POSTSCRIPT / August 9, 2005 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Fernando's death traps dot Metro thoroughfares

DEATH TRAPS: How many more motorists must get killed or maimed before the MMDA gods wake up to the fact that they have converted many Metro Manila thoroughfares into death traps?

If MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando would just drive very early in the morning on such thoroughfares as EDSA, Commonwealth Avenue and Quezon Avenue, he would note that many concrete roadblocks clustered around U-turns have been knocked out of line and are severely damaged.

The only conclusion we can make is that some motorists have crashed into them the night before. I have seen many such accidents involving those concrete obstructions it makes me wonder if Fernando is bothered at all.

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NO ACTION: I was in such an accident last June 11, crashing my SUV into one of those protruding concrete blocks on EDSA when I swerved to avoid a speeding bus. I landed in the hospital and my car, a total wreck, had to be lifted onto a flatbed for hauling away.

Fernando has been informed of these MMDA-made road hazards, and he promised action, but I have not noticed anything by way of remedial measures. I still see them everyday.

Such main arteries as EDSA and Commonwealth Avenue were designed for free-flowing non-swerving driving. We are not supposed to continually change lanes (MMDA officers would slap us with a swerving violation), but the U-turn roadblocks have forced us to drive like we were competing in a slalom race.

After every hundred meters or so, we have to cross over several lanes to move away from the U-turns. In the process, we raise the probability of our grazing other vehicles. The least that could happen is for traffic to slow down at those choke points.

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DARK & DIRTY: Blackened by soot and dirt, many of the blocks are not readily seen at night and in driving rain. Examples are those blocks at that U-turn in front of a nightclub on the east (northbound) side of Quezon Avenue in Quezon City.

It is a good thing vehicles are forced to slow down at that point. Three layers of taxicabs waiting at night for their suki girls from the club clog the road in front of the U-turn, leaving just one narrow lane for passing vehicles. MMDA officers do not see this?

Those U-turn areas must have more than normal lighting to make sure that motorists, who might be less alert after a hard day’s grind, are able to see them at night. Flood lights (aimed away so they do not blind drivers) and bright blinking lights might help.

Every week, these concrete blocks must be given a good scrubbing. They should be repainted every month.

Expensive maintenance? Yes, but if it is any justification, contractor friends of MMDA bosses would love the extra business.

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USELESS FLIPPERS: If the real Fernando is as good as the image he has been trying to cultivate, he should crack down on whoever has been buying paint and such supplies for MMDA.

Who approved the purchase of those flipper-like chevron signs supposed to warn motorists of such obstructions as blocks thrown in the middle of the street and the start of a thin wire fence segregating private and utility vehicles? The luminous signs attached to them are not luminous at all.

And, in the first place, why do they have to install those flippers on the walls of underpasses when motorists already know that those straight walls are there?

The paint used on these warning signs is not reflectorized or luminous as it should be. Is somebody making fat commissions on those signs? Those supposedly luminous signs riveted on the walls of underpasses are a waste of taxpayers’ money.

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MMDA MEDDLING: Is not EDSA a national road? How come Fernando, who is just an administrator of certain aspects of the metropolis, was allowed to tamper with EDSA’s basic design by putting in U-turns here and there?

The same reasoning applies to his number-coding scheme to reduce traffic volume on weekdays. The MMDA chairman may play his game of numbers only in towns and cities whose local authorities allow him within the bounds of law.

In the case of national roads, such as EDSA, he has no power to ban certain vehicles on certain days. Motor vehicles are registered by a national agency to be driven on public roads.

Fernando cannot substitute his parochial discretion for that of the national Land Transportation Office or those of local executives.

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PUBLIC ROADS: I have not seen anything in the traffic code and related laws saying that a local factotum may invoke public welfare just like that and ban selectively certain vehicles from a national road.

If we allow Fernando to do that, what would prevent other local despots from imposing similar restrictions in their areas? Result: Kanya-kanyang experimentation with people’s lives.

I submit that, as a rule, as long as a motor vehicle is properly registered and the driver holds a valid license, he can drive the vehicle on any public road like other licensed drivers driving similarly registered vehicles. More so if the road is a national thoroughfare.

There may be exceptions only when an overriding public interest demands it, as determined by the courts.

The same argument can be used to question the practice in some subdivisions, whose main streets had been improved or paved using public funds, requiring non-resident motorists to leave their license at the gate before they can enter the community.

The use of public funds to improve streets in private subdivisions gives such roads a public character. Unless public interest demands it, it is absurd to ban a motorist from a street to whose maintenance he has been contributing through taxes.

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DEATH SHROUD: The death traps I have been talking about are those concrete blocks suddenly jutting out onto a driver’s path.

Another death trap, a bigger one, is the toxic cloud of polluted air that is slowly killing not only commuters but also the entire population of Mega Manila extending beyond the geographical boundaries of the metropolis.

This death shroud is so visible and so threatening it is impossible for our officials, including President Gloria Arroyo, from noticing it.

One does not need gadgets to spot the smoke-belchers on the road. He can spot them a mile away. Maybe our officials are waiting for people to start dropping dead in the street before they act?

So what are Metro Manila and national officials doing about it? What they are doing is pointing to one another — local and national officials — saying that it is the other office’s responsibility.

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DRIVER’S FAULT: Of course we vehicle-owners and motorists, especially city drivers, must own part of the blame for the sordid state of traffic.

For out-of-towners and foreign visitors who muster enough courage to drive in Manila, I have been preparing a pamphlet, more of a survival manual, for driving in the Philippines.

The bright note to what is turning out to be dark prose is that if one can drive in Manila, he can drive anywhere.

On the positive side, your chances of avoiding or surviving a fatal accident in Manila are much greater than on a freeway in civilized countries. It is improbable that you would figure in a fatal crash, because the roads are crowded and traffic slow.

There are only two scenarios where you might just get killed in a road accident. These are if you crash into Fernando’s traps or get in the way of a killer bus careening down EDSA.

There are two other non-accident situations where you could die behind the wheel. One is if you suffer a heart attack because of the stress and the massive pollution. Another is if an irate driver whose car you just grazed gets off with his pistol and guns you down.

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ART OF FEINTING: One reason why Manila traffic is so painfully slow is that more than 40 percent of drivers spend more than 60 percent of their time blocking other drivers who are also busy blocking them.

The reason is simple: If you do not block the next driver, he would block you. Do unto others as they would do unto you. And make sure you do it first.

Never stick to your lane. Hog road space by straddling two lanes. That is being smart, since you are effectively blocking not only one but two other cars behind you while you are plotting your next move.

Do not signal your intentions. If the driver behind you knows where you want to turn, he will swing to that side to block you.

If you have to signal at all, give the wrong signal. Feint. When you intend to turn right, signal left — so the idiot behind you goes to your left and leaves your right side open.

We could go on and on talking about how to drive in this crazy metropolis, but space is running out. Let’s try next time.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 9, 2005)

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