Sunday Essay: Traffic calming in Cebu

Isolde D. Amante

DO GERMANS have a word for everything? Consider, for instance, “vekehrsberuhigung.”

It means “traffic calming,” which sounds like an alien idea in Metro Cebu, where the traffic is anything but calming. If you can get through a week without reading a Facebook friend’s complaint or rant about Metro Cebu’s traffic, you either have very calm friends or most of them don’t live in Cebu.

“Calming” doesn’t serve as an adjective in the term, but as a verb. “Traffic calming” refers to a system of designing, building and managing streets and sidewalks to keep them safe and easy to use by pedestrians, not just drivers. It includes efforts to lessen or to “calm” the traffic, explained the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit that will turn 45 years old this year.

Take the efforts to free sidewalks from vendors’ stalls. In a sense, they are traffic calming projects. When more sidewalks are cleared of kiosks and benches, more people who would otherwise hop on a jeepney or motorcycle taxi (read: habal-habal) might be encouraged to walk instead, especially if they’re not going anywhere beyond a kilometer.

In Consolacion town, traffic enforcers have changed how traffic flows on that stretch in front of SM mall. I don’t know if it’s a “traffic calming” effort, but I get the impression it’s helping. Before, going north, you could turn left toward two of the mall’s gates. This meant that any commuter who was going north had to endure two chokepoints fewer than 50 meters apart.

The situation changed in recent weeks. Concrete barriers went up in the middle of the road, and drivers were directed to the far north gate of the mall, where they could then turn, drive a short stretch back south, and turn right to enter the mall’s compound.

Again, I don’t know if these changes have made people’s commutes in that area better (shorter, more comfortable). But the road congestion there has been so bad in recent months that at this point, any attempt to try a solution is welcome.

Here are three bigger changes to the traffic situation in Metro Cebu that commuters would welcome too. First, it would be great to see clearer and more sustained signs of cooperation among Metro Cebu’s public officials. Remember, if two city mayors had managed to rise above their personal and political differences 20 years ago, we might have a light rail transit system in place now. But they didn’t. For that, we’re paying a terrible price.

Second, it would help to have more transparent and consistent updates from public sector leaders, both local and regional, about what’s being done to improve road conditions. Let us know your targets, timetables and updates about the progress made.

Third, let’s hear what public and civil society leaders intend to do in terms of traffic calming.

“The traffic is killing us softly,” business leader Philip Tan told SunStar Cebu. Like Tan, several leaders of the community pointed to traffic congestion, aging infrastructure and the absence of a mass transport system as the most urgent challenges facing the economy and quality of life in Cebu. (Read “Mayors’ plans for 2020: New roads, skyway, land to beat traffic,” Jan. 1, 2020, by SunStar Cebu’s Carlo Lorenciana.)

I was encouraged to read about plans to open new roads in Lapu-Lapu, ban tricycles from the national highway in Mandaue City and invest P500 million in Cebu City to upgrade the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System that was installed some 30 years ago. I have lived long enough to know that public projects often don’t get completed as fast as officials say they will.

But cautious optimism is a choice I’d rather make over cynical indifference.

We need to keep trying to solve the traffic and transportation challenge not only because Cebu’s real property industry and overall economy depend on it. The quality of our everyday lives depends on it. In the meantime, I wonder if the Germans have a word for “trying to stay calm and happy in the midst of traffic.”