When the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) decided to bring back traffic lights along Katipunan Ave., I initially welcomed the decision, since traffic on Katipunan had gotten to the point wherein it had become a nightmare for all who traveled its distance. Any possible solution was welcome.
A quick look back: Back in 2004 ( the earliest article I can find about the U-turn slots on Katipunan is one by noted architect Paolo Alcazaren), then-MMDA head Bayani Fernando replaced traffic intersections on major thoroughfares across Metro Manila with U-turn slots, including Katipunan Ave. At first, as noted by observations in Alcazaren's article, the U-turns were met with a lot of resistance, but most motorists eventually got used to the scheme.
Dial forward to 2014, at a time when vehicle volume has probably increased considerably since 2004. It appears that the U-turn slots on Katipunan, especially the one in front of Miriam College, were now a source of congestion, as the slots took up road space which created bottlenecks, slowing vehicles down. As a result, the MMDA made the decision to switch back to traffic lights. There would be one in front of Miriam, and another in front of Ateneo's Gate 3.
The traffic lights became operational last Saturday, and, heading south for a birthday party, I was able to get a first hand look at how the traffic flow was affected. For some reason, Saturday traffic along Katipunan remains heavy even without classes in either Ateneo or Miriam, and last Saturday was no exception. It was difficult to gauge if the traffic lights would decrease congestion, since it was still slow going until Gate 3, after which traffic seemed to lighten. On the way home, though, traffic was heavy enough for us to be stopped at the top of the Katipunan flyover. Still, traffic was moving, albeit slowly, but it remained heavy all the way to U.P. Town Center.
Yesterday, classes were suspended due to typhoon Luis, and I took the opportunity to run some errands. Due to the lack of any classes, traffic along Katipunan at around noon was light.
Traffic inside and outside of the Ateneo was so bad that records for late students were broken: in the high school, around 317 students arrived late, while, in the grade school, 500 students were late. Some of my co-teachers were caught in the carmaggedon, and took about an hour and 40 minutes to get to school.
I'm not sure what I did right, but it took me only 40 minutes to get to school. Credit probably goes to me leaving early enough to avoid the crush.
Going out at dismissal was also bad, with traffic lasting more than an hour before it was clear enough for me to make my exit. I was lucky that I was heading north, as I couldn't imagine how south-bound travelers managed the one-lane left turn out of the Ateneo.
I'm not sure how traffic is like when it's not rush hour on Katipunan, but, based on the number of late people, and the angry posts on Facebook and Twitter, rush hour on Katipunan is a true carmaggedon.
Adding insult to injury was a Radyo Patrol report that the traffic light scheme seemed to improve traffic along Katipunan. This made me wonder aloud on Facebook as to what the MMDA people were smoking, although, after rereading the report, I should correctly attribute the smoking tag on the Radyo Patrol people.
One of the problems with the traffic light placement is the short distance between them. Ateneo-bound traffic will be snarled by the Miriam intersection, since there's only a short holding space for cars waiting to turn left into the Ateneo. The reverse is true for north-bound vehicles, which will be snarled in front of Miriam.
The other, of course, is the sheer volume of vehicles coming in and out of the university. A lot of vehicles are carrying only one or two people; this adds to the congestion along Katipunan.
So, what are alternatives to the current situation?
A possible solution is to retain the traffic light at Miriam, and reopen the U-turn in front of National Bookstore. That way, there'll be enough holding space for cars heading into the Ateneo. Another would be for the Ateneo to rethink its one-way scheme inside the university. At this point, I'm not sure what changes can be done, though.
Another solution is for schools such as the Ateneo to put more emphasis on encouraging community members to carpool in order to reduce the vehicle volume.
Of course, the government can do more by looking into implementing more efficient and effective mass transportation, instead of encouraging Filipinos to buy cars.
There are probably other solutions to the traffic mess, but these are the ones I can think of at the moment.