December 2014
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Research agenda and topic selection

A friend asked me how topics for research are selected by our students. Were these assigned to them or were they able to select from a list of topics provided to them? The answer is actually “either” or in some cases, “both.” We provide a list of topics to our students and they get to select the topics. Some topics are quite popular so we ask students to state their first and second choices, and then ask faculty advisers to discuss the topics with the students to determine the specifics as well as whether groups can be composed to tackle certain topics.

The Institute of Civil Engineering’s six groups (Construction Engineering & Management, Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation, and Water Resources) all have their own research agenda, which are typically classified for the short, medium and long terms, as well as for the main and sub-topics each group has identified. The agenda are regularly updated, at least once a year prior to the start of the academic year.

The current research agenda of the Transportation Engineering Group (TEG) includes topics under the following general headings:

  • Traffic Engineering and Management/ Traffic Flow
  • Public Transport Planning and Travel Demand Management
  • Road Safety and Maintenance
  • Transport, Environment and Energy
  • Rail, Aviation and Maritime Transport
  • Transportation and Technology
  • Transport Logistics

The specific research topics under each category change according to several factors including the current researches being undertaken by faculty members. There is also a strong influence from the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) program supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The TEG is also strongly associated with the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) and researches have been supported by NCTS projects. In recent years, there has been a lot of topics dealing with issues at and around the University of the Philippines Diliman campus including studies on public transport (e.g., UP – Katipunan jeepneys, UP – North EDSA jeepneys, etc.) and traffic along major roads (e.g., Commonwealth Avenue, Katipunan Avenue, etc.). These studies are part of initiatives to help address “local” issues. The logic here is that if we cannot solve such “local” problems then we have no business trying to solve problems elsewhere. This is also part of the thinking of UP as a microcosm of the Philippines.

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NAIA Terminal 4 arrival

I was among those initially wondering about which terminal at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was being referred to as T4. I already suspected that this might be the term coined for the old Manila Domestic Terminal that was the airport of my childhood days (aside from the old Mandurriao Airport in Iloilo City). The last time I used this terminal was in mid-1996 on a trip to Cebu and prior to my study leave abroad. That was more than 18 years ago so when I had the chance to use Terminal 4 again, I decided to go for it. Following are photos I managed to get of T4 as I arrived from Puerto Princesa via Tiger Air, which was operated by Cebu Pacific but used the old domestic terminal in and out of Manila.

IMG09723-20141122-1658Ground staff preparing to position the stairs for deplaning passengers.

IMG09724-20141122-1659 Air Asia Zest aircraft parked in front of the terminal – there are basically two liveries currently in use, the old Zest Air design and the Air Asia design. Air Asia acquired the majority for the airline from Zest Air not too long ago.IMG09725-20141122-1702Airport ground personnel stand around to guide passengers towards the arrival area. Unlike other airports, they are more active in asking passengers not to loiter in the tarmac for photo opportunities.

IMG09726-20141122-1702Another look at the Air Asia Zest planes still in their old livery

IMG09727-20141122-1703We had to walk a bit around the terminal building to get to the arrival area. We had to enter the terminal through a side entrance instead of what looked like the more formal entrance to the arrival area.

IMG09728-20141122-1704Baggage claim area – it looked like they refurbished this area, which brought back memories of the same area I’d seen after arriving from domestic trips (mostly from Iloilo).

IMG09729-20141122-1704Exit from the arrival area leading to the driveway.

IMG09730-20141122-1704Tourists waiting for their checked-in baggage

IMG09731-20141122-1706Information board for arriving flights at Terminal 4

IMG09732-20141122-1706Terminal 4 also serves international flights as can be deduced from the signs and the arrival from Kuala Lumpur shown in the info board in the previous photo. These are flights operated by Air Asia, which is the leading budget airlines in the world.

