[Blueboard] The MMDA's U-Turn Schemes

Gina Ylaya gylaya at ateneo.edu
Thu Apr 15 14:41:06 PHT 2004

Dear All:

I reproduce below an article that appeared in the MANILA TIMES.  It is 
written by a real expert on transportation, Dr. Ricardo Sigua of the UP 
National Center for Transportation Studies.  It is a thoughtful piece, 
and we who are all concerned about the Katipunan problem, should read 
it, so we can bring some rationality into the discussion.

Esther Pacheco


I am writing regarding the clearway program (U-turn schemes) that MMDA 
has been implementing in many thoroughfares in Metro Manila. I've heard 
many times from their activities that they aim to promote engineering 
sense in all  their endeavors. But I do not see this when they started 
implementing the program without engineering studies whatsoever. They 
always claim they do have studies but actually  all they could show were 
drawing plans. I know that there are capable technical people in MMDA 
and I know that they know that before coming up with any drawings for 
implementation, these must be first assessed for effectiveness. These 
must not be implemented just for the sake of testing whether it would 
work or not.  Improving mobility or lessening travel time at the expense 
of road safety, I believe, is a very serious offense. Nothing can be 
more irreparable than the loss of lives and limbs due to road accidents.

I cannot understand why MMDA people are bent on making U-turn as a 
solution just anywhere they please.  They keep on saying that  'if  it 
worked in one area, there is no reason why it will not work in others.' 
As engineers, we cannot buy that. Our roads have different geometric 

Quezon Ave used to be one of the most beautiful roads in Metro Manila. 
Now it has been transformed into one of the messiest, most risky roads 
to traverse. MMDA traffic czar argues that it is only a palliative 
solution while waiting for the best solution which is the mass transit 
system. Who knows when such a system will be a reality--10 years hence, 
 20 years hence?  Problem along Quezon Ave existed because of the 
ineffective traffic signal system. The reason why they were so was 
because they were not properly maintained. About 50% of the detectors 
were not functional. Yes, we often say 'garbage in garbage out (GIGO)' 
in computer jargon. Our traffic signal control system, now managed and 
operated by MMDA and which cost us millions to acquire, is supposed to 
be a very sophisticated system. But if it keeps on getting wrong inputs 
from the detectors, it will deliver what we expect- garbage! No budget 
for maintenance?  The cost of constructing those U-turn slots and foot 
bridges could very well be used for that purpose.

I am not saying that those foot bridges have no use. But with effective 
traffic signals at intersections and mid-blocks in place, pedestrians 
can cross safely too, including old and disabled  people who cannot 
climb stairs.  The solution therefore along Quezon Ave is a properly 
maintained traffic signal system, not the U-turn scheme.

Interchanges have been constructed by DPWH to decongest traffic in the 
NCR and other urban areas. Millions have been spent to provide flyovers 
and underpasses at critical intersections. A major component of such 
improvements are geometric changes at the ground level. It is 
unimaginable that within just a few months after completion, drastic 
changes were made with no compelling reasons. I am referring to the 
EDSA-Quezon Ave Intersection, which was already performing well and 
U-turns were practically unnecessary. Personally I take this as a direct 
insult to the capability of our engineers at DPWH who painstakingly 
studied, checked and reviewed the improvement plans prior to 
implementation. This is also true for the most recent U-turn scheme 
created at EDSA-Timog Intersection which forces motorists to 
hazardously  crisscross each other's paths and negotiate incompatible 
road curvatures.

The U-turn scheme at the  Commonwealth Ave-University Ave Intersection 
is another ill-designed spot. MMDA staff should try it for themselves; 
it is not for the faint of heart. One has to be very aggressive to be 
able to weave through 6 lanes to reach the innermost.  If you look at 
your rear view mirror while inching your way through, you would see 
headlight beams of rushing vehicles from the Elliptical Road! A few 
hundred meters away from this location, up to now, MMDA people cannot 
make up their minds about the other U-turn at Philcoa-- which just 
clearly demonstrates their trial-and-error approach.

The same scheme at Katipunan Ave is ineffective because it does not 
consider the peculiar characteristics of the traffic flow, which is 
largely influenced by high volume of cars to/from Ateneo and Miriam 
campuses.  U-turn is not appropriate here because the road  has a very 
narrow median and it only  eats up 2 lanes of the opposite direction. 
 Moreover, in a school zone, the safety of crossing
students/pedestrians cannot be that too easily sacrificed. MMDA has even 
carried its obsession too far in  that even islands that are not causing 
any congestion and are functioning for streetlighting and greenery have 
been removed along Katipunan  Ave Extension (near Corinthian Gardens). 
Now that road lays so desolate, arid, and by dimension looks like a runway!

Lastly,  I believe that introduction of new traffic schemes must always 
be accompanied by enough well-trained traffic enforcers who maintain 
by-the-hour road order and driver discipline. Otherwise, in our kind of 
culture and mindset,  this program only reinforces the already 
undisciplined behavior of many drivers. How then can they say it is 
'motorist-friendly'?  With  understudied  and poorly implemented 
programs like this,  road safety and order has become almost just the 
own look-out and responsibility  of the driver himself. It is only in 
Metro Manila where stopping at red signal has become optional or 
voluntary. It is only here in Metro Manila where an internationally 
recognized 'No U-turn' sign means you  can  U-turn. Even the standard 
colors of  road signs are not being followed (to think that our country 
was signatory to the Vienna Convention on International Road Signs of 
1968). We must be reminded that there is no room for conflicting 
non-standard signs and rules on the road or the cost is too much.

This is an open appeal to MMDA:  please do not take the task 
single-handedly. There are many experts who are willing to help improve 
road efficiency, order and safety.

Dr. Ricardo G. Sigua
Director, National Center for Transportation Studies
U.P. Diliman

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