Caught (up) in traffic
October 2022
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On having daily walks to improve health and wellness

We begin October with an article about walking, health and wellness. I can relate to this article as we take daily walks, usually in the mornings. One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to more hours from home (rather than at the workplace) is that we have been able to schedule and increase time for our walks. And this has led to a healthier lifestyle for us.

To quote from the article:

“When it comes to brisk walking, “at these moderate levels of effort, you are able to increase your aerobic capacity,” Dr. Singh said. In addition to the long-term health benefits, such intensity would also lower blood pressure, moderate blood sugar levels and lower the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

The key is to walk at an intensity that is manageable but also slightly pushes the boundaries of what is a comfortable pace.

“That constant slow stress on your body is what leads to fitness gains,” Dr. Singh said. “If you’re just getting started, this is probably the easiest way to get started and stay committed, consistent and injury-free.””

Towards safer streets – on the best street improvements

We conclude the month of September with an article on road safety and particularly on best or good practices towards improving safety:

Brey, J. (September 16, 2022) “What Are the Best Safe-Streets Improvements,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/community/what-are-the-best-safe-streets-improvements [Last accessed: 9/29/2022]

The article points to improvements concerning pedestrians have the best results in terms of reducing the injury rose and death. To quote from the article:

“The data suggested that interventions which give more street space to pedestrians have the best results for lowering the risk of serious injury and death. Somewhat to the department’s surprise, that includes curb extensions, also known as “neckdowns,” which reduce the distance that pedestrians have to cover to cross a street. Those interventions were associated with a 34.1 percent decrease in deaths and serious injuries, according to the report.”

There is an interesting table in the article listing the top safety treatments in terms of injury change and KSI (killed or seriously injured) change. For the latter, the top treatments in order of highest change are:

  1. Pedestrian island
  2. Curb & sidewalk extensions
  3. Road diets
  4. Leading pedestrian intervals
  5. Protected bike lanes
  6. Turn calming
  7. Conventional bike lanes

With the push for more segregated bike lanes (as opposed to shared lanes), it is interesting to note from the article that:

“Another important takeaway was that conventional bike lanes, which involve little more than paint, did result in significantly fewer deaths and serious injuries. Protected bike lanes, which are separate from traffic by medians, parking space or other infrastructure, were more effective — but painted lanes are also useful…”

This a good reference and taking off point for those who are doing studies on road safety and want to contextualize it from the perspective of the complete streets concept.

Bike parking at SM Masinag

With the increasing popularity of cycling, particularly the utilitarian kind (i.e., bike-to-work, bike-to-school, bike-to-shop, etc.), there is also the increasing need to provide facilities for cycling. Aside from the obvious (i.e., bike lanes), there are also what are termed as end-of-trip facilities, the most basic of which are parking. These may be spaces or slots allotted at workplaces, schools, markets, malls, government buildings, churches, etc. for cyclists or bikers to secure their vehicles. Bicycles may also be used as ‘last mile’ modes of transport so bike parking are necessary at transit or train stations. It is heartening to see the big malls like SM and Robinsons provide parking facilities for bicycles. Here are some photos of the bike station at SM City Masinag in Antipolo City.

End of trip facilities in the Philippines is generally a work in progress. Hopefully, we get to benefit from their provision where they are needed – workplaces, schools, government buildings, commercial establishments, etc.

The bike station at SM Masinag includes this bike repair stand with the basic tools for bike repairs and tire inflation.

The bike station is just across from the Line 2 Antipolo Station (what was supposed to be called Masinag Station).

The central bike station also has benches for those who might want a rest and tables for those who want to “bike and dine”.

On transit oriented development issues

I share this interesting article about some issues encountered in the US that affects transit operations and what planners term as transit-oriented development (TOD). While TOD remains a good concept and has been implemented successfully elsewhere (e.g., Japan, Korea, Singapore, European countries, etc.), the experience in the US may be quite different and even contrary. This underlines the importance of proper context when reading these articles that are likely written for an American audience (its published in a major US newspaper).

Sperance, C. (September 14, 2022) “Could it be the end of the line for transit-based development,” The Boston Globe, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/14/real-estate/could-it-be-end-line-transit-based-development/ [Last accessed: 9/24/2022]

The article describes how TOD came to be in the US:

“Even on a good day, when trains don’t derail or catch on fire, people move away anyway, looking for more space and the luxury of having their own car. But not everyone has the luxury to work from their living room in the burbs. The life sciences building boom in the area requires in-person work.

