September 21, 2017, 8:07 pm
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Our counterflow culture

Mid-noon last Saturday I was driving down Makati Avenue from Kalayaan towards Buendia when a taxi cab and an Innova decided to counterflow to my left and create a third (or was that fourth?) lane of vehicles. It was a moment of light traffic, and I couldn’t understand why the two vehicles couldn’t follow everyone else and stick to the regular lanes while waiting for the traffic light at the Makati-Jupiter intersection to change? When the light finally turned green and we crossed Jupiter only to be stopped at the Makati Ave-Buendia intersection, the Innova ended up straddling two lanes instead of, again, lining up correctly in between the white lines painted on the street. 

The image I am trying to paint, of a motorist driving counterflow and creating more lanes of vehicles than the lines on our streets seem to indicate there should be, is nothing new to anyone who has ever driven - or been driven down - our streets. So much so that driving counterflow is already part of our culture - as is driving the wrong way down a one way street with hazard lights on or idling on a street curb - with hazard lights on - right under a “no parking” sign (blinking hazard lights are an all- purpose tool) or stopping to pick up passengers under a “No loading and unloading” sign as jeepneys do at the Guadalupe area on the way from Edsa to JP Rizal Street. All these have become part and parcel of our culture and our practices that someone could claim that under Common Law they ARE now the rule of our roads and not the illegal exception. But they are practices that, added up, create the traffic mess we are more and more groaning under by the day, one that successive MMDA administrations seem unable to break as they continuously fail in their attempt to impose order on our streets. 

To be sure, traffic is not a monopoly of Philippine cities; I’ve seen traffic just as bad, even worse, in neighboring cities like Bangkok. But as a friend on Facebook commented on a picture I posted of traffic in Bangkok, in that city you see the vehicular lines clearly defined by the white lines painted on the concrete (or asphalt). In the Philippines those lines, like other traffic signs on the road, are “suggestions”. Enforcing it is a “ningas cogon” affair, and sometimes enforcers even make better money being paid just to look away! 

At the Guadalupe loop on the northbound lane of EDSA, I was wondering why the jeepney in front of me wasn’t moving. I could see that the traffic light was flashing green- so we were supposed to flow onto JP Rizal so we could then drive under the Guadalupe Bridge and either proceed towards Rockwell via the “scenic” Pasig River route or drive up towards the southbound lane of EDSA. But we weren’t moving - precisely because the jeepney driver and a barker were courting passengers to board jeepneys right under the very nose of a traffic sign that said “No Loading”. 

Where were the enforcers? Your guess is as good as mine. 

But let’s go back to what I said earlier. All these are not new. Many of us as motorists are more than happy to counterflow when traffic isn’t moving in the hope of getting ahead of all the idiots who are following the law. That we could potentially make a traffic jam worse doesn’t figure in our selfish calculations. Or if we are passengers of public transport, we are happy to see jeepneys or tricycles or even buses stop for us wherever it is convenient for us to board (or disembark) – even if it means creating traffic in the process. Who cares? It’s part of our culture! If we don’t do it others will anyway. 

What is much more depressing than the fact that we’ve created this culture of counterflow in our lives is that we still have the gall to go around bemoaning the horrendous traffic in our cities that in part are the result of our very own bad habits! 

Until we accept that we have to lie in the bed we ourselves make, we will neither solve the traffic mess of our own creation -- or mature as a people.
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