September 2014
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Streets of Malabon

I happened to be in Malabon one weekend for a get-together with the wife’s relatives who lived in the area. Malabon is an old town that is often mentioned in history books (i.e., during the Spanish period). Though the name of the town is said to have been derived from the term “ma-labong,” which is short for “maraming labong” or plenty of bamboo shoots, it is likely, too, the place was named after San Francisco de Malabon. Here are a few photos we managed to take as we drove along Malabon’s streets. I was not familiar with the area but Waze and Google maps provided ample information for us to navigate our way around.

IMG09030-20140726-1624 Gen. Luna Street in the Malabon city proper is a one way street. Other streets in the CBD have also been designated as one-way streets as all (and not just a few or most) roads are narrow.

IMG09031-20140726-1624Non-motorized transport are popular in Malabon and you will see a lot of bicycles and pedicabs along the streets. These are usually in mixed traffic and seem to blend quite well with motorized vehicles. This seems to be a good example of practicable road sharing.

IMG09032-20140726-1624While the streets are designated one-way for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedicabs generally travel counterflow and oblivious to the risks of doing so. Still, motorists seem to be okay with this and traffic enforcers do not mind the practice.

IMG09033-20140726-1626There are many people using bicycles and pedicabs in Malabon. Noticeable are the unique designs of sidecars as the bicycles used in the trikes are taller than the usual bikes elsewhere.

IMG09034-20140726-1630One of the narrow side streets in Malabon. I think these should only be used for walking or cycling and motor vehicles (including motorcycles) should not be allowed to use these. Malabon can be developed as a walkable city and since it has narrow streets, traffic circulation needs take into consideration how to effectively use one way scheme or combinations in the network.

Malabon is a flood-prone area. Combined with its narrow streets, the area needs an all weather transport system. Non-motorized transport like bicycles and pedicabs can provide this as well as buses perhaps, though the narrow streets and tight turns at intersections can definitely be tricky for large vehicles. It would be interesting how the city will continue to develop considering the constraints. The town proper itself is challenged in terms of the area available for development and perennial flooding will always be an issue that will be quite difficult to overcome. Still, the city and its citizens persist and have been able to overcome these challenges. It can only be hoped that the city will continue to thrive amidst the challenges.

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Lane discipline

Among many peoples’ pet peeves in traffic would probably be the propensity for lane changing among many drivers and riders. This is especially true for wide multi-lane roads like Commonwealth Ave., Marcos Highway and EDSA. While it can be an understandable behaviour for free flowing traffic along long stretches where weaving can be executed safely, lane changes can be quite risky at intersections and may instantly lead to crashes. These are likely the bases for the swerving violations that the MMDA and other traffic enforcers became notorious for issuing for a time.

We chanced upon a scene at the Commonwealth Ave.-Mindanao Ave. intersection in Novaliches where a car seemed to have attempted to cut in front of a bus in order to make a turn but got hit by the bus. From the angle of the collision, it appears that the driver of the car likely maneuvered for a U-turn and made the critical assumption that he could beat the bus for the turn. It was obvious that the bus was in the right position while the car was not. This is often the case for drivers who do not care for positioning themselves along the correct lanes at intersections and seem to rely on their guile to get ahead of others. Such drivers might just be the same ones who would likely do counter-flows also to get ahead of others queued along the right traffic lanes.

IMG09144-20140803-1104White car attempts to make a U-turn right in front of a bus and gets hit by the bus whose driver likely did not notice the white car sneaking in front of the vehicle.

Lane discipline becomes more important with the revival of traffic signals all around Metro Manila. In addition, it is also important for the appropriate lane markings to be placed at intersection approaches. Such markings are supposed to guide drivers where they should position themselves so that they will not block traffic going in another direction. These can also aid in the enforcement of lane discipline as vehicles on the wrong lanes can be apprehended. This was the case in Cebu City in the 1990s when the city adopted the SCATS traffic signal system, which employed detectors embedded on the pavement along the approaches to intersections. These detectors helped determine whether there is demand for a particular movement (left, through or right) and so requires lane discipline for the system to work effectively. -

Repair C6 now!

The existing roads that comprise what has been designated  as Circumferential Road 6 is an important link that serves as an alternate route for people and goods traveling between the eastern towns of Rizal province and Metro Manila to urban centres in Makati (Ayala CBD) and Taguig (Bonifacio Global City) as well as the southern areas of Metro Manila all the way to Laguna and Cavite. During the last dry season or summer, the roads conditions have been quite good such that travellers from Rizal could easily reach BGC or Makati in less than an hour give and take typical congestion during the peak periods.