“We have a very strong economic engine that settled into places where people have to go to work, such as our academic institutions, our hospitals, and our labs,” Dimino said.

That’s a catalyst for transit-oriented development…”

The above quote looks to be very similar to what we have and are experiencing in many Philippine cities as well. I have mentioned and wrote about how housing affordability affects location choices  in the Philippines. These choices of where to live ultimately affects transport mode choice and puts pressure on government to provide public transportation to connect suburbs to CBDs (i.e., residential areas to workplaces and even schools). We seem to be following the American model here and it does not help that the prices of residential units in the CBDs (and closer to workplaces) are not affordable to most people. The latter end up purchasing houses away from Metro Manila  and in the adjacent provinces or Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite. But it takes two to tango, as they say, and mass transit systems (their availability) also contributes to decisions of where to live. I conclude this post with another quote from the Boston Globe article:

“Transit will need to be an anchor and cornerstone of our future regarding equity, the economy, and climate and, therefore, will still be something that will have a relationship to housing decisions.”

On the air that you breathe when inside aircraft

I am sharing a different kind of article this time. It is still on transportation but more health-related in the sense that the article’s topic is about the air passengers breathe when inside a plane. This is very relevant as we continue to grapple with COVID-19 and other diseases such as influenza, while also trying to get back to our normal activities including traveling whether for family affairs, work, recreation or other reasons.

McGee, W.J. (September 20, 2022) “How clean is the air on planes?” Condé Nast Traveler, https://www.cntraveler.com/story/how-clean-and-safe-is-a-planes-cabin-air?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=spotlight-nl&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=thematic_spotlight_092122_2&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&hasha=cf6c402001bc473063a8744033fe9be3&hashb=ec2bb753c2e6299f5107823241955221da67bd1f&hashc=09f65c608bfb62050199733de500e3cd82827631b36d537ce8386d41a3bd1ff7&esrc=FYL_SEG_APR18&sourcecode=thematic_spotlight&utm_term=Thematic_Spotlight [Last accessed: 9/21/2022]

Obviously, there are concerns about the air inside the cabin. But there are other items that one needs to be mindful of if you are truly concerned with the risk of infection.

To quote from the article:

“But some experts have expressed more doubt about the ability to completely scrub the air for zero chance of spreading flu and COVID. “Transmission of infection may occur between passengers who are seated in the same area of an aircraft, usually as a result of the infected individual coughing or sneezing or by touch,” WHO warns. Cabin crew members agree with this assessment. “It’s naive to think an airline can protect passengers 100 percent because you’re in an enclosed space for however long the flight is,…””

The article also provides the following recommendations to travelers (quoted directly from the article and highlights mine):

  • If you’re concerned about aircraft cleanliness, try booking the earliest flight possible that day, as most airlines do a deep-clean each night. And if your itinerary allows it, consider nonstops rather than connecting flights, to limit your exposure to multiple dirty cabins.
  • Wipe down your airline seat and surrounding area with a sanitizing wipe to kill any lingering flu virus; pack an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wash your hands often.
  • The CDC recommends that most travelers get a flu vaccine in September or October; it also advises to get up-to-date with your COVID vaccines and boosters before any travel.
  • Practice social distancing throughout your journey—at check-in, security screening, boarding, baggage claim, etc. Select seats apart from other passengers (often in the rear) and ask to be moved if possible.
  • Although there is no longer a mask mandate for air travel in the U.S., the CDC still advises travelers ages 2 years and older to opt to wear a face mask in indoor areas of public transportation—such as airplanes, trains, buses, ferries—and in transportation hubs like airports.

There seems so many of what are being termed as revenge travel these days. Many people were not able to travel particularly for family (visits, homecomings) or recreation (vacations) the past 2 years. They are now traveling again as more countries open up for tourism and more people have been vaccinated or gained immunity from the virus. The recommendations above should be heeded as there’s really nothing to lose if we follow them and particularly continue good practices to avoid infection.

 

On bicycles vs. self driving cars

You’ve probably seen this graphic, the top part of which is attributed to the Cycling Promotion Fund. The last image is reproduced in the lower part of the image but labeled to emphasize what space is required to transport 48 people on electric cars and autonomous or self-driving cars.

