanaged growth of the metropolis shifted the load to EDSA and other circumferentials as it expanded without control. The avenue passes through five of the 16 cities of the metropolis. Local and national roads connect to it. The DPWH build it. The MMDA enforces traffic. The different cities have different regulations as you go through them. Dozens of large privately-developed enclaves feed traffic into it. All expansion is incremental and largely unplanned as layers of flyovers and bridges for vehicles, trains and people compete with other infrastructure within an easement designed half a century ago. Cracked pavements, wobbly pylons and all manner of urban detritus clearly define our main thoroughfare, how it was built, how it is ill-maintained and how it may proceed shakily into a smog-obscured future.

EDSA sucks.

We all wish the floodwaters that come when the rains fall are siphoned quickly away. The only thing, though, that gets drained as we ply unsteadily through it is our sanity.

EDSA is insane, but many will agree that this indeed is a reflection of our metropolitan mayhem, our dysfunctional metropolitan governance and mangled metropolitan way of life.

Epifanio de los Santos was a historian, yet we never learn the lessons of history that clearly point out the hellish problems of EDSA …and to the solutions that seem as far and a long time away as our destinations when we start any our daily journeys trough it.

10 reasons why it floods in Manila CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 15, 2013 - 12:00am

Manila has been flooding for hundreds of years yet we never learn from the past.

Floods do not respect political boundaries and will flow from one city to the next yet we continue to address flooding (as well as all other urban problems) within the confines of individual LGUs. It does not make sense.

It’s raining season once again and we face the yearly problem of flooding in Metro Manila. I keep getting calls from broadcast media asking for interviews about the problem, its historical origins and urban redevelopment solutions. Giving these interviews I feel like a broken record enumerating the reasons for floods in the metropolis, so I figure it would be good just to list them once and for all.

This list may not contain all the reasons but these, in my opinion, are the major ones:

1. It floods because it rains; the rains and the typhoons that bring them have increased in magnitude. Yes, it’s climate change. To deny this is futile. It’s here now and it makes all historical flood levels, well, history. The paths of typhoons have also become unpredictable (not that we have enough weather men to predict them — many of our good ones have left for better-paying jobs overseas). Typhoons now cross parts of the archipelago that did not use to have them regularly and so people are caught unprepared. Despite these changes in patterns, Metro Manila still gets dumped with rain, especially since its total area, and population in this area, is equivalent to or larger than most provinces and many regions in the country.

2. It floods because of population and urbanization. Metro Manila has a population of 12 million and counting. Urbanization, specifically urban sprawl is a manifestation of all these millions living together and needing houses, buildings, roads, parking lots and infrastructure. All these cover ground that used to be open and able to absorb much of the storm water that fell on the metropolis. In our lifetimes we’ve seen fringes of the metropolis gobbled up and transformed from cogon and rice fields to thousands of subdivisions, hundreds of shops and malls, hectares of paved-over parking lots, dozens of business districts. All this hard covering serves to channel all the storm water much faster into an already inadequate drainage system designed when the reality was much more open land and much less rain. The open ground before served to mitigate the volume of rain that flowed into these drains, esteros and our rivers. We also had more plant cover and trees in the metropolis to help sop up all this water.

3. It floods because the rain comes down from denuded uplands. Metro Manila floods come from elevated surrounding regions, all the way up to the Sierra Madres. There, we have lost almost all of our original forest cover from illegal logging. All this forest cover lost makes millions of hectares of upland a bald watershed that flows freely into the metropolis. This situation is repeated around almost all major urban areas in the country. The source is upstream and this is where solutions should start, although it is among the longest-term solutions. We need to recover our forest cover to reduce the amount of rain that floods our low-level metropolis.

4. Metro Manila is not only low but it is sinking. Ground water extraction due to deep wells is causing major areas of the metropolis to sink. The north section of CAMANAVA and the southern cities from Pasay onwards have sunk from a foot to over a meter and this has made those areas more vulnerable to floods and storm surges. Scientists have pointed to the fact that this flattening has increased the reach of storm surges from the seaside to as much as 20 kilometers inland. So we get it from both ends in a perfect storm — from the mountains and from the sea. The ground is also sinking due to the weight of all that concrete, buildings and infrastructure mentioned in reason no. 2 above.

5. It floods because we have less drainage than before. Reports have it that we have lost almost half of our metropolitan esteros and canals. We used to have over 40 kilometers of them and now we only have about 20. Many have been lost to development, disappearing without a trace (now it regularly floods where they used to be of course).

6. It floods because many of those esteros, canals and waterways of our metropolis we have left are chock-full of informal settlers. Because there are no alternatives for low-income mass housing, desperate people settle in desperate areas. These settlements have little by way of solid waste management and sewers. All these go to the waterways, filling many of them so solid that dogs can cross over them. And we wonder why it floods. Many of these drainage ways and easements were identified in the several master plans made for Manila and Quezon City. Planners had allocated as much as 50 meters of space on either side of these but greed set in and these easements disappeared and what little was left are now our favelas teeming with millions.

7. It floods because the main flood control system started in the ’70s was never completed. The Manggahan floodway was only one half of the picture. It was meant to channel floodwater into Laguna Bay. The lake was meant only as a holding area and the excess water was to have been flushed from there to Manila Bay via the Parañaque spillway. That spillway was never built. To build it now would cause trillions and urban sprawl has seen its path covered with more millions of people and thousands of structures.

8. It floods because what little left of our drains and flood control infrastructure is ill-maintained. Reaching many of them is a problem because of informal settlements. Overlapping jurisdictions of local and national agencies conspire to dissipate responsibility and funding for this vital task of ensuring our drains are unclogged and free. It’s just like homeowners not cleaning their gutters of debris before a rainy season. When the typhoons come, the gutters overflow.

9. It floods because urban development is unplanned and unfettered. Mega-developments that see clusters of 30 to 40-storey towers on retail podiums surrounded by hectares of parking cause havoc in districts planned with drainage infrastructure meant for low-density development. Because there is a lack of planning context (actually a lack of any planning at all), all drainage, road and traffic infrastructure is useless to carry the additional load — that’s why most flooded areas are also traffic-clogged.

10. The final reason it floods in this short list (and there are many other reasons) is politics. Metro Manila is made up of 16 cities and one town (Pateros). Floods do not respect political boundaries and will flow from one city to the next yet we continue to address flooding (as well as all other urban problems) within the confines of individual LGUs. It does not make sense. Politics also conspires to keep informal settlers where they are because they represent votes.

The overlapping jurisdictions is also exacerbated by another layer — that of national government and yet a third layer, that of the MMDA. The ultimate fourth layer of discord is the fact that the source of floods is beyond the political jurisdiction of Metro Manila and in the hands of the provinces around it. Any sustainable solution to flooding must be at this regional context and the assumption that, within the metropolis, governance is rationalized to address this one big problem as one effort, not the effort of 17 government units, the MMDA and national agencies. Politics has divided and conquered us… and it is also drowning us in yearly and constant floods.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.


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