Traffic Impact Assessment – what it shouldn’t only be

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), May 10, 2012

A reader emailed telling me my write-ups get too technical sometimes.  Frankly, I have been struggling with that in the last 14 years, since the time I was first invited to write.  On the other hand, my colleagues in the planning discipline endearingly accuse me of being overly simplistic.  Well, we’ll strive to continue finding the balance.  One thing I ask, though, from my engineer-planner friends – please allow this corner some slack.  As my blogsite says, this is for “everyday life for ordinary people.”

Two weeks ago, we wrote about “Traffic Impact Assessment – whose job is it?”  Primarily government, we said.  TIA documents will be prepared by the applicant-developers though, but its review and assessment belongs to government who gives the clearance, … or disapproval, thereof.  It remains inherent, however, that the approval procedure have to be enacted by the local government, same as it was issued by HLURB for developments under their approval regime.  And, obviously, the government should have the same expertise (or should even be higher), to review the TIAs than that required for people preparing them.

But let’s look closer at what the TIA should consist.  For one – it is NOT only a traffic plan.  And it should not be just a proposal on how a developer addresses the traffic within, beside, along, or around, the proposed development.  That’s part of it, of course, but only a small part of it.  As the entire concept goes up to the issue of land use and transport integration, TIA goes beyond and looks at how a development may affect the transportation situation of the entire city.  Increases in traffic flow due to land use changes do not affect adjacent areas only – it may induce congestion in far-away places.

Let’s be overly simplistic.  Suppose a man from Pardo builds and transfer to a new home in Talamban.  If he works in downtown, then everyday, there will be one person-trip more along Gov. Cuenco Ave. (Banilad Road), and one trip less along N. Bacalso Ave.  Or more if we consider the rest of the family.  That’s for a transfer.  For a new residential development or a new mall, it’s not a plus 1 – minus 1 thingy.  In transportation science, we talk of traffic diversion and traffic generation.  Which means trips are not only diverted or transferred, more trips are actually added.  Because the more destinations are built, the more people travel.

So when a condominium unit is built which has a potential of adding 200 cars to the city’s road network system, we need to ask, where will these vehicles go or pass through?  When it is estimated that the SRP may even reach 20,000 trips an hour at peak when fully developed, where will these trips go or pass by?  We’re not talking here of how traffic maybe managed within or even around a new development – that’s easy.  But what’s the effect on the traffic beyond, or even on the other side of the city?  That’s traffic impact assessment.

Invariably, the need for land use and transport planning integration demands that while we address issues on local traffic congestion generated by urban high-rise development, the deeper problems and concerns is the potential transport gridlock it will lead the city to.  And for this reason, public transportation planning and development is essential.  Fortunately, the full-blown feasibility study of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Cebu is already ongoing and will be completed middle of this year.  Let’s just hope no one will throw monkey wrenches of extraneous issues into the matter, for the sake of the future generation.

The SRP is the single biggest development, which transformed the landscape of the city; the BRT is the next single development which will transform its skyline – towards a sustainable city for our children and grandchildren.