The situation has significantly worsened since the onset of the wet season as the pavement quickly deteriorated with the combination of heavy rains and heavy vehicles utilising the road. Highway 2000 from Taytay, Rizal was already in bad condition during the summer so it became only worse once the rains came. However, it is the C6 segment from Pasig to Taguig that has deteriorated and is now in a state of disrepair. Following are photos that show how bad the conditions are and which have led to travel times worsening to more than double than what it should be if the roads were in good condition.

10171274_10152311461081889_7569716475256902561_nSection in Taguig along the shores of Laguna de Bay where even large trucks avoid the deep holes along the road. These situations along C6 constrict traffic everyday.

10703562_10152311461566889_6414876550669679017_nC6 section in Pasig City where what used to be asphalt is now a muddy mess.

10635802_10152311462251889_8405359378178629931_nAnother section in Pasig City where C6 passes through a relocation area (Lupang Arenda) where local traffic affects through traffic and C6 is probably at its narrowest.

The section from Pateros to Taguig was built as a road dike protecting these areas from floods brought about by the increasing level of Laguna de Bay during the wet season. While it is basically a secondary road compared to the other circumferential roads, traffic has significantly increased along C6 due to many people discovering that you can travel faster between Rizal and Makati or BGC via this road. Sadly, there seems to be little or no attention given to its current state.

I understand that the DPWH has a process for determining whether a road needs to be repaired and given limited resources, the agency also applies a process for prioritisation of road repairs (i.e., there are many other roads that also need repairs). However, there should be a way to allocate resources for the repairs of the road and this includes involving the LGUs whose constituents benefit from the use of the road. Rizal province and towns and Pasig City should take the initiative to find ways to improve the conditions along C6. It is also in the interest of Taguig to improve this road as many of its residents use it, too. Hopefully, the road will be repaired sooner rather than later and travel times will improve again. Of course, this should be the case whether or not the proposed C6 expressway is realised.

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The return of traffic signals at Katipunan

It’s been more than a decade since the MMDA implemented what was formally called the Grand Rotunda Scheme. To most, it will always be the U-turn scheme that was implemented all around Metro Manila. After seeing what seemed like success along roads like Commonwealth and Quezon Avenue, it was concluded that the U-turns were the answer to Metro Manila’s traffic woes or at least the part that’s blamed on signalized intersections. The perception by many at the time was that traffic signals were not working and caused so much congestion as evidenced by the long queues at intersections. This is not entirely false as intersections with in-optimal settings would definitely bring about congestion especially along corridors or networks where signals are not coordinated. It was, however, a generalization at a large scale and led to more experiments of opening and closing slots in order to determine which would be the most effective combinations. These experiments and their outcomes include drivers becoming more aggressive in order to maneuver ahead of others at the U-turn slots. Weaving has become the norm and in many cases have increased the risk of road crashes.

IMG09196-20140901-0625Traffic signals have been installed and the section of the median island has been removed across Ateneo’s Gate 3. This will become a three-leg intersections once again but I hope the signals will not favor Ateneo over through traffic along C5.

IMG09197-20140901-1339Traffic lights are already installed along the southbound side of Katipunan at the approach to the junction with Miriam College’s Main Gate. This will be a four-leg intersection as across Miriam is B. Gonzales Street that connects to Esteban Abada.

The signals are supposed to be operational starting September 13, which is a Saturday. Perhaps this is to try it out first during that weekend and for the MMDA to do some tweaks before the real deal that is traffic on Monday. But then how can you simulate traffic generated by the two schools in the area except maybe if there is significant enough traffic on Saturday? Did the MMDA or its consultants do some simulation using their computers and the VISSIM software they acquired many years ago? Or will we see more of the experiments as signals are fine-tuned according to the conditions along Katipunan?

We are hopeful that the signals along Katipunan will help improve the traffic along this very busy corridor. The results for sections of C5 from Libis (QC) to Ugong (Pasig) are promising and many people I know have told me that traffic has improved. Of course, this may also be partly due to the one-lane policy the MMDA has implemented for trucks. It’s never just one scheme or measure that will work wonders for Metro Manila traffic. It will always be a combination that will alleviate traffic woes in the metropolis. We’ll soon know what will become of traffic along Katipunan. We should, however, temper expectations at least for the 6:30 – 7:30 AM period during weekdays when traffic peaks in the vicinity of Ateneo and Miriam. The sheer volume of vehicles generated by the schools will overwhelm any system that is put up in the area. Nevertheless, for the rest of the day at least traffic flow should improve when signals are operational once again for Katipunan.

