Nightmare on Vito Cruz Street
The vicinity around Taft Avenue and Vito Cruz Street in Manila has always been a traffic hot spot. This is because the area is host to three educational institutions that cater mainly to the country’s middle- and upper-class families. I am referring to De La Salle –Manila, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, and St. Scholastica’s College.
The area also happens to serve as some kind of public transportation gateway to some of Manila’s most populous areas including San Andres, Singalong, and Paco. The sheer volume of private cars, jeepneys, pedicabs all fighting for precious square inch is a potent brew that spells mayhem.
Having lived and worked near the area for decades, I have seen all possible types of programs implemented in the hope of solving the traffic congestion. Nothing has worked so far. City officials, the administrators of the three schools, and barangay officials have put in place various schemes, all of which have not really fully solved the problem.
Motorists simply avoid the area when they can because, quite frankly, there really is not much that can be done to ease up the traffic congestion. It’s simply a case of not having enough resources— in this case, road space —that can match the development in the area.
This kind of problem is not limited to this particular area. We can take comfort in the fact that at least the development in the area such as the expansion of the academic facilities of the three academic institutions has direct social significance. We must note that in other areas, the congestion is caused by the construction of giant malls and condominiums, business enterprises that could have been subjected to more stringent regulatory oversight. But unfortunately, zoning and urban development planning seem like alien concepts in our country. If we come to think about it, the construction of humungous malls or high-rise condominiums in places where road expansion is not possible is sheer madness. Let’s not even go into the hidden issues such as impact on a number of environmental factors such as sewerage, water distribution capabilities, drainage, and pollution.
Most are quick to lay the blame on the three schools for simply being there, as if not having them in the area is a desirable option. Others blame parents for insisting on bringing their kids to school and picking them up after school hours in private cars, as if it were a crime to perform parental duties. And of course, many more turn their noses up at the kids of the three schools who bring cars to school calling them rich spoiled brats, not really recognizing that for most of these kids, bringing a car is not a luxury but a necessity.
Most of us have learned to make allowances for it and do try to do what we can to help ease up the traffic. Thus, despite the congestion, altercations over traffic are rare in the area. Private cars do often park illegally in some areas, but always leave a lane or two for other cars to pass through. When asked to move along, drivers of private cars and jeepneys to take heed. There is some semblance of system in the chaos borne out of mutual concern for each other.
Traffic in the area is bad, very bad; but up until the overly delayed construction work in the area, it hasn’t been as hellish as the last few months. They are supposed to be laying down water pipes that would connect the water system in Manila to the south.
If you haven’t been in the area in the last few months, I strongly suggest that you avoid it like the proverbial plague. Vito Cruz from Roxas Boulevard to Estrada Street has been practically impassable for many months now. In fact, Vito Cruz from Taft Avenue to Leon Guinto Street has been closed for a good eight months now. When they started the diggings, the usual signs announcing the project, asking for everyone’s patience, and apologizing for the inconvenience were put up. The signs were clear about one thing: The construction would be finished by July 2008. It’s now October and by the looks of it, whatever it is that they are doing in the area is not going to be completed soon. They have since removed the original signs and have not replaced it with ones that specify the new deadline, if there is.
I have no doubt that whatever it is that they are doing in the area is important and will redound to the benefit of many people. Some of the people who live in the area don’t really care anymore because the inconvenience and the hazard being posed by the constructions just seem disproportionate to the promised benefits. It just doesn’t seem worth it. It’s a project that seems equal in scope to the building of the Suez Canal since they seem to be digging up not just parts of Vito Cruz Street, but the whole street in itself and laying down pipes that trucks can drive through.
What is happening in the area is indicative of what is wrong with the way we do public work projects in this country.
First, they seem to have no fixed timelines. Note that the project is already at least four months delayed with no signs of being completed anytime soon. Construction companies must really be made to account for delays in their projects. It can be done with more careful planning and with more stringent regulatory oversight.
Second, this matter of big business asking people to grin and bear inconvenience for the sake of progress is really contemptible. Let’s be clear about this: Government or public utilities may be behind these projects, but these are conducted by major construction companies who stand to gain huge profits from the contracts. So all these justifications about how we should sacrifice for the sake of the public good is sheer nonsense. The sacrifice is unwarranted because the least these construction companies should do is not only ensure that the inconvenience is kept to a minimum, but that they compensate people appropriately for the damages. So when we are being asked to sacrifice, its not really for the public good, but for the sake of profit—that of the construction companies.
Third, this utter disregard for safety and the absence of coordination with the community in the areas affected. Because these projects are cloaked with supposed social significance, contractors do pretty much as they please often without consideration for others. In this particular instance, they simply dug up the street in front of the DLS-CSB School of Design and Arts sealing off the driveway to the building without even warning the administrators of the College. The streets are now pockmarked with really deep gorges and diggings are simply laid over with makeshift steel planks of questionable quality. And worse, the construction company has not assigned people that would guide motorists and pedestrians around the perilous sites. Talk about irresponsibility.
I think it’s about time that the communities around the construction sites in the area go up in arms against the construction company that is conducting the diggings in a clearly irresponsible way. It’s really about time we make big business accountable for the unnecessary mess they do to our lives.