 

It is quite obvious that even if the current fleets of cars are replaced by electric and self-driving models, they will practically be the same problem in terms of road space occupied and the resulting congestion. So perhaps e-cars or autonomous cars are not really the solution we are looking for.

There is this nice article where the author articulates the how bikes (and active transport in general) should be the a more essential part of future transport and society than the automobile:

Collignon, N. (September 9, 2022) “Bikes, not self driving cars, are the technological gateway to urban progress,” Next City, https://nextcity.org/urbanist-news/bikes-not-self-driving-cars-are-the-technological-gateway-to-progress [Last accessed: 9/16/2022]

There are two quotable quotes from the article that I want to highlight here:

“Today the potential benefits from cycling on health, congestion, pollution and CO2 emissions are crystal clear and increasingly quantifiable, but the benefits of self-driving vehicles remain hazy. When ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft promised lower congestion and reduced car ownership, they instead increased congestion and led to a decline in transit ridership.”

and

“The concept of “jaywalking,” for example, is integral to the “car technology” of today. The crime of crossing a street without respecting the dominance of cars was invented by the car industry in the 1920s, who pushed hard to define streets as a place for cars, not people. Our car technology today is also defined by the restriction of movement it imposes on people.

When we begin to see technology through the lens of systems, it becomes clear that genuine technology-led progress will focus on dealing with the accelerating complexity of today’s world, not increasing the complexity of our tools.”

On micro transit and transportation gaps

I’ve written and shared articles before on how Paratransit, bicycles and micro transit helps alleviate the transport demand problems we are experiencing especially in highly urbanized cities. I think we should have as many options as possible for transport while also working towards the reduction of dependence on cars. Here’s an article that relates about experiences in the US:

Zukowski, D. (September 13, 2022) “Cities turn to microtransit to fill gaps in public transportation,” Smart Cities Dive, https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/microtransit-public-transportation-gaps-jersey-city-via/631592/ [Last accessed: 9/15/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Microtransit options are also helping to reduce the reliance on personal cars. “We’ve received feedback from people who say that because of Via they are now more consistently leaving their personal vehicle at home and using Via instead to travel within the city, which is exactly the kind of thing we want to see happen,” said Jersey City’s Patel.”

This final statement or paragraph in the article sums it up very well. Of course, we have to note that the experience in Asia is quite different especially in Southeast Asia where motorcycles are very popular and still on the rise in terms of their mode shares. While these may be considered micromobilities in western countries, they are definitely motorized private vehicles that, depending on how they are used and how the rider behaves, may be beneficial but at the same time also very dangerous for people.

On school bus services and the return to face-to-face classes

I did an interview last August with a major business daily but I couldn’t find it as published as part of an article. The topic was a very timely one as children return to schools for face-to-face (F2F) classes. Here are the questions sent to me and my responses as I remember them:

1. How will the transport sector cope with the expected increase in demand as more schools resume face-to-face classes?

For schools located in the cities, what we see is people opting to take private transportation in the form of cars or motorcycles to take their children to school. This is because public transportation supply is still not back to pre-pandemic levels while at the same time, parents and guardians and even students who commute by themselves (e.g., high school and college levels) may be hesitant to take public transportation as well as school service vehicles. The latter may be attributed to concerns about the safety particularly with regards to health (i.e., getting infected or exposed to Covid-19 if they take public transport or a vehicle where they share the ride with many other people). We need more public transportation capacity to be able to address the increased demand brought about by students coming back for face-to-face classes. We also need to have other options or alternatives for their safe journeys including walking and cycling for their commutes.

For schools in the rural areas, there may be little adjustment concerning transport since most schoolchildren walk or take motorcycles or tricycles to school. This is perhaps because most schoolchildren reside within the school district and do not have long commutes like what we have in many cities (e.g., most schoolchildren who study at schools like Ateneo, LaSalle, etc. likely live in another city or town rather than near the schools).

2. How many school buses are expected to resume operations? How many of them have permanently closed?

I currently don’t have the data on that but LTFRB should have reference or baseline data. School service vehicles are required to register with the LTFRB and perhaps a look at the number registered before and during the pandemic could show how many can be expected to resume operations nationwide and per region. LTO doesn’t have these numbers as they only register by vehicle type. We will not know from LTO data which jeepneys, vans or buses are used for school service. Most school service are tied to the schools the student of which they provide transport services to. If the school closed, then chances are that the school service may apply to other schools. That said, the last two years where schools operated online were a backbreaker to many school service and only the registered numbers with LTFRB can tell us just how many are not returning at least for this school year.

