Road Sharing: Solution to Traffic Woes?

By Antonio Oposa Jr.July 2, 2017

IF BUILDING more roads to solve traffic congestion is like pouring gasoline to fight a fire, what is the solution?  Turn around the road system on its head by 180 degrees: Make the roads narrower.

No, this is not a joke. Abundance breeds waste; scarcity breeds efficiency.  Bigger roads trigger wasteful use. Smaller roads lead to wiser use.

Another way is to follow the ‘Principle of the Ant’.  Countless as they are, ants do not have traffic jams because they move in single file.

We can improve traffic flow right away by providing exclusive lanes for collective (public) transportation. Buses and trains can travel in single file, in ant-like fashion.

Wide sidewalks of at least three meters must be set aside for people to safely walk or bike. If public transportation is safe, reliable, convenient, inexpensive and fun, car owners would be happy to leave their cars at home. Or feel no need to buy a car.

But there are still too many cars on the road using up so much space to move so few people.

Mind Shift
Those who have less in wheels must have more in roads.

A simple solution is ‘Road Sharing’.  Divide the road in half: Half for motorized vehicles moving efficiently, and the other half for people to walk, bike and plant food gardens.

Road sharing requires a 180-degree mind shift from the present car-crazy and fuel-foolish transportation system:

• From building more roads for cars to providing more spaces for people to move

• From favoring wasteful private transportation to giving priority to efficient public (collective) transportation

• From road widening to a road diet

• From road greed – scrambling for the last square inch of the road – to sharing the space

How can we show that it works? Experience is the best teacher. When people actually breathe cleaner air, feel the vitality of the community and move around freely in an orderly manner following the Principle of the Ant, the idea of road sharing will come to life. Many benefits will cascade to society. For example, the change will: Restore order and discipline on the road, dissolve traffic congestion, make travel time predictable, among others.

Is this bad news for car makers? No, it is an opportunity to adapt to the new mindset and then retool manufacturing facilities to make better public transportation systems.

On a personal note, I am not against cars. I am against the mindset of having to spend a lot to buy and maintain a car that only worsens traffic congestion, when all I need is the service of moving from one point to another.

In times when we need the personal convenience of individual transportation, car sharing services can fill the need. This is starting to happen in Europe and parts of the US such as the Zip car system in the San Francisco area.

In Vauban, in the green city of Freiburg in Germany, residents do not own cars.  They walk, ride a bike or take public transport. When they need a car, they go to the common garage and take one unit from a membership pool. They pay a nominal amount for the use of the car and cost of gas.

Edible Gardens

If part of the roads will no longer be used for cars, space will be available to plant vegetables and fruits.  A concrete section of one or two lanes (about three to six meters wide) and one kilometer long can be broken up and returned to soil to grow community food gardens. With fewer motor vehicles, the air will be cleaner and will not poison the food plants.

Putting policy
into practice

What does it take to make this change happen? Favor people over cars.

There is the daily torture chamber of cars on EDSA, a main arterial road in Metro Manila.  Three of the five lanes are occupied by about 70 private cars carrying at best 200 passengers.  All the passengers could fit into four or five buses.  If that would actually happen, the road space would suddenly become vacant.

The vacant space can then be converted into safe (and covered) sidewalks, bike lanes and edible gardens.  One lane can still be used for private vehicles.   The mind shift is starting to happen with the introduction of P2P (Point-to-Point) high-quality buses in Metro Manila which charge a minimal fare and offers comfortable seats, free Wi-Fi and television on board.  What is still needed are dedicated, fast-moving lanes for public transport vehicles.  Give people space for non-motorized mobility.

Build it and
they will come

What if we built wide and covered walkways and bike lanes of three meters to six meters wide – the width of one or two road lanes?

But first, we must remove and/or relocate all obstructions from the sidewalks and streets.

The legal basis to ban roadside parking and sidewalk stalls is clear. Public space is reserved for public use. It cannot be used for private parking and vendor’s stalls to benefit one or two to the exclusion of all.  These are a ‘nuisance’ as defined by law because they obstruct or interfere with the free passage of a public highway or street.
Removing road obstructions is a task for local governments. Sad to say, this does not happen often

What Now?
The Road Sharing Movement is not the dream of one man. It is a collective dream of a world stuck and suffering from ‘car-diac arrest.’

The transformation is happening in many versions around the world like Brazil (Medellin and Curitiba), in the US cities of Eugene, Portland, Irvine, New York, in Singapore, Kyoto and in the cities of Pasig and Marikina.  The more developed models are in European cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Vienna and Paris.

In our country, there is a growing movement of citizens trying to sow the seeds of road sharing.  It started with an experimental closure of the busiest road in the central island of Cebu on June 12, 2011.  For one whole day, a 2.3-kilometer stretch of Osmeña Boulevard was closed to motor vehicles and turned into a park.

This inspired the City of Pasig in heavily congested Metro Manila to follow the exercise. Every Sunday, the main 1.3-kilometer road of its financial district – F. Ortigas Avenue – is now a fully pedestrianized road.  Four of its main roads – two along the Pasig River, the other one in front of City Hall and another recently opened – are shared with pedestrians and cyclists. Walkers and cyclists use half of the East Bank Road of Pasig City every Sunday.

What are roads for? For whom are roads built? We have to return to the common sense goal of roads and of transportation as a means of moving people.  The car-centered mind-set of society is the source of much of today’s urban maladies.  People cooped up in speeding steel boxes (cars) are transformed into rude, self-centered and even violent creatures.  That is what we see in ‘road rage.’

Roads can be a positive catalyst. By changing the road system, people can be kinder, gentler, more cooperative and more generous. When roads are shared and become public spaces instead of exclusive lanes for private cars, people are able to interact. They once again see each other as human beings instead of metal boxes in motion.