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Opinion: Are motorcycle lanes really the solution to Commonwealth traffic?

A look at the changes on the thoroughfare
commonwealth avenue motorcycle lane
PHOTO: Sharleen Banzon

The exclusive motorcycle lanes on Commonwealth Avenue have been the talk of the town recently, especially for those who live on that side of the metro. After the dry run, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has now officially begun the full implementation of this new traffic scheme.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of concerned and mostly dissatisfied motorists have gone to social media to express their concerns. Just check out the comments sections of our Commonwealth-related posts. But why the pushback, though? Is the new scheme really not worth trying out?

What’s the need for exclusive motorcycle lanes on Commonwealth Avenue, anyway?

Before we try finding the lapses in implementation here, we first have to backtrack and take a good look at what this new traffic scheme is all about.

The MMDA first floated the idea back in October 2022. The agency said that at the time, there were already 1.44 million motorcycles in Metro Manila. The exclusive motorcycle lanes were to be put up to “put the vehicles in order” as well as for the safety of the riding public. The MMDA also said that motorcycle groups were already “clamoring” for this traffic scheme to be implemented not just on Commonwealth but on EDSA as well.

Issues with the Commonwealth Avenue motorcycle lanes

Signage on Commonwealth Avenue showing lane designations, including the exclusive motorcycle lane

It’s fine to aim for order in such a congested and problematic thoroughfare like this one. In theory, segregating the lanes will supposedly make these roads a lot safer. However, there are a lot of underlying factors regarding implementation that make this new policy seem a bit premature.

One of the biggest issues here would be the quality of the road itself. Commonwealth Avenue is notorious for its horrible bumps and huge potholes—it’s like a not-so-mini obstacle course. Limiting movement for any vehicle—two-wheeler or otherwise—to just a single lane basically means you’re rendering them useless against severe road imperfections in their respective lanes. For cars, that could be damaging. For motorcycles? That’s outright dangerous.

The current arrangement of the lanes—along with the sheer number of establishments and arterial roads along Commonwealth—also contribute to the inevitable chaos that we see day in and day out. Just take a minute to watch the clip we recently posted on Facebook. The video we shared was compressed from roughly 40 minutes of rider POV footage from Doña Carmen to Elliptical Road and back. Look at how often vehicles have to cross the motorcycle lanes—it’s no wonder traffic is this bad.

Speaking of passing through the motorcycle lanes, rider and driver behaviors also play roles in the flow of traffic here, and it’s not as simple as informing the public. Quezon City resident and Top Gear Philippines associate editor Sharleen Banzon was on the ground yesterday morning for coverage, and she shared our Commonwealth experience with us.

“I parked at Microtel, which was where another news team was also deployed, to take footage from the footbridge. After that, I had a hard time exiting and merging into the fourth lane because the motorcycles in their lane wouldn’t give way—they’ve been relegated to that lane, and you can see from our rider POV video that there are a lot of four-wheeled vehicles going in and out, so it’s not hard to understand why they’d feel territorial. But also, there’s pressure on you to get to your designated lane within 200 meters of exiting an establishment, because that’s what the guidelines state,” she said.

Bryan Mangalindan, a friend of mine who just so happened to find himself on Commonwealth at 7am yesterday, was also complaining about how difficult it was just to cross the motorcycle lanes and get to his destination. “Kunwari lalabas ka, eh ’di ka makatawid agad-agad sa blue lane kasi may bus. Matatadtad ka talaga ng busina,” he said.

To be fair, that’s only one side of the fence. As someone who rides two-wheelers myself, I’m also familiar with how riders are easily bullied by other cars and PUVs, especially on wide roads like Commonwealth. Frankly, though, I just think this is also just a product of too much spite between drivers and riders in general. “If you’re not giving way, neither am I” kind of mentality.

But again, let’s be real—even if motorists were a bit kinder out there, that still wouldn’t solve our traffic woes. What would make a real difference here would be better public transportation.

What does public transportation have to do with all this?

Like it or not, the mass transport system affects just about every single thing in the metro, including traffic on Commonwealth. It’s that integral to the urban system. Its current state has forced people who can afford to do so to just drive their own cars instead of dealing with the brutal commute. That, in turn, adds to more congestion on the major thoroughfare.

The new motorcycle lanes actually worsen the situation even further. See, if we’re going to base facts on the MMDA’s guidelines, Commonwealth stretches to as many as nine lanes in certain areas of the avenue. However, the MC lanes are placed on the third lane from the rightmost one, leaving just one lane for PUVs and another for cyclists. Considering just how many commuters there are on Commonwealth, the number of PUVs needed to accommodate all of them will not fit in a single lane. This doesn’t give enough incentives to would-be cyclists, either.

Of course, there isn’t a ‘quick fix’ for all this. What we can do for now is wait until the MRT-7 is finished and see how it affects traffic on Commonwealth.But one thing’s for sure: If the commute is still going to be that brutal, people will still opt to drive or ride their own vehicles.

Should the exclusive motorcycle lanes just be removed, then?

Commonwealth Avenue

The way I see it, this is just another band-aid solution to a much bigger problem. Commonwealth is just too congested at this point, and there’s also an absolute lack of proper infrastructure in place to allow this traffic scheme to work.

Sharleen says that in some parts of Commonwealth, “segregation is doable,” but partial operations a la Build, Build, Build simply won’t work in this case. There are just too many bottlenecks along the thoroughfare.

Again, we’re not totally against this—we just think the concerned government agencies could allot their time and efforts towards something more impactful than this. But if the government just can’t help themselves and they really want to push through with this, I just have one request. I know I speak for all riders when I say this—just pave the damn motorcycle lanes, at the very least.

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PHOTO: Sharleen Banzon
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