3. How does the surge in fuel prices affect the operations of those involved in school transportation? Will this affect the ability of teachers, schools staff and students to travel on-site?

School services might increase their rates, which are usually monthly or semi-monthly. This is to make up for the increase in fuel prices and vehicle maintenance as well. This will likely only affect students’ travel rather than those of their teachers or school staff. The latter group will likely take public transport or their own vehicles for their commutes. In their case, their travel may be affected by transport fare increase or their own fuel expenses if they use their own vehicles. They have little choice though because they have to travel to work. Student though may still enjoy some respite as many schools are adopting blended or flexible schedules that will only require students to do face-to-face classes on certain days of the week.

4. What’s the long term impact of the pandemic on the school bus industry?

People will remain to be apprehensive in letting their children share a school van or bus ride due to the pandemic. We can only promote vaccination and compliance with health protocols to ensure that schoolchildren will have safe journeys as far as Covid-19 is concerned. The return to face-to-face classes this school year will perhaps help determine if the pandemic will have a long term effect on the industry or if people’s (parents and guardians) trust to school bus services will return within the short term.

5. How can school bus drivers and operators cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic and rising fuel prices?

LTFRB issued Memorandum Circular 2022-066, which adds health protocols for school service:
• Regular examination of the drivers and conductors’ fitness to work by checking their body temperature and screening for symptoms related to COVID-19.
• Regular disinfection of frequently-touched surfaces, such as but not limited to seats, armrests, and handles.
• Mandatory wearing of face masks at all times by drivers and conductors, including passengers.

School transport services must comply with these protocols and demonstrate the safety of their mode to convince people to return to using or subscribing to school service vehicles. Meanwhile, there is really no escaping rising fuel prices but collective transport in the form of school service vehicles are still more efficient and cheaper per passenger compared to using private vehicles; not to mention contribute to reducing traffic congestion along school routes. This must also be promoted (i.e., people made aware of the advantages) vs. private vehicle use.

On electric vehicles and informal transport

I’ve been involved in studies on electric vehicles and their applications in the past. I continue to take part in studies about informal transport including continuing research on motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal” as they are called in the Philippines. The combination of the two is an interesting research area and there are many topics that can be developed as we determine the most appropriate applications for electric vehicles. Here is an interesting article on electrifying informal transport that sets the context for research:

Ribet, L. (August 30, 2022) “The role of data in electrifying informal transport,” Slocat partnership, https://slocat.net/the-role-of-data-in-electrifying-informal-transport/ [Last accessed: 9/9/2022]

To quote from the article:

“However, electric two-and-three wheeler startups, informal transport retrofitting pilots and e-bus initiatives cannot be the only answer to the mobility challenges facing developing cities. Phasing out oil-reliant public transportation is needed and investing in electric mobility solutions may well improve the overall picture quite substantially, but there is a far larger challenge that is omitted from these ambitions: addressing the complex operations of informal transport systems that characterise lower-income countries’ urban mobility. Electrifying minibus taxis is not synonymous with more reliable, affordable and convenient public transport, and we need to prioritise the understanding and improvement of overall informal transport systems data first.”

 

 

On addressing global warming

Here is another quick share of an article; this time on “warming”. The evidence for global warming is strong and we need to address this pressing issue if future generations are to survive a planet that is heating up fast.

Litman, T. (August 31, 2022) “Cool Planning for a Hotter Future,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/118535-cool-planning-hotter-future?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-09012022&mc_cid=ead7ee914a&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 9/5/2022]

To quote:

“Many of these strategies provide significant co-benefits. For example, reducing road and parking supply with more efficient traffic and parking management helps reduce infrastructure costs and traffic problems, and by reducing impervious surface area it reduces stormwater management costs. Planting more urban shade trees helps create more attractive neighborhoods and increase wildlife habitat. Improving natural ventilation creates more comfortable and healthier buildings, as summarized below.”

I recall people calling for more trees to be planted along roads and how our city streets can become something like Orchard Road in Singapore. I agree with having more trees and other plants, landscaping, along our roads. I also lament the times (and it continues) when the DPWH chopped so many old trees along national roads for road widening projects that didn’t need to destroy so many that gave those roads shade as well as character. We need more change in mindsets particularly when we design highways and streets towards sustainability and yes- reducing heat.