Caught (up) in traffic
February 2023
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Early risers and commuters

I was half surprised the other day when I went out to go to our office at 5:00 AM. I am no stranger to early morning or very late night travels including driving myself. I’ve done so under various circumstances before including going to the airport for an early flight or driving to a hospital due to an emergency. You don’t see many people waiting for rides at 11:00 PM or perhaps 3:00 AM. These are basically what people refer to as ‘unholy’ hours. People are asleep during these times. If not, they probably are working the so-called graveyard shift. The latter used to be for workers employed in facilities like factories that usually operate 24/7. Nowadays, these include business process outsourcing (BPO) workers who are active in part due to their employers being in countries in different time zones (e.g., US and Europe).

At one point before the pandemic, transport and traffic had become so bad that people had to leave their homes earlier than when they had. For example, instead of leaving at 7:00 AM, employees had to leave at 6:00 AM in order to reach their workplaces at 8:00 AM. Students have to leave at 5:30 AM to reach their schools at 7:00 AM. Now that we are still in a pandemic but returning to the ‘old normal’ it seems to have become worse than before.

At one point during the pandemic, a senior transport official stated that people will just have to wake up earlier if they want to get to their destinations on time. Whether this was serious or in a joking manners, to tell people to wake up early (or earlier) if they want to get a comfortable ride or just even to get a ride is insensitive. It only shows officials to be uncaring. But that probably is linked to their being elitist or privileged that they cannot even empathize with the regular commuters. With a new administration in place, we seem to have more of the same kinds of officials in our transport agencies but hopefully, the younger staff can convince their bosses to be otherwise and really work towards improving commutes.

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

Here is a quick share of an article about the link between walkability and affordable housing.

To quote:

“While early pandemic pundits predicted the ‘death’ of urban areas, recent trends show that people—perhaps more than ever—value the benefits of compact development and easily accessible amenities and services. But “Demand drives up costs and can reduce low- and moderate-income households’ opportunity to live in highly walkable areas,” the report warns.”

Source: Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

Some people seem to be baffled why people choose to purchase homes and reside in the suburbs or away from the city centers. It is actually simpler than what many tend to overthink and attribute purely to the condition of our transportation system. It takes two (or more apparently) to tango and housing affordability is critical for the Philippines’ case.

Recent transport features of fast-food restaurants

We went to a McDonald’s drive thru a couple of weeks ago to get some food before picking up our daughter at her school. We decided to go a new branch along the way from the office and found a new feature at the fastfood chain’s parking area – electric vehicle charging stations. There were two slots where e-vehicles can re-charge while owners eat at the branch.

Electric vehicle charging station at the new McDonald’s branch along Sumulong Highway (Mambugan, Antipolo)

Bike dining station – you can park your bike at one side and have a comfy seat while eating and drinking on the other side

The bike and dine is not a new feature but one that McDo has installed in many of their new branches and retrofitted old one with during the pandemic. Still, we hope they have this in and the charging stations in most if not all their standalone branches. Of course, other chains should follow suit especially rival Jollibee, which has more branches and an even wider network of companies (e.g., Chowking, Greenwich, etc.) under it. This will help in promoting both cycling and e-vehicles.

On electric vehicles overshadowing public transportation

There seems to be much ado about electric vehicles. Here in the Philippines, there is much hype about hybrid and electric cars as incentives are now in place for people to purchase them at reduced prices and in Metro Manila at least, there is that additional incentive of these vehicles being exempted from the number coding (vehicle restraint) scheme. Here’s an article

Woodhouse, S. and Mohsin, S. (January 26, 2023) “EV Hype Overshadows Public Transit as a Climate Fix,” Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-25/public-transit-gets-left-behind-in-us-climate-change-conversation [Last accessed: 1/28/2023]

Some quotes from the article pretty much describes why we must focus on improving public transportation to increase or at least retain riderships:

“If we want to reduce carbon emissions we can’t just have technology-focused answers…

“Buses and trains have a fraction of the greenhouse gas impact of private cars, whether internal combustion or battery-powered, according to the International Transport Forum. A 2021 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that the energy saved by passengers in the US using public transit rather than personal vehicles saved 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 — roughly the equivalent of taking 16 coal-fired power plants offline for a year…

“In the postwar era, the US prioritized building out its road network, leaving transit behind. For decades, highways and roads have consumed about 80% of federal transportation funding, with transit getting only 20%. In 2019 state and local governments spent $203 billion on highways and roads alone, with a quarter of expenditures coming from federal transfers. At the local level, continued car use is fueled by suburban development patterns and land-use practices like minimum parking requirements, which require developers to set aside space for vehicles. Outside of major cities, transit options are often limited, and historically low level of public support translate into poor convenience and reliability…

“We’re not going to be able to successfully fight climate change — and prevent more damage to the climate — without heavily investing in mass transit and specifically public transit.”

