Roundabouts to "solve" Manila traffic - a microcosm of flawed Filipino thinking

Roundabouts (or "rotundas" as they are more commonly known as in the Philippines) are being touted by the cash-strapped Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) as "an alternative measure to ease traffic congestion". According to a "simulation study", the MMDA foresees a "200% increase in the speed" of areas where roundabouts can be successfully implemented. ABS-CBN News reports that MMDA spokesperson Tina Velasco expects the following specific benefits coming from the increased use of roundabouts in Metro Manila's intersections:

(1) "smoother in design and very efficient when it comes to two or more intersections in major roads"

(2) "less traffic enforcement needed, [and therefore,] less operational cost"

(3) "no electricity" required, presumably because no traffic lights are usually required in roundabout intersections.

(4) "drives people to be more careful, to slow down and be more responsible" owing to its "symmetrical design"

All true, though there are a few behaviours expected of motorists who use these road features:

(i) Motorists need to understand the concept of right-of-way and how this applies to certain rules one needs to know to negotiate a roundabout safely.

(ii) Motorists need to be assured that fellow motorists they share the road with also appreciate right-of-way concepts and observe the same rules when maneuvering through a roundabout.

In right-lane-forward left-hand-drive road layouts (such as what is in effect in Philippine roads), one primary rule applies when negotiating a roundabout:

Give way to vehicles coming from your left.

The following diagrams illustrate the four main situations one might encounter when using a roundabout, and how the above simple rule applies:

In Figures 1 and 2 (below) the driver in the yellow car stops and waits until a car already in the roundabout coming from the left exits the roundabout.

In the case of Figure 2 (below), the driver of the blue car coming from the opposite direction indicates his intention to turn to his left by using his left-turn indicator light. The driver in the yellow car recognises this and remains stopped until the driver in the blue car exits the roundabout.

In Figure 3 (below), the driver in the yellow car now takes the perspective of the driver in the blue car in Figures 1 and 2. As it enters the roundabout, the yellow car can expect the blue car approaching on the right to stop and wait.

The same can be expected of the blue car in Figure 4 (below) coming from the opposite direction if the yellow car indicates its intention to turn left while in the roundabout.

* * *

The Big Question is:

Are Filipino drivers intelligent enough to drive by the same rules?

The above diagrams and accompanying explanations highlight the importance of rules understood and applied universally and consistently amongst elements interacting in a system. Only then can said system work for us.

Systems are only as good as the individual behaviours of the elements interacting within them. Change a system without changing the fundamental behaviours of the elements it will be applied to and you set yourself up for the same sort of dysfunctional outcome that describes pretty much most of the Philippines -- a nation that is one big result of too many actions uderpinned by very little thinking.


  1. From what I can see, the MMDA's "solution" of resorting to roundabouts is not even the right "system" or solution to look regarding traffic congestion in Manila in the first place.

    Perhaps another system-change would have been the more reasonable one, coming from a more correct understanding of the real problem and thus forming a more accurate underlying philosophy behind the search for solutions.

    As many of us already know, the biggest problem today of Manila's traffic congestion is the sheer volume of private vehicles resulting from the utter lack of viable, efficient, high-capacity public transport alternatives and not that much an issue of how traffic flows.

    Had the underlying philosophy behind any proposed solutions expressed the need to shift private vehicle users to public transport by providing extremely comfortable, attractive, fast, efficient and highly extensive coverage public transport systems (and getting rid of the ugly and anachronistic jeepney), then the system-focused solution that would result from this would in fact work comparably, assuming of course that the solution design was equally well-planned.

    Like it or not, any large-scale solution to any large-scale problem in society always requires a system to be implemented or changed. But it can't just be any system that is adopted. It has got to be the right system.

    Knowing, therefore, what kind of system is the right system requires painstaking analysis of what the true underlying problem really is, forming an accurate paradigm for choosing or crafting the solution, and then lastly, creating the right system-based solution to reflect that paradigm.

    If the analysis on what the real problem is happens to be wrong, then everything else will end up problematic.

    If MMDA thinks that the problem is just a matter of managing intersections properly, when the real problem is too much congestion due to the over-proliferation of vehicles (esp. private ones), then that's why the wrong system - like setting up roundabouts is unfortunately the solution being set up.

    Incidentally, the reason why many Filipino drivers have individual driving behaviors that are dangerous or uncivilized is - like it or not - itself the result of a faulty system.

