When I went to UP Diliman, parking was not a problem. Far more students stayed in dormitories or commuted to and from school in those days. And of the few who drove to school, many of them were in car pools. In my case, I was lucky enough to be in such a pool, and there were five to six of us regularly taking the same ride going home to the south.
Nowadays, however, a lot more cars are going through the university and its vicinity. Vehicular traffic is almost always heavy in the areas of UP, Katipunan, Loyola Heights, Balara, Capitol Hills, Ateneo, and Miriam College, even on weekends. More significant intervention, and meaningful infrastructure, are urgently needed to ease the congestion and the pollution.
From the corner of University Avenue and Commonwealth, all the way to UP’s administration building, is a vast open space that I estimate to stretch about 800 meters long and about 150 meters wide. That’s an area that is perhaps bigger than UP Town Center on Katipunan, and maybe about half of UP TechnoHub on Commonwealth Avenue.
The property is right beside the light rail transit now being constructed along Commonwealth Avenue (MRT-7) that will run from North Avenue in Quezon City all the way to San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan. The MRT-7 is planned to have an underground or “depressed” station at University Ave.
I believe the property has big potential, and that it can be developed in a way that it can better serve not only the UP community but the neighboring communities as well. While Commonwealth Ave. is commercial, most of the areas behind the commercial properties are residential. And many of these residents will surely be using the MRT-7 once it operates.
Perhaps UP can convince MRT-7’s developer San Miguel, or Ayala Land — which took on the long-term lease for the commercial development of UP Town Center and UP TechnoHub — to also consider developing the corner of Commonwealth and University Ave. into what can be called the “UP TranspoHub.” The place will primarily be a bus depot and parking facility, and ideally, should be operational by the time MRT-7 starts running.
What I envision is something that can be quickly built, and can be removed just as fast. No permanent structures will be put up. Instead, a vast three- or four-level steel parking can be set up on the property — similar to the steel parking building that Ayala Land had put up at UP Town Center, or the Parkade buildings in Bonifacio Global City.
The first level can be used as a station for electric buses that will run from Commonwealth Ave. all the way to the Katipunan North Entrance of the LRT-2 on Aurora Blvd. The electric buses will go around UP, then Katipunan and UP Town Center, then Miriam College and inside Ateneo, and then onto the LRT-2 station on Aurora. And then it returns to University Ave. via Tandang Sora and Commonwealth, passing TechnoHub along the way.
Of course, the buses must be electric. UP Ikot jeeps as well as diesel buses servicing these areas — maybe UP Katipunan jeeps as well — will all have to go. Only UP residents will be allowed to bring cars into the university via the peripheral roads. But, University Ave., the Academic Oval, and parallel streets will all be car-free, permanently. Old parking lots within the Oval and parallel streets will be redeveloped into “green” areas. UP Diliman will become a “green” zone.
The three-level steel parking will have a bus depot and some shops in the first level, and then pay parking spaces for students and other people in the second and third levels. Teachers and UP staff will have reserved spaces for long-term parking. All UP-bound cars will have to be parked in the building — absolutely no cars on campus except for residents, and only on limited access to and from residences.
Access to the university will be through the electric buses going to designated stops; via bicycles from the parking depot; or, by electric scooters or walking from the parking. Covered walkways along University Ave. will allow students to access buildings even on rainy days. With the oval car-free, these walkways need not be elevated like the ones on Dela Rosa in Makati.
The parking building will also be per-hour pay parking for Diliman residents who wish to leave their cars and take the MRT-7 to Bulacan or to North Avenue, and connect to MRT-3 or LRT-1 to go to Pasay, Manila, or Makati. For those intending to take LRT-2, they can take the electric bus to Katipunan and Aurora Blvd. Those intending to take the P2P bus to Makati City can get off the electric bus at UP Town Center.
An important element of this proposed parking project is that the topmost floor of the parking facility as well as two or three sides of the building will be installed with solar panels. The facility should be made energy self-sufficient, and should have enough power to recharge the electric buses. Any surplus energy can be made available the university for its use.
In line with this initiative, other solar panels can also be put up in other unused open spaces of the university, for self-generation of electricity. All building rooftops should have solar panels. The gymnasium’s roof alone can already carry hundreds of panels that can help generate power for the university.
Depending on the agreement with the developer, UP can earn from the long-term lease of the property and perhaps get a share in the income from the operation of the parking facility and the electric buses; and the rental fees from commercial spaces. Moreover, UP can generate electricity from its own solar panels. In addition, the Diliman Campus becomes a green zone and addresses the issues of congestion and pollution.
And when the long-term lease ends, all the improvements can be retained by UP and it can opt to continue operating the parking/solar facility and the electric buses. Or, the lessee can dismantle everything and return the land to UP, which can opt to use it for other purposes by then. Either way, UP — and the public — lose nothing by moving now to make use of the idle property.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.