24 October 2011

Flashback 1994: Caught in a (Traffic) Jam


[Funny what things one can find while foraging inside dusty cabinets. In the mid-nineties, I started writing, laying out and publishing a school newsletter called the Ala (Salle) Eh! Yesterday afternoon, I found a copy of one edition published in July of 1994. I had fun reading an editorial that I myself wrote complaining about the worsening traffic situation in the city – and this was way back in 1994. It was still a year before Brother Rafael Donato arrived to start building the school into what it is today. In other words, a lot I knew at the time! Of course, I did not own a crystal ball; and there was no way for me to know the spate of growth that not only the school but the rest of the city was soon to start experiencing.

For younger readers, this editorial written 17 years ago will give insights about what the city was like at the time. For those who were in school at the time – whether as students or as my fellow employees – the post will be a certifiable trip down memory lane.]

July 1994 – About a month ago, I had gone to the city proper at midday to pay a visit to my ever faithful friend, the CocoBank ATM; and then to have a hearty lunch at Jollibee about a hundred metres away. Having gorged myself with spaghetti, Junior Champ, peach-mango pie, choco-vanilla sundae and large ice-filled Coke, I was decidedly in good humour as I headed back to school.


But heading down into Mataas-na-Lupâ with the school already in sight, the good mood slowly turned acrid as the jeepney I had taken gradually slowed down and eventually crawled to a stop in the middle of the road. I realized that I was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic, erstwhile the scourge only of cities the size of Metro Manila.

My word, but this was good old provincial Lipa City, for heaven’s sake! The residential paradise, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty; where the skies are blue and free of smog and the air of toxic pollution; and where supposedly traffic flows at a steady rate. And there I was, sweating profusely in the midday heat, in the spirit of self-preservation forced to shield my nostrils with a hanky from the infernal fumes emanating ever-so-steadily from the exhaust pipes of countless diesel-powered vehicles around me.

When I was in college way back in the Jurassic Age of the late seventies and early eighties, the ostensibly short trip from De La Salle University to Libertad in Pasay – where I caught my “connecting flight” to Edison in Palanan, Makati – took as much as one hour on a good day and as long as two on a bad one. This was during rush hour in the early evenings between 5:30 and 7:30. The route, believe me you, couldn’t have been more than three or four kilometres, give or take a few traffic lights!



Back then, I waited patiently in the jeepneys I took, having been inured to the perennial problem by the sheer frequency of the occurrence. I mean, in Metro Manila, what was not normal was the absence of traffic! One simply got used to it! To utter epithets against it was in bad taste, since it happened daily, anyway; and to do so would require removing the scant protection of one’s handkerchief away from one’s mouth and nostrils and getting exposed to the toxic gases.

Having returned back to Lipa in the early eighties, I enjoyed once again the luxury of free-flowing unobstructed road traffic. The six kilometre trip from home to school, for instance, took no more than five minutes; six or seven at the most. The only conceivable way for a traffic jam to occur back then was to have one of those colossal PNOC coal trucks do a triple somersault as it sped on the slippery ready-mix road and land on its side in the middle of the highway.

But in the last five or so years, the number of vehicles gradually doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled – who’s keeping count? – almost imperceptibly until, lo and behold, mini-traffic jams began appearing ever-so-gradually but only after a particularly heavy downpour or if there was a road accident or if some pretentious little roadside tuklong was having its end-of-May fluvial procession.



My apprehensions, therefore, were most understandable when, on the opening of classes last 6 June, the normally short trip from home to school took all of forty-five minutes! The traffic began from as far back as Brgy. Sico about three kilometres away; and vehicles crawled at a snail’s pace. As usual, moronic drivers grabbed lanes to get ahead of others; and in doing so only succeeded in creating bottlenecks which further blocked the already crowded road.

I arrived for work flustered and irritable, having abandoned the jeepney that I had taken with fifty metres still to go – and sayang naman ang P1.50 fare – and sprinted the remaining distance along with harried students and fellow employees. Had I been more superstitious, I would have called the experience ominous, it being the start of the schoolyear.

So I guess, that midday traffic jam caused by the simultaneous dismissal of grade school, high school and college students from La Salle and neighbouring Canossa Academy was always bound to happen – and happen again and again! The epithets aimed at La Salle from fellow passengers were enough to make even Lolit Solis blush. Being a proud Lasallian, I felt impelled to retort back; but grudgingly acknowledged that they had a point and decided that prudence was indeed the better part of valour.



Back in 1986, the school population was about one thousand three hundred. This year, we were just a few heads short of four grand; and this includes all academic levels! And not only has the number of vehicles ferrying students to school increased, so too has the number of students who are brought to school in private vehciles which afterwards make U-turns in front of La Salle. This makes the helpless traffic aides scratch their pates and swear in temper tantrums.

But who’s really at fault? De La Salle Lipa has been here for the last thirty years, long before traffic jams. In fact, back in the seventies when I was a high school student, I had to be on the road waiting for a ride even before the roosters crowed because then, the problem was that there were too few jeepneys!

Is the government to blame for laying down a highway with no more than two lanes which were always bound to be clogged up by the ever-increasing number of vehicles? Or is economic growth to blame because now that there is more money in circulation, every Juan, Jose or Pedro (how strange naman if I used ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’) wants to own a vehicle; and never mind that it is a jeepney with a brand new stainless steel body but a wornout surplus Japanese engine; or, perhaps, a sixties Beetle or a seventies Lancer which is just happy to be on the road, still running after several owners and engine overhauls. Or, perhaps, it is the venerable Henry Ford who is to blame, for it was he, after all, who is generally credited with building the first workable self-powered transportation.

After all is said and done, does it really matter who is to blame? There is always a price to pay for progress; and traffic is one of them. The real question is what can be done about it. Do we start building flyovers which crack at the first heavy downpour? Do we start deploying those ningas-cogon Operation Disiplina units to crack down on wayward drivers? Or, perhaps, what is really needed is just sound, common-sense urban planning?



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