    That is the system of drivers' examinations and testing before being granted drivers' licenses. If that part were in fact fixed so that only courteous and safe drivers got issued licenses in the first place and non-courteous and chaotic types fail the exams and are thus forced to learn road courtesy and follow all the necessary rules before they finally get their licenses, then the quality of drivers would improve.

    Alas, even the license-issuing system hasn't exactly changed yet and that's why the behaviors of many Filipino drivers, especially jeepney drivers (who often learn to drive very informally in "play-by-ear" fashion) are rather chaotic.

    Key takeaway: Reforming individual behaviors on the society-wide scale always involves a systemic or system-based solution.

    In the end, the MMDA solution does indeed prove to be yet another example of "too many actions underpinned by very little thinking."

  2. The problem of large vehicular volume is the problem at the macro level.

    The scope of the evaluation of the roundabout system as far as the above article goes is quite local and micro in nature. Indeed, I don't even think the MMDA had the macro traffic problem in mind with this whole roundabout solutioneering to begin with.

    A roundabout is actually an efficient and safe way of managing small intersections (in Sydney where roundabouts are a common road element, major intersections are still governed by traffic lights).

    But without an appreciation of the simple rules around the use of roundabouts, a single intersection can be chaotic and even unsafe. A roundabout built in an intersection used by drivers who won't abide by the simple rule of giving way to the left will fail at that localised level.

    Traffic volume is not an issue at the micro level. Even in a system with just three cars in it, a crash or a momentary convolution or turbulence in the system is likely when all three of them are driven by Filipino drivers who lack an ethic of giving way and, as such, muscle their way into the roundabout. A driver who cannot assume that a car approaching from his right (as in Fig.3) will slow down and allow him his right of way will himself slow down.

    The effect of this routine confusion will ripple out across the rest of the road network, much the same way as routine convolusions even in conventional intersections in Manila already emanate the same effect.

    It's kind of like this principle in hydraulics called laminar flow. Fluid moving in a laminar way flows out a pipe more efficiently. But introduce a disturbance in the system and the flow can degenerate into a turbulent and less-efficient flow because the disturbance propagates across the entire flow system.

    The system, in this case, (the diameter of the pipe containing said flow) is the same but the property of the flow determines the throughput (efficiency) of fluid being moved.

  3. the mmda doesn't even have the budget for this. i wonder why it even bothered to announce it.

    i noticed that traffic is also bad in hong kong and bangkok. one would notice though that it is not as chaotic here. motorists there stick to their lanes and no one counterflows.

  4. "not as chaotic as it is here."


    the mmda must be joking! this will not work! it should check how things go at elliptical road in quezon city. and they want to replicate that on a smaller scale?!?

  5. The Tolentino brothers (the MMDA Chairman who was a former Mayor, and his brother the current Mayor) never even solved the traffic in Tagaytay.. How can we expect them to solve the traffic in Metro Manila..

  6. Yes, contrary to how the MMDA pitched it, roundabouts require a bit of money to build and maintain. Most of them have a slightly raised inner concrete circle, require more reenforcement against shear stress due to the larger centrifugal load applied by the vehicles rounding it, and need to have clearer lane marking and signs to give proper guidance to approaching drivers. Add to that the additional training and info campaign required to bring the moronic driving sensibilities of Filipinos up to scratch.

  7. Here are my solutions to the Philippine traffic question:

    1. Impose a Traffic Rules and Regulation elective class for a semester on all 4th year high school students nationwide.

    2. Require a high school diploma for every driver's license applicant.

    3. Professionalize LTO

    Then well see.

  8. whatever the government puts on the road ie. flyovers, underpass, overpass, bridges, road widening, now round abouts, color coding scheme... if there is no discipline and common sense amongst drivers, all of these are useless! a multi-million / billion peso waste!!! it is no wonder why i do not see a "YIELD" sign anymore... i guess 80 - 90% of drivers do NOT understand the word... DRIVER EDUCATION and COMMON SENSE... these don't cost millions... but it is all that motorists actually need... *SKGS*

  9. Round abouts in Manila isn't a revolutionary concept. In fact, Burnham had already strategically sprinkled Manila with these on his urban plan for the city way back in the early 1900s, so forgive me if I find it silly that MMDA is conceptualizing something that has already been thought of many moons ago..

  10. what about four-way stops which can be found in select areas but Filipino drivers are ignorant of what these mean...


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