Here is something I shared last year:

On bicycles vs. self driving cars

You’ve probably seen the image that evolved from the original comparison of 50 people on cars, bus and motorcycles from Munster, Germany. The variant is 50 people on conventional cars, 50 people on electric cars and 50 people on self-driving cars. That is another perspective (road capacity and congestion-wise) of how electric vehicles will affect traffic.

 

On the need to change mindsets about bike lanes

Public acceptance of bike lanes has grown during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, there were few supporters especially among local government units and national agencies that seem to be comfortable with the status quo. Few like Iloilo and Marikina had any bike facilities worth mentioning. The pandemic was supposed to change that and it did for many. However, the acceptance and the gains seem to be eroding as we return to face-to-face activities and the ‘old’ normal situation.

I’m sharing below an article on the need to change mindsets about bike lanes and cycling in general:

Thompson, C. (January 24, 2023) “The Battle Over Bike Lanes Needs a Mindset Shift,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/the-battle-over-bike-lanes-needs-a-mindset-shift/ [Last accessed: 1/27/2023]

To quote from the article:

“Maybe bike lanes will always be fraught, until enough of the public is finally in a true lather about climate change—and it seems reckless to not have them.

Crises, after all, have a way of opening people’s eyes to possibilities. During Covid, restaurants and cafés lost so much business that cities nationwide began allowing them to build curbside seating areas where people could sit, safely, in the open air. It greatly reduced parking—but because, well, crisis, shop owners didn’t see any way around it. Patrons loved the outdoor seating so much that cities are making it permanent: A New York City study of several streets closed during Covid found storeowners making more than before, and diners digging the al fresco lifestyle. If data won’t change minds, customers might.”

There are two opposing sides on this matter. On one side are advocates who naturally will push for bike lanes and will promote them as The solution (emphasis mine) rather than one of a cocktail to address the transport mess we are in. On the other side are conservative, status quo types (or car-lovers as bike advocates will call them) who believe cars should have the roads to themselves. Unfortunately, many in government and particularly in transport agencies are with the latter. Perhaps they should be the first ones that need to be converted to favor active transport?

Some takeaways from a lecture

I lecture from time to time at the Philippine Public Safety College. This is the counterpart of the National Defense College. In the latter graduates are conferred a Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) while in the former, graduates are conferred a Masters in Public Safety Administration (MPSA). It is no wonder that many who take these courses are military or police officers seeking graduate degrees that may later be useful for them after their typically early retirement (military and police officers retire at 56 years old instead of the typical 65 years mandatory retirement for other government employees). There are many civilians who take these programs, too. The MNSA degree actually promotes a person to a high rank as a military reservist. I am not sure about the MPSA degree but graduate degrees like these are useful for promotions in their respective offices.

I lectured recently to a class consisting of two batches of their MPSA program. Each batch consists of uniformed (mostly senior police officers with a rank equivalent to at least a Lt. Col.) and non-uniformed personnel (from various offices and professions including public and private universities, private companies, etc.). I get a lot of questions and comments regarding transport and traffic during my lectures. Some can be out of context or perhaps posed in a smart-aleck fashion but most are well-intentioned. After all, who doesn’t want to “solve” traffic? Among the more notable comments during my recent lecture are as follows (not in any order):

  1. There is a need to have better urban planning for our cities;
  2. Investments for transportation infrastructure need to be shared by government and the private sector;
  3. A holistic approach is required and we cannot isolate transportation or traffic;
  4. There is a need to have a law restricting vehicle ownership (mostly related to parking);
  5. There is a need to invest or allocate more resources to develop other cities to help decongest the larger cities.

Based on my experience having lectured at the PPSC over 5 years, these two batches had more listeners and were more sensible when they posted their comments and opinions on the chatbox (the lecture was via Zoom). There were only a couple of comments with ideas I did not agree with:

  1. Transferring the capital to another location – this seems to be a trendy (read: “nakikiuso”) topic and a very tempting one for discussion but it is not a simple task and has had mixed results in other countries that tried it (e.g., Brazil, Pakistan and Malaysia). Is it worth exploring? Probably.
  2. Cable cars for Metