To solve traffic mess, create a Mega Manila


One sure way to solve the traffic mess is to decongest Metro Manila by creating a Mega Manila, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Danilo Lim says.

Creating a Mega Manila was the centerpiece of Lim’s speech at the 87th annual general membership meeting of the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) recently.

Lim began by revealing that when he was appointed chairman of MMDA, he had the initial sense of being overwhelmed.

In his mind was the recurring question: “What do you do with a problem like Metro Manila?” How can anyone solve the traffic mess when the cars are multiplying, but the roads are not?

Lim observed that the total number of vehicles sold in the country soared to a record 426,000 units in 2016, and further to 450,000 in 2017, and in both years, 65 percent of these were sold in Metro Manila.

Recurring question

Addressing the AAP members, Lim said: “It’s like catering to your passion for cars with a recurring question, ‘How will I be able to enjoy driving this car in Metro Manila?’”

The traffic crisis in Metro Manila has grown beyond our individual capacities to fix—and yet we must, Lim pointed out.

Lim acknowledged the strategic initiatives being undertaken by the national government, such as the MRT upgrade and expansion through more trains and more lines to different areas, and the building of a subway with Japanese technology and funding.

Now, after almost a year as MMDA chairman, Lim has identified doable options on how to effectively address the transformation of Metro Manila beyond the urgent infrastructure and mass transit projects now in various stages of approval or implementation.

Terrible density

The most important doable option is to dramatically reduce the terrible population density of Metro Manila, Lim asserted.

Population density describes the ratio of people to a given space.

Lim pointed out that although Metro Manila with 13 million people is not the most populated metropolis in the world, its population density of 24,000 per square kilometer is one of the worst in the world.

Compare that to the 4,400 per square kilometer population density of the Tokyo-Yokohama area, which has 37.8 million people, but has a big land area to start with, Lim said.

“Our population density explains why we have roads and vehicles that are severely disproportionate to the population,” the MMDA head remarked.

“Let us consider the dynamics between people, space, and function. When there is a gross disproportion between people and space—meaning over-crowdedness—function is sacrificed,” he continued.

2 options

In the process, Lim said, the wellbeing and convenience of people are also affected.

Therefore, we are left with two options: to decongest, or to expand our land area.

Lim admitted that both present political challenges. To decongest means forcibly moving people out of Metro Manila, and then maintaining a desired population level, which is obviously a political and legal impossibility.

The only other option, according to Lim, is to expand the area of Metro Manila and seriously consider creating a Mega Manila that may include all cities and municipalities from Calamba to Clark.

“Most of these areas have lighter population densities than Metro Manila, and their additional spaces will result in a dramatic decongestion of Metro Manila,” Lim predicted.

This time, he said, infrastructure projects spanning this wide range of areas should be planned, and the planning should include the projected economic and population growth rates for the next 50 years.

A second chance

“It is as if Metro Manila will have a second chance to become an enviable metropolis,” Lim averred.

The MMDA chairman stressed that a Mega Manila must carry a new charter of development and governance, and in the process, incorporating lessons learned from the past 50 years that zoning laws must adhere to “kinder proportions among the key factors of population, roads, and transport facilities.”

These new zoning laws must be followed with no exception, insisted Lim, who is a West Point graduate and retired brigadier general.

Noting that very few cities in the world were really planned, and that urban planning usually only comes in as the city starts to grow fast, Lim declared that “Urban planning must lead rather than follow. All these require executive and legislative action, plus political will committing to the noble vision of a new mega metropolis.”

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