"What is the science behind these installations?"
The Metro Manila Development Authority is fond of using concrete barriers as a way of enforcing driver discipline. This scheme forces drivers to stay on their lanes. As a consequence, the frequency of traffic accidents involving concrete barriers have been on the rise, resulting in injuries and sometimes even death to motorists.
The usual reaction coming from MMDA traffic authorities to complaints of the danger of concrete barriers is to blame it on the discipline of drivers. MMDA also says this is a result of a thorough study by the agency.
But what is actually the science on concrete barriers being installed on roads? What I know is that we are the only country using concrete barriers the way we do. No other country is doing it because it is very dangerous to motorists. For those of us who have travelled to other countries, we do not see concrete barriers in roads of any major metropolitan city. Plastic barriers are normally used. But even the use of plastic barriers in other countries is only for specific purposes and only for short durations – like a temporary rerouting.
MMDA, on the other hand, uses empty plastic barriers as separators in roads like EDSA more or less on a permanent basis. The result is that these barriers which are not filled with water are often misaligned because of vehicle contact. Since the barriers are not put back in place right away, they obstruct traffic. Plastic barriers filled with water as separators can also do the job with the added benefit of not causing serious injuries or death to motorists.
It is obvious however, that MMDA prefers concrete barriers because it is feared by motorists. Drivers would always try to avoid the concrete barriers due to what can happen to them and their vehicles if there is contact. In many countries around the world, local authorities using concrete barriers can be sued for damages if a motorist is seriously injured or dies in a traffic accident involving concrete barriers especially if there are no warning signs or sufficient lighting.
It is somewhat surprising therefore, that we have not yet heard or seen any motorist suing the MMDA for causing an accident due to the concrete barriers. It would be interesting to see what the courts will say about the practice. One of the important objectives of traffic management is to try to promote traffic safety and not contribute to accidents. We know that in any given year, tens of thousands of traffic accidents, resulting in serious injuries and death to many people, occur.
In 2018 alone, about 10,700 people were killed due to traffic accidents. In EDSA alone, about 40 traffic accidents are reported every day. And we should expect more as Filipinos continue their romance with motor vehicles. When people drive motor vehicles, accidents do happen with or without concrete barriers. It is a fact of life.
The idea is not to add to the problem. The best solution therefore is for traffic authorities to find ways to do a better job in traffic enforcement, education, and practice accepted standards of highway engineering. As I have often written in the past, the use of barriers of any kind together with the fences that are put along EDSA and others parts of the Metro area is just a manifestation of the inability of our traffic authorities to get drivers to follow traffic regulations. Driving culture, discipline and practices can differ in every country.
But there are driving and engineering standards that are followed universally. For example, speed limits can differ from country to country but the standard width of a one lane road is usually the same in the Philippines as in Japan. It is very doubtful whether MMDA will ever change its attitude about concrete barriers unless ordered by the courts. Nonetheless, MMDA or DOTr should try to follow internationally accepted traffic standards. It is the right thing to do and I am not trying to minimize the kind of problems that MMDA traffic authorities are facing every day.
Concrete barriers are dangerous to motorists and should not be used as road separators or barricades. MMDA must know that even disciplined and careful drivers can get involve in vehicular accidents. Water filled plastic barriers which are less lethal should replace concrete barriers. As great as the traffic problems are, the MMDA should put more value to human life above any other consideration.