IMG09733-20141122-1707Busy driveway with drivers picking up or unloading passengers at the airport. I remember this area swarmed with porters back in the day when baggage included a lot of boxes and other stuff people carried to Manila from provincial trips. I still remember one trip by myself during my college days when a porter offered his help with my bags. I didn’t have money to tip him so I told him I could manage (I obviously could not.) but then he helped me anyway, quipping “libre naman iyan” (that’s all free) – a good lesson in humility for me, which I always recall in similar situations.

IMG09734-20141122-1709There is a covered waiting area for well-wishers across from the arrival area exit.

IMG09735-20141122-1711A view of the Terminal 4 driveway as we drove out to go home.

 

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No PAGASA? No problem!

I interrupt the transport theme of this site with something about the weather, which actually affects transport and traffic. Rains have resulted in flooded streets and lead to severe traffic congestion. Meanwhile, typhoons have always disrupted travel with airlines forced to cancel flights and maritime operations put on hold. Those braving the weather risk frightening turbulence or rough seas, hopefully not leading to air crashes or capsizing vessels.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website has been down the past two days at a time people are anxious on information about a typhoon affecting the country with potentially catastrophic outcomes. The Philippines’ weather bureau has put up an alternative site to provide information on the approaching typhoon. Ruby (International name: Hagupit) had developed into a super typhoon yesterday and its Category 5 attributes reminded people about how destructive such forces of nature can be barely more than a year after Yolanda (Haiyan) lay waste several provinces. It seemed that the international name of the typhoon itself was apt for its potential. “Hagupit” is Pilipino for “to lash,” and it would seem to be something like a scourge of God if the typhoon were to make landfall like Haiyan last year.
I have not been too dependent on the PAGASA site despite all the information it provides including real time information on the water levels of major rivers in Metro Manila. I take exception of DOST’s NOAH project, which to me is technically not PAGASA and very useful for their Doppler data and visualization. Two websites that I highly recommend to people for information on the weather are the following:
For those interested in modeling and the forecasting of typhoons from their formative stages the website by the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US is a very interesting site.
Following are sample visuals from the three sites I mentioned, which can be good references for the weather. I highly recommend Wunderground, which also has an app for your smartphone, for daily or even hourly weather information.
JTWC’s latest information on Hagupit

Wunderground’s latest 5-day forecast for Hagupit

NOAA storm tracks showing current and potential weather systems in the Western Pacific

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The engineering blame game and a need for some re-education

A prominent architect was always posting on his social media account about how much of what’s wrong with our infrastructure (especially transport-related) are due to engineers. It was a sad commentary particularly because he wasn’t mentioning anything about the involvement and responsibility of architects in the planning and design of infrastructure. For most projects that fall under the category of ‘planned development’ including mixed use developments like the Eastwoods, BGCs, Nuvalis, MOAs, and other similar projects are planned and designed mainly by a team of architects. Highways and streets are part of these projects and often, engineers are given the task of detailing and in certain cases, analyzing and ending up with the responsibility to justify designs provided to them. So for those types of projects funded or led by the private sector, its probably the architects who have much say in the plans and designs and who should be scrutinized for their shortcomings in as far as sustainable or “green” criteria are involved.

It is a whole different story, however, for public roads, especially those that are classified as national roads. The reality is that many DPWH engineers need to re-tool, learn and practice principles of sustainable infrastructure design. This includes incorporating green or environment-friendly design principles, which includes consideration of the landscape. We met some DPWH engineers in one seminar before on sustainable transport who thought environmentally sustainable transport (EST) was simply environmental impact assessment (EIA) and who proudly claimed they already knew about the topic. I think many engineers and planners in government need to unlearn many things and dissociate their minds from a lot of what they have come to accept as standard, acceptable or correct that are actually sub-par, archaic or flawed. Kapag nakasanayan na at matagal nang ginagawa o ginagamit ay napagkakamalang tama at angkop kahit na sa katotohanan ay hindi.