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Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

In a previous article, I had written about the Urban Transport Study for the Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA), which was completed in 1973 and proposed, among others, a rapid rail transit network for Metro Manila. The government proceeded to undertake a feasibility study for the first line of that network almost immediately afterwards. However, something happened a few years later that effectively contradicted UTSMMA’s recommendations and, from what the documents available to us now suggest, effectively doomed the future of transport in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) was implemented from January 1976 to February 1977. It was apparently commissioned by the Philippine Government, which commissioned the precursor of Halcrow Fox to do the study with a steering group comprised of senior government official dealing with transport at the time.

IMG09218-20140904-1013

 

 

The MMETROPLAN project team is shown in the photo below. Note the inclusion of some familiar names particularly from the DPWH and DOTC who were then with what was the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (DPWTC) and Department of Public Highways (DPH) before these were reorganised. Note, too, a familiar name under Planning, who is very much active today with his own advocacies.

IMG09219-20140904-1015

The study is more expansive in terms of scope as it included components on land use and development planning for Metro Manila. It identified three main strategies to address issues on traffic congestion and public transport requirements, namely:

  • Cordon pricing,
  • Bus lanes, and
  • LRT

Short-term recommendations focused on bus and jeepney operations, recommending that:

  • Standard buses (non-airconditioned) be designed for more standing passengers and charge a fare affordable by the poor;
  • Premium buses (including Love Bus) be designed for seated passengers and charge a higher fare; this may be used to cross-subsidize Standard bus operations;
  • Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) bus operations should not be further expanded:
    • MMTC buses should operate missionary routes, which are generally unprofitable routes.
    • There should be no arbitrary exemption on franchises like in the case of MMTC.
  • In reference to private bus companies, the project states that “properly regulated competition” provides best course of action for the foreseeable future;
  • Jeepneys are suited for low demand but high frequency service

MMETROPLAN also touched on the route structure for road public transport. However, its most far-reaching recommendations on road public transport concern the issuance of franchises for buses and jeepneys. The study recommended that franchises should be issued for a period of a few years instead of 25 years and to define a minimum LOS. The study cautioned against arbitrary restrictions on franchises for buses at the time while mentioning that there were already restrictions for jeepneys. MMETROPLAN further recommended the encouraging of small operators for both jeepneys and buses.

However, MMETROPLAN deviated from the recommendations of UTSMMA in that it struck down the proposal and plans for the Rapid Transit Rail (RTR) network for Metro Manila. The long-term recommendations and conclusions of the study show these and one particular recommendation that probably doomed heavy rail transport and the RTR network is quoted below:

“Heavy Rapid Transit (HRT) would provide public transport passengers with much faster journey, but by 1990 would attract only 2.5% of motorists and would have negligible impact on traffic congestion. Partly because of this and partly because of its very high capital cost, it would be hopelessly uneconomic: the annualized capital costs would be higher than the estimated benefits in 1990…passenger flows are not high enough to exploit its full capacity…and the large savings in time for public transport passengers are not given a high value in Manila, and are not high enough to persuade motorists to change mode.

These results are conclusive, and are unlikely to be changed by any circumstances or reasonable assumptions…it is clear that any other fully segregated public transport system, whether light rail or busway, would also be uneconomic. As such systems would require the appropriation of most, if not all, of the available funds for all transport (including highways) in Metro Manila for the foreseeable future, and as there is not other rationale for their implementation, they have been rejected from further consideration.” (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

The study also did not have good words for the PNR as it concluded that its “routes related poorly to the major demands for movement” and that it would be expensive to improve the PNR at the time. PNR costs were compared to buses and jeepneys with the further concluded that these road transport modes are preferred over an upgraded PNR.

MMETROPLAN assessed the LRT vs. the Monorail in the context of cordon pricing and bus lane strategies. While the monorail was dismissed for reasons that included few monorail systems operating at the time, the study recommended for an LRT along Rizal Avenue, which was considered feasible. These conclusions and recommendations by MMETROPLAN would eventually have far-reaching impacts on Metro Manila’s transport system and the study would be among the most cited in discussions and future planning where land use and transport are discussed in the same light.

For land use planning, the report also provides us with a history of land use planning for Metro Manila, which we can now compare with what actually happened. That is, if the plans made back in the 1970’s were actually implemented and to what extent were they realised. Many of these plans remain controversial to this day and are often invoked whenever there is talk about the perennial flooding and the spectre of earthquakes threatening much of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas in addition to other issues like the transport and traffic problems experienced around what has become a megalopolis.

[Reference: MMETROPLAN, 1977 - NCTS Library]

But what could have  influenced the MMETROPLAN study team and government officials to debunk UTSMMA? Why the “about-face” for something that seems to be the JICA Dream Plan circa 1970’s? UTSMMA and the rail rapid transit network, after all, was the product of a vision for future Metropolitan Manila transport by  a visionary professor from the University of Tokyo – one Dr. Takashi Inouye of that university’s Department of Urban Engineering. I think the next article will provide us with the answers to these questions regarding the turnaround. Abangan!

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Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973)

With the recent approval of JICA’s Dream Plan for Mega Manila, I thought it was timely to look back at similar plans developed for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. At the time these plans were made, I guess they were all regarded as “dream plans” in their own ways. Let us start with what is probably the original dream plan, the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973). The project was implemented from March 1971 to September 1973 with the assistance of the Government of Japan’s Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (OTCA), the precursor of today’s Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Being the first comprehensive study for a metropolitan area that was yet to be formally consolidated and called Metro Manila, UTSMMA set the stage for future transport studies for the metropolis. Among the study’s main recommendations is one proposing for a mass transit system restricted to railways. A Rapid Transit Railway (RTR) network was recommended in the form of subways in the inner area bound by EDSA, and elevated in the suburban areas. Brief descriptions of the proposed lines are as follows:

  • Line 1 (27.1 km) – from Construction Hill to Talon via central Quezon Boulevard, Manila downtown and the International Airport
  • Line 2 (36.0 km) – from Novaliches to Cainta via Manila downtown and Pasig
  • Line 3 (24.3 km) – Along Highway 54 (C-4): half a circle route about 12 km from Manila downtown
  • Line 4 (30.1 km) – From Marikina to Zapote via Cubao, Manila downtown and the Manila Bay area
  • Line 5 (17.6 km) – From Meycauayan to Manila downtown running between Line No. 2 and PNR
  • PNR improvement (56.4 km) – From Bocaue to Muntinglupa via Tutuban Station

The following that was posted here before in another article shows a map illustrating the recommended RTR network for the Manila Metropolitan area. (Note that the map was enhanced from the original black and white to clearly show the proposed lines back then.) MM RTR map2 UTSMMA also recognized the important roles of buses and jeepneys in the future, and recommended that these be used for feeder services once the rail systems have been constructed and operational. As a result of the study, a Feasibility Study for the Manila Rapid Transit Railway Line No. 1 was conducted and completed in June 1976. The study, which was supported by JICA, noted that “the implementation should be initiated immediately” in light of the estimated heavy traffic demand along the corridor. This project could have been the first major transport project for Metro Manila if it had been implemented. Unfortunately, despite a favorable assessment in this study, the proposed RTR Line 1 was not implemented after a contrary assessment by a subsequent study, MMETROPLAN, which is discussed in the succeeding section of this report. The estimated costs of construction of recommended transport infrastructure were provided in the Final Report of the study including indicative costs and benefits of proposed urban expressways and urban rapid transit railways. [Reference: UTSMMA, 1973 - NCTS Library] Whenever I go back to UTSMMA and the network of proposed railway lines, I can’t help but wonder what could have been one of the more efficient transport systems in Asia or even in the world. What happened? Why was this plan not realised? The answer may be found in the next big study conducted for Metro Manila that also included in much detail its land use and development plans. Next: MMETROPLAN, 1977 -

Tutok – tailgating

A common practice of motorists along Philippine roads is tailgating. This is not only common in congested traffic, when vehicles are practically “bumper-to-bumper,” but also in free flowing traffic where drivers or riders tailgate for a number of reasons (e.g., to put pressure on the one ahead of them, to display skills in following closely behind another vehicle, etc.), all of which are dumb. There is always the risk that the driver or rider of the vehicle in front will brake to slow down or stop and the driver/rider of the vehicle behind will not be able to brake in time to hit (rear-end) the one ahead. Both time (reaction, headway) and space (distance between vehicles) are factors here as driver or rider reaction times vary and will affect the outcome of the chain of events should the leading vehicles suddenly slow down for any reason.

IMG09158-20140815-0835A passenger can only scratch her head as she tries to get back her fare from the conductor after alighting from a jeepney involved in a collision with another vehicle. Meanwhile, the driver of an owner-type jeepney inspects the damage to his vehicle as the driver of the jeepney that hit him looks on.

I was just explaining about Stopping Sight Distance (SSD) to a class of senior students and SSD very much applies to tailgating. Given varying traffic conditions along the roads, tailgating compromises the safe distance between vehicles and therefore too often leads to situations that lead to road crashes. Rear-end collisions in turn often lead to traffic congestion and raise the costs brought about by such incidents. In most cases, this happens because authorities are unable or incapable of managing the aftermath of the incidents where parties involved often argue in the middle of the road without regard for other road users plights. These cases need to be resolved quickly and efficiently in order to remove these obstacles from the road.

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