The problem with Metro Manila's pedestrians

Once the red light changes to green, the stopped vehicles start moving immediately, their drivers completely ignoring the pedestrians who must scurry quickly out of the road.  

At intersections equipped with pedestrian-crossing lights, the design itself is usually faulty. When a pedestrian light turns green, indicating that it is safe to cross, the flow of straightaway traffic is made to stop, but vehicles turning from the intersecting road continue to turn, right through the crossing pedestrians.

At some intersections, a green arrow indicates when turning is allowed, but there is no red arrow to show when it is not. In practical terms, although it looks like a working system on the surface, there is really no safe-passage window for pedestrians at these intersections.  

And because designated cross-walks don't offer any more safety than jaywalking, pedestrians see no good reason to walk all the way to an intersection to cross.

Not denying the fact that pedestrians are just plain undisciplined with regard to traffic, this lack of protection must be recognized as part of the reason for their non-compliance. It's a case of “What's the point of following the rules?” Pleas from authorities for discipline, and even the inherent risks associated with crossing at non-designated points, will not change the behavior of pedestrians who feel they have no safer alternative.

So how do we fix this?

To encourage pedestrians to cross only at designated crossing points, we have to make sure they can do so safely and conveniently. This means we have to treat them as part of the overall traffic scheme. Enforcers have to see them, and manage them in the same way they manage the other moving parts of traffic.

At intersections, this means stopping traffic regularly, including turning traffic, to allow pedestrians to cross safely. It also means stopping vehicles behind the white stop-line, to keep cross-walks clear for pedestrians. At some intersections, it might be advisable to stop traffic on all sides at the same time, and allow all pedestrians to cross simultaneously. X-pattern cross-walks would help. 

We also need to develop a "right-of-way" culture among drivers, with the appropriate traffic laws. In many countries, when a pedestrian is in any part of a marked cross-walk, no vehicle may pass until after the pedestrian is completely across. Philippine law doesn't require this right now, but it should. In the Philippines, the burden is on the pedestrian to avoid getting hit by a car. It should be the other way around. 

Although this explains pedestrian behavior, it doesn't excuse it. Once we start providing pedestrians with safe alternatives to jaywalking, enforcers should act even more strictly against violators. Punishment is difficult, and truthfully not very effective. Fines and "on-the-spot seminars" don't seem to be motivating any change in behavior.

But a pedestrian crossing improperly must still be dealt with. Aggressive, zero-tolerance enforcement may always be necessary. Calling a jaywalker back to his starting point, and directing him to the nearest designated crossing point, will eventually change behavior, especially once he realizes that cross-walks really are safer and just as convenient. 

In the end, like much of Metro Manila's traffic problem, the solution is simple. The solution is management. –

Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, and has lived over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, and law enforcement issues.

Pedestrian crossing image via ShutterStock.