More roads will not solve EDSA traffic

Sometimes I wonder if our eternal pursuit of traffic congestion alleviation by building more roads still makes sense as a practical policy goal. For years and years, the dominant model of analysis in urban transportation strategy is prioritizing the “mobility” of vehicles by building roads and highways. While this makes sense on an intuitive level, science has proven this to be very problematic.

For one, the notion that more roads equal less congestion seems very short-sighted and fails to acknowledge that increased supply will only result to induced demand. Simply put, if you build it, they will come (See Downs-Thomson Paradox, the Pigou-Knight-Downs Paradox or the Lewis-Mogridge Position).

So this plan of constructing an “EDSA over or under EDSA” might be futile and counterproductive. Not to mention, costly. So then how do you solve a problem like EDSA?

Maybe instead of focusing our attention on roads and vehicles, we should be concentrating on psychology of the people on them. After all, it is these people who drive these cars to work or school in the thoroughfares they prefer.

For example, instead of constructing more roads that will only attract more vehicular traffic, how about building affordable housing near business districts where people work? These people would surely want to live closer to work to avoid traffic jams, and in the process contributing to the reduction of road traffic itself. Essentially, our transportation system should be efficiently linked up with real estate, industrial and commercial policy-making.

Perhaps in lieu of aiming for more road infrastructure, we should focus on our ‘soft infrastructure’ like employing a variety of new charges for road users which include parking and tolling to make the most out of our very limited road space. That said, one important hard infrastructure that we should continue to invest on is our MRT/LRT network. There’s simply no alternative to expanding our rail transport system. Building more roads will not work but extending our urban rail networks can provide a more efficient transport system in our cities.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the attainment of our dream as a nation, which is to see the Philippines as a wealthy, developed country where every Filipino has an equal opportunity for prosperity to buy their dream house and/or dream car. But as one South American politician once said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

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