These days, a sure-fire conversation starter and no-fail small talk topic is Metro Manila traffic.
Whether on the level of carmaggedon or on a surprisingly light drive along our major thoroughfares, we are consumed with the state of traffic in the metro.
It contributes so much angst to the urban psyche that rush hour on our roads result in a flood of raging rants on our social media feeds.
It spawns applications like Waze and websites like Sakay.ph while constantly aggravating the growing animosity between public transport drivers and the riding public.
In fact, this may be the first time in our country’s history that traffic can be an election issue, at least in Metro Manila.
Previously, we wrote about how each of us, whether motorist, passenger, pedestrian, or traffic enforcer, are either contributing to the problem or taking part in the solution.
We found respite in the Highway Patrol Group’s (HPG) strict enforcement of road rules and hoped to build a law-abiding culture of courtesy among drivers and commuters.
We wrote about this last year and commended traffic enforcers and motorists alike for working together and alleviating traffic during those months leading up to the APEC.
However, while strict implementation of rules gave us some temporary hope, the flagrant truth about the Metro Manila traffic issue is that the most concrete solutions to this problem will take a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of money.
For a sustainable, long-term solution, we need forward planning and the political will to decongest Metro Manila.
We need to expand development beyond the National Capital Region and ensure that jobs, education, and access to social services are spread out throughout the country.
People will always prefer to settle close to where opportunities are, whether it’s a new job, good school, or even access to quality medical services and thriving commercial centers.
By ensuring these developments sprout in more pockets outside Metro Manila, we can draw people and businesses out from congested urban zones and, at the same time, bring progress to more and more Filipinos across the country.
One promising project is the Clark Green City which spans 9,450 hectares in Central Luzon – over 100 kilometers north of Manila and 90 kilometers from Subic Bay in the area of Banban and Capas.
To put the size of this new city in perspective, the Clark Green City is even larger than the Manhattan borough in the State of New York.
This trillion-peso project has a 30-year master plan and is expected to house over 1 million residents and generate employment for 800,000 workers by its completion.
The development is led by Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) who is also responsible for turning Fort Bonifacio into today’s sprawling Bonifacio Global City (BGC). Now, they set their sites on creating a smart, green, and modern metro in Central Luzon that is almost 40 times the size of BGC.
This is one way, if properly implemented, to expand development beyond Valenzuela, all the way to parts of Tarlac.
In the south, we are already seeing the development of Laguna now with a number of subdivisions, access to quality education, a flourishing commercial area, and large companies setting up offices, providing jobs and livelihood.
Perhaps we just need an extra push to get companies to move from Makati, Ortigas, or BGC to new areas like Laguna and the Clark Green City.
Can you imagine if developed spots in Luzon spanned from Tarlac to Batangas? Can you imagine if those of us living in Metro Manila seriously considered moving to these new areas of development, having people migrating out instead of in?
If we effectively develop more of these communities and spread opportunities geographically, maybe then we can decongest Metro Manila and ease our traffic woes.
By no means is traffic just in Metro Manila. Some friends in Cebu have spoken to us about their traffic problems, but maybe this long term solution of developing outside of traditional urban areas can also be applied there.
In the coming years, we should look forward to and even demand expansion beyond the city center. One can only imagine how different and how much more improved the Philippines can be when this happens.
First published on Manila Bulletin