December 2014
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Conditioning

Was traffic really bad yesterday, Dec. 21, or was it typical Friday traffic? A lot of people have been talking or posting about how traffic last Friday was expected to be the worst of the year. Apparently, it was not.

Based on posts on my social media accounts yesterday, it seems that traffic was not at all that bad in many parts of Metro Manila, especially along roads that were expected to be hellish in terms of congestion. One post stated that it him only an hour to travel from Ayala to Trinoma by bus. People usually post about really bad experiences about traffic congestion and this crowd-sourcing approach is usually very reliable. I went home early yesterday and it didn’t take me long to travel between stops for errands I had to do along the way home. Media also would have reported about terrible congestion along major roads including EDSA, C5 and the expressways.

Statements like what the MMDA made prior to Dec. 21 are typical of a psychological approach that some agencies seem to have been resorting to in order to manage people’s expectations and perceptions. Conditioning people’s minds is not a new strategy or tactic. The MMDA has been doing this a lot for as long as I can remember, including during the stint of its former chair Bayani Fernando. Many if not most of these “conditioning” activities are done through media with the agency making statements through its officials about issues such as traffic, garbage and flooding. This is no different to the perception of one agency making frequent “power point presentations” (a reference to projects involving the private sector) to announce much delayed projects supposedly for immediate implementation.

One opinion is that this is a form of damage control. People will usually have strong opinions about what government is doing to address issues like congestion. For people not react too strongly against agencies that are supposed to be responsible for the problem, the same agencies have anticipated and preempted the manifestation of their ineptness by stating the obvious ahead of its occurrence. This would not have been necessary if the agencies did what they were supposed to do in the first place. Hopefully, in the near future such conditioning and other psychological tactics will indeed not be necessary once programs and projects are finally implemented and help alleviate or solve problems.

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The worst traffic of the year on Dec. 19?

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) issued a statement a couple of days ago in reaction to comments online and offline about how transport and traffic have gone from bad to worse in December and especially in the past week. The agency warned people about the worst traffic congestion of the year happening today, December 19, and media immediately branded it as traffic armageddon. Reactions on social media varied from the hostile, desperate, to resignation about their plight for their commute today.

The worsening congestion this time of year is actually part of a pattern, a cycle of ups and downs in terms of person, freight and vehicular traffic. In our case in the Philippines, we usually expect traffic to be bad during certain times of the year and in many cases along specific routes or roads. During the Undas period (All Saints and All Souls holidays), for example, we expect congestion along the expressways and other major roads connecting Metro Manila to the provinces to its north, east and south. During the first days of classes around June (for most schools), it is also expected that congestion will be severe along roads leading to and in the vicinity of schools, especially the big private schools that generate a lot of private vehicle traffic.

December is usually the worst month for traffic because of the increase in economic activity this time of year as people travel more like to earn a bit more income and for shopping. The end of the year also brings about a lot of culminating or concluding activities for offices and even schools so trip generation tends to increase for all types of trips. However, traffic has naturally increased every year and this refers to person, freight and, consequently, vehicle traffic. And so it is inevitable that transport and traffic becomes worse every year unless a major intervention is made in the form of a mass transit system along a specific corridor.

I am not sure if the MMDA or the DPWH keeps records of daily traffic so that we can have a quantitative basis for this. The LRTA and MRTC should have data on this based on ticket sales and the tollway operators would also have data on this based on their toll collections. Such information can provide a strong indication of which dates are the most likely for severe traffic congestion and perhaps allow for prediction and the provision of ample advice for commuters.

Will today be worse than the past few days and will it be the worst day of the year in terms of traffic? Or will Dec. 22, 23 or even 24 turn out to be worse than today’s traffic? Perhaps the statement from the MMDA is a way of psyching people about what could be the worst traffic of the year. This application of psychology may make people more aware of and therefore conscious about traveling today. This may actually lead to less traffic to the relief of many people. Or this may be a way for the MMDA to escape from blame considering they did make the statement ahead of today and this manner of “I told you so” basically excuses them from the public’s ire.

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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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