A good appreciation of history and heritage also appear to be scarce these days whenever the DPWH is involved. Proof of this are the road widening projects in Leyte and Iloilo that now threaten many ancestral houses that are located along the national roads. Many contend that road widening is unnecessary because congestion has not set in along many of the sections that have been widened or are candidates for such projects. It can be seen along many widened roads along Tarlac and Pangasinan, for example, that the problem is not really congestion but poor enforcement of transport and traffic regulations. Such include tricycle operations, roadside parking, and encroachments on the road right of way (RROW).

In most cases its pure and simple analysis that needs to be conducted first. Are roads really congested and requiring additional lanes? The evidence does not seem to support many cases of road widening as data on congestion from the DPWH Atlas itself requires validation on the ground. A recent World Bank study, for example, found that for many national road sections reported as congested in the Atlas, the opposite is true when validated on the ground. Such issues with data that are used as basis for decisions whether sections need to be widened are serious and lead to a waste of funds as well as negative impacts on heritage or historical structures.

The DPWH still needs to do some re-inventing and should actually take the lead in many initiatives. Among these are those pertaining to what are being referred to as “complete streets.” Last week, there was an article in newspapers where the DENR called for pedestrian and bike lanes along roads. The call was not specific to national or local roads but it is something that the DPWH should have already anticipated and working at for roads under it jurisdiction given the outcomes of the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) project that covered several thousand kilometers of national roads that pointed to the need to improve roads to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. It is a matter of having progressive or dynamic rather than reactive or static stance at the DPWH and this requires more than just the rudimentary engineering background for the agency to take road planning, design and construction to another level.

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What’s wrong with Marcos Highway?

Traffic along the eastbound direction of Marcos Highway in the late afternoons to evenings have worsened particularly for the section stretching from Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City to Imelda Avenue in Cainta. It takes me at least 45 minutes just to traverse that section and then just under 30 minutes the rest of the way to my home in Antipolo. In addition, there is the traffic along Katipunan, which can be quite unpredictable despite the traffic signals now installed at two major intersections near Ateneo and Miriam. The congestion along Marcos Highway is usually due to several factors:

  • Rush hour(s) traffic – the sheer number of vehicles during the afternoon/evening peak is enough to cause traffic congestion along Marcos Highway. This is no longer for an hour but for a period usually spanning about 4 hours (5 to 9 PM). It’s become so bad that I am no longer surprised when I go home late some nights to find out it’s still congested at certain points (usually Santolan and Ligaya) past 9 PM.
  • People occupying the road – commuters waiting for a ride along Santolan, Ligaya and Metro East/Sta.Lucia often occupy not just one but 2 to 3 lanes of Marcos Highway. This drastically reduces road capacity. For some reason, the MMDA and LGU traffic enforcers could not persuade them to clear the carriageway or at least encroach only on the outermost lane.
  • Errant road public transport – loading and unloading operations of jeepneys and UV express happen in the middle of the road. This is partly due to the fact that people already occupy 1 to 3 of the outermost lanes of the road. It is also partly due to driver behaviour as many PUV drivers are unruly. These are also maybe because the enforcers are not doing their jobs managing traffic and apprehending those violating rules and regulations whether driver or pedestrian.
  • Major trip generators – there are already 4 malls along Marcos Highway (SM Marikina, Robinsons Metro East, Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall, and SM Masinag) and a 5th is already under way with Ayala constructing a mall at Ligaya. These will attract and produce significant traffic with vehicles generally contributing to congestion in the direct vicinity of the malls but spreading along all major roads. Unfortunately, Marcos Highway is one if not the only access road that these malls have.

A lot of people using their own vehicles live in areas served by Marcos Highway including those beyond Masinag and Cogeo. There are so many subdivisions and other residential areas in these parts east of Metro Manila that vehicles from these residential areas alone can cause sever congestion at Masinag Junction. But this should not come as a surprise given that there is no efficient mass transport system in these areas, which are served primarily by jeepneys and tricycles. Obviously, the quality of service of existing road public transport encourages people to get their own vehicle. And obviously, too, the solution is in a project that is considered “bitin” – LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan. The extension project has long been delayed and could have a significant impact on transport and traffic once it is constructed and becomes operational.

The past two weeks, I have proceeded to take C-5 and turned to Ortigas Avenue Extension on my way home. Surprisingly, traffic has not been bad at Cainta junction and I have only occasionally encountered congestion at the section in front of the BF Metals plant where jeepneys turning around tend to block traffic during their maneuvers. I estimate that I average just under an hour on this route, a savings of 30+ minutes from my original home-bound route via Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway. I figure that I will most likely keep using this route as traffic will continue to worsen along Marcos Highway in the run-up to Christmas.

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Some questions on a gloomy Saturday morning

On gloomy Saturdays like today, I often tend to sort of contemplate on some questions coming from events and articles the past few days. I don’t really want to answer these questions right now and immediately but would rather let these and the follow-ups play around in my mind. I would rather not do some shout outs on social media about these questions as some friends tend to be sensitive and I don’t really want to make a lot of effort carefully framing posts on FB just so they won’t appear to be offending certain persons who might be over-zealous about their advocacies or who would be so defensive of their organizations. Here are some questions running around in my brain right now:

1. Does DENR have the mandate to require sidewalks and bikeways along all roads? Design and implementation-wise, isn’t this supposed to be under the DPWH (for national roads) and the LGUs (for local roads)? Is this more a policy statement? But then shouldn’t this come from DOTC?

2. Is going out of your way really the way to get noticed and be awarded? Are there no points for people doing a great job at what they are supposed to be doing?

3. Shouldn’t an agency first check if they are doing what they are supposed to do and the outcomes reflect their objectives? Are emissions testings and monitoring successful or do we still have a lot of smoke-belchers on our roads? If they already have their hands full with their tasks according to their mandate, shouldn’t they first mind their business before even encroaching into another agency’s tasks?

4. Does media have to give so much airtime to a driver of a luxury vehicle who assaulted a traffic enforcer?

5. Why does it seem to be so much fuzz about Uber? Is it just on social media? Do most other commuters give a damn about it when they really can’t afford availing such services?

6. Are government engineers bereft of an appreciation for the arts, culture and heritage? Are they too mechanical or dumb to understand what planning and design really is all about?

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“Unsung heroes” for sustainable transport in the Philippines

A “Bayanihan sa Daan” is being held today at Malacanan. It is supposed to be a recognition of sorts for organisations, local governments and individuals who have contributed or advocated for people-friendly (i.e., pedestrians and bicyclists) roads and cities in the Philippines. I am glad to see some cities that we have assisted or advised being recognised as well as organisations that we have collaborated with who are present at the event. Unlike them, we were not invited to the event nor have we been recognised by the current administration for our efforts in promoting sustainable transport. Perhaps it is because it is a given in our center’s mandate and the recognition is really for those who went out of their way to initiate, promote or implement programs and projects for people-friendly transport.

There are names I could mention in our organization who have done a lot for sustainable transport in general, whose works in more than a decade have helped increase awareness on environmentally sustainable transport (EST) among national agencies and local governments and have spawned. They have conducted so many workshops, seminars and consultations with agencies like the DOTC, DPWH, DENR and MMDA, and LGUs including all Metro Manila cities and municipalities, Cebu City, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, Baguio City, Iloilo City and others. These were done at a time when these entities had little knowledge of sustainable transport and international agencies were uncertain about whether they should engage and who they should engage for EST and related initiatives.

I defer from naming these responsible and progressive people as I know they would prefer to remain rather anonymous but working effectively to realize sustainable transport in the Philippines. I do know they are selfless and tireless in their advocacies for sustainable transport unlike others who seem to be on-board because of the bandwagon or because it is fashionable to do so. There are those, too, who seem to be in it for the past many years but are actually only hangers-on and interested more in the funding and not in coming up with sustainable transport systems. I hope that these sustainable transport initiatives can themselves be sustained. It’s one thing to be loud about your advocacies and appear as a hardcore proponent without actually having any results to show, and another to be a silent worker whose works actually formed the foundation for current initiatives and continue to work behind the scenes to implement EST in the Philippine setting.

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