At the beginning of the pandemic, I became amazed at how roads were completely empty of cars. Localized lockdowns and the general fear of catching what was then an unknown enemy have forced people to stay at home unless going out was absolutely necessary. Teleconferences became the norm as it allowed us to connect and socialize without physical contact.
However, the novelty of seeing streets devoid of the usual hustle and bustle quickly wore off. Yes, travel times were much quicker, but I felt like the absence of cars was a sign that this health crisis still had a long way to go. At one point, I wasn’t really happy about being able make shuttle runs between Quezon City and Parañaque in record time. I thought that traffic jams might be bad, but they somehow offered a sense of normalcy.
Fast forward to September of this year when I finally had my second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. My crumpled vaccination card was my literal ticket to freedom, allowing me to enter malls, restaurants and even provinces. Others probably felt the same way and started going out as travel restrictions eased. As a result, the traffic jams came back. And I was far from happy about it.
That could likely be attributed to months of being able to cruise swiftly down Metro Manila’s main roads. Imagine being able to eat Gordon Ramsay’s beef Wellington for a while and suddenly going back to tins of Spam. The latter doesn’t taste bad, but it certainly isn’t as good as a dish cooked by a very angry chef with a tire company’s stars.
It really highlights how Metro Manila was never really designed with commuters in mind. Sure, there is now a bus lane on EDSA, but a few concrete barriers doesn’t necessarily make it safe for both bus riders and private-car users. And don’t even get me started on bike lanes, a lot of which have been hastily put up just so mayors can boast that their cities are bike-friendly. And because public transport continues to be a bit of headache, people simply brought their own vehicles, which contributes to the traffic problem.
I’m inclined to say that we’re back to square one. The problems that existed before the pandemic seem to continue to do so to this day. But I understand that drastic changes don’t happen overnight (if over 1.5 years can be considered overnight), and I have to celebrate the small steps we have taken to make life for commuters just a little less difficult.
For example, even though some bike lanes are not as good as they can be, they’re still there. The same goes for the EDSA bus lane, and I take comfort in the fact that at commuters can now go where they need to go faster than those in private cars. More can still be done, though, and I hope that traffic jams will no longer be the normal we go back to.