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November 2021
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Vaccines for road safety

If there is the current vaccination drive vs. Covid-19, there is also something like this for road safety. The International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) developed many tools and resources to address road safety issues. I am sharing the link to the Vaccines for Roads site of iRAP here:

Because Every Life Counts

It is always good to know about these resources whether you are a practitioner, a researcher. a teacher or perhaps an advocate of road safety. There are many examples here of interventions for various scenarios or conditions that will hopefully lead to safer roads for all.

TSSP 2021 [27th Annual Conference]

The Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) held its 27th Annual Conference last November 19, 2021. Here are the poster and program for the conference:

Poster promoting the conference
The morning part of the conference mainly featured a roundtable discussion.
The afternoon part of the program included 4 technical sessions arranged into 2 parallel sessions.

I initially intended to write about the conference before it was held but things got pretty busy last week so this is a post conference write-up. The organizers also announced the final program late (i.e., just a few days before the conference proper) so it seemed sort of anti climactic to post about it. Nevertheless, the conference proceeded as planned and the TSSP has announced it will be posting the proceedings on their official website. It is not yet there but here’s a link to the TSSP official website: http://ncts.upd.edu.ph/tssp/

On preserving railways – an example in Bulgaria

Here’s a quick share of an article about saving Bulgaria’s last narrow gauge railroad:

The article is relevant as it discusses the plight of railways amidst shrinking ridership and escalating costs of operations and maintenance. The railways in the article is not a isolated case. It is quite common for many railway systems. The difference of this example from another similar service like those in Japan is that Japan Railways or private companies can probably absorb the costs and maintain the line not just as a service but to show their commitment. Historically, there are many railway lines, branches if you prefer, of the Manila Rail Road Company (later the Philippine National Railways) that had to be discontinued due in part to a combination of diminished ridership and escalating O&M costs. The Main Line South, for example, had several branches including an extension from Albay to Sorsogon that had to be discontinued. Nowadays though, the topic should also be considered as the railways in the country is being expanded again. There is still the issue of ridership and this will always be in competition with road-based transport as well as aviation.

Is it really a golden age for railways in the Philippines? Or is it just a great catch-up?

The government and many railway fans in the Philippines have dubbed the construction and rehabilitation of railway lines as a “golden age of railways in the Philippines.” Many, especially those who have aspired for railway development in the country agree with this monicker.

But is it really a golden age or are we just playing catch-up due to the backlog of railway projects in the country? Rehabilitation, after all, means there was a period of deterioration, even neglect by the government (i.e., across several administrations starting from Marcos) that led to poor or discontinued services.

A “golden age” is defined as “a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished.” Indeed, by definition we can qualify the current one as such but let me point out the facts from history that railways development in the country (both long distance and urban transit) started in the late 1800s before the revolution that led to declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in 1898, and while many of our revolutionary leaders were abroad, mainly in Europe where I’m sure they took the trains and trams to move about. Here’s a link to the website developed by a research program in the University of the Philippines that focused on mass transit development in what is now the Metro Manila area:

Website for the UP-EIDR program on railways development in Metro Manila

Since railway development in the late 1800s started from scratch, perhaps the current development is more of a “second” golden age for railways, and not ‘The’ golden age for railways. This wouldn’t have happened or won’t be necessary if we rehabilitated the tranvia after WW2 or allocated resources to preserve and maintain the PNR and other lines like how our Southeast Asian neighbors did to their own railways. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have enviable railways including preserved, operational steam locomotives that are now practically moving museum pieces.

Traveling abroad soon?

I miss traveling, particularly overseas. My last travels abroad were to Sri Lanka in September 2019 and to Singapore in December 2019. My long travels within the Philippines was to Zamboanga in January 2020 and Cebu in February the same year. We were supposed to go back to Zamboanga to do some field work in March 2020 but the trip was canceled when the first lockdowns were enforced. I was supposed to travel to Hiroshima last September 2021 for a conference that we highly anticipated partly because of the opportunity to go to Japan again and do another sentimental trip to certain places in that country, including taking the Shinkansen and other trains to go around.

Recently, the US reopened to international travelers and friends have already crossed the Pacific to be with family/relatives there. Here is an article from The New York Times about what you need to know when traveling to the US; including vaccinations:

NY Times article about the basics of traveling to the US

On the key transformations needed to achieve sustainable, low carbon transport

Also related to COP26, I am sharing material from the Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLOCAT) partnership, of which our center is part of. SLOCAT recently released the 11 key transformations for sustainable low carbon land transport urgently needed to meet the climate targets. Here’s a link to their site:

SLOCAT also has the following Wheel of Transport and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) on the same site. The Wheel illustrates the four cross-cutting themes: equitable, healthy, resilient and green.

SLOCAT Wheel on Transport and the SDG’s – https://slocat.net/transport-sdgs/

In the SLOCAT site, they list the following to support the transformations:

Overarching approaches to apply across transport modes and sub-sectors overtime

  • Put people first, not vehicles and technology 
  • Co-create and communicate a compelling vision and targets 
  • Guide short- and medium-term action with clear, coherent political messages 
  • Combine push and pull measures: Regulate and incentivise 
  • Link policies within and beyond transport for synergies 
  • Prioritise resources by social and sustainable value for money 
  • Engage, empower and coordinate stakeholders across government levels and sectors 
  • Build capacity and improve data 
  • Implement pilots to learn and share, then roll out at scale

On ‘electric cars’ still being ‘cars’

With the current climate talks in the background, there is also a parallel discussion on the impacts of electric vehicles and self-driving cars. Will they help solve our transport or traffic problems? Perhaps e-cars will contribute to the reduction of emissions and greenhouse gases. Perhaps they can also help in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. But can they alleviate congestion? Or will they just promote more car-dependence? Here’s a nice article from early this year that discusses the “big problem” with electric cars:

I also read another article about the issues concerning the batteries (e.g., lithium batteries) used by these e-vehicles. We are only beginning to see how difficult it is to deal with the waste of used batteries not just from e-vehicles but from other sources as well. Renewables like solar, for example, requires batteries for storage. These are issues that need to be addressed ASAP. Otherwise, it will be a losing proposition for people in general as they end up with modes of transport that are not sustainable for the future. Perhaps we can just walk or bike?

On housing and transportation

I’ve written about how we should not be trying to isolate transportation as if it is singly at fault for the transport and traffic mess many of us are in at present. There are many factors affecting travel behavior including mode choice. Travel distances, travel times and mode choices are not a consequence of transportation system (including infrastructure) alone. Land development and pricing especially those pertaining to housing are critical in how people decide where to live. These are intertwined with transportation and can be quite complex without the proper data or information to help us understand the relationship. That understanding, we are to assume, should lead us to the formulation of policies intended to correct unwanted trends and perhaps encourage more compact developments that are closer to desirable concepts such as the 15-minute city.

Here is an interesting article to enrich the discussion on this topic:

Dion, R. (October 28, 2021) “Coupling Housing and Mobility: A Radical Rethink for Freeways,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/features/115126-coupling-housing-and-mobility-radical-rethink-freeways?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-11012021&mc_cid=85ec2b565f&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1%5BLast accessed: 11/3/2021]

The first thing that came to my mind are residents of northern and southern Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces. Many chose to buy houses there and beyond (i.e., Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite) and yet work or study in Metro Manila CBDs like Makati, Ortigas and BGC. And they do use the tollways (e.g., NLEX, SLEX, CaviTEX, Skyway) to get to their workplaces and schools.

This is also a relevant and timely topic in the Philippines as many cities are already headed for sprawls that will inevitably put more pressure on transportation infrastructure development that usually leans towards car-oriented projects (e.g., road widening, new roads, flyovers, etc.) rather than people-oriented ones (e.g., modern public transportation systems, bikeways, pedestrian infrastructure). Note that only Tokyo has developed an extensive enough railway system to cover the sprawl that is the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, which if interpreted loosely also includes Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba in the sprawl. No, we cannot build as fast to have as dense a railway network as Tokyo’s or other cities with similar rail systems. And so we have to figure out another way to address this problem.

Parking: minimum or maximum

The National Building Code (NBC) of the Philippines stipulates the minimum number of parking spaces or slots per type of establishment and intensity of development (i.e., according to area or other parameters). These established provisions are generally called parking minimums. The NBC’s provisions are already archaic by current standards and need to be revised but not in the way it was apparently developed. The NBC needs supporting evidence from studies (are there any dependable ones around?) on parking requirements including those for bicycles and motorcycles. These should clearly not include or impede the requirements of pedestrians. And local government units must be required to enforce these NBC provisions.

Here is an article that discusses the proposal for new limits on parking, particularly in large developments in Boston, Ma. in the US:

The article points to this one:

City of Boston (September 20, 2021) Maximum Parking Ratios, https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/maximum-parking-ratios [Last accessed: 10/19/2021]

I must admit that I still have to do a lot of reading on this. There are some who are calling for the abolition of parking minimums but you just can’t do this so abruptly without understanding the context and current set-up. We are not Boston or San Francisco or Hong Kong or Singapore in terms of the transport infrastructure and services and the progressiveness of policies including those governing or covering housing and other factors that come into play with transportation. Sprawl and the resulting pressures (requirements for efficient travel) on the transportation system is not transport’s fault or responsibility alone like what some articles or infographics make it appear to be. It is very much about land use and land development, and the policies and the political economy behind these developments.

On the 12 global road safety performance targets

The UN recently released the Global Plan for Road Safety. I’m just sharing their graphic on the global road safety performance targets:

I will try to discuss each one in future posts especially as I am involved one way or another in trying to realize these targets. Note, too, that these targets are further categorized among the five pillars mentioned at the foot of the graphic. These are (1) Road safety management; (2) Safer roads and mobility; (3) Safe vehicles; (4) Safe road users; and (5) Post-crash response.