MANILA, Philippines — For newly-minted Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Benhur Abalos, the solution to Metro Manila's longstanding traffic woes is simple: construct more roads, particularly elevated bus ramps and pedestrian walkways along the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue thoroughfare connecting much of the Metro.
Speaking in an interview aired over CNN Philippines early Tuesday morning, the former Mandaluyong City mayor said that he would focus on the MMDA's transparency and openness to outside suggestions for his term as its new chairman after the passing of its former chair, Danilo Lim, on Wednesday.
"Every year the number of vehicles grows with our population, so we need to address this by opening more roads...I am thinking of asking our research and planning team if we could move the motorcycles on the right side and study if bike lanes are feasible along EDSA," he said in mixed Filipino and English.
"For the past several days, you’ve noticed that traffic flow is much smoother. That’s because we partially opened part of this interconnecting road," he also claimed.
Data published by online database Numbeo found that the Philippines has among the worst traffic situations in the world with a total score of 198.33, good for the top spot among six of 11 Southeast Asian countries included in the index.
The Philippines also placed 12th in a separate list with a score of 3,314.83 in the index, which is a numeric estimation of commuter dissatisfaction with long commute times.
"We can now focus on the bus lanes...[and] when it comes to U-turn slots, the project here will be an elevated bus ramp. When they reach the corner of the U-turn slot, that's where there will be an elevation. They can now make a u-turn on these sensitive corners," Abalos said.
"We will study this. We have to go through these studies."
Urban planners and transport economists have long contested the idea that building or widening roads can lessen traffic, pointing to the concept of induced demand.
Induced demand refers to the situation where more of a good is consumed as its supply increases. In the case of road infrastructure, induced demand is seen in that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion. This implies that new roads essentially serve to create more traffic instead of lessening it, ultimately leading to worse congestion.
"Opening more roads lead to induced demand, meaning traffic will still increase no matter how many roads we build or open. If we want to lessen traffic congestion, we have to lessen car-dependency and improve other modes like public transport and active transport," Keisha Mayuga, an urban planner with commuter group AltMobility PH said in a message to Philstar.com.
Even pre-coronavirus, labor and transport unions in the Philippines were tagging the country's traffic situation as a mass transportation crisis, with long lines and technical malfunctions being commonplace in the daily lives of Filipino commuters. According to a 2019 survey by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, "daily economic losses because of congestion in Metro Manila are estimated at P2.1 billion, which could rise to P3.3 billion a day by 2035 if no action is taken."
Still, the Duterte legacy campaign has long touted that the thousands of additional road space being built by the administration are the solution to these problems. Asked about the traffic rating at a press briefing Monday, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque chalked it up to the need to complete infrastructure project's under the Duterte administration's flagship Build, Build, Build program.
"In a year's time, when we finish all these projects, our ranking will go down, we will no longer be in the top ten but the solution to traffic really is improved infrastructure and improved mass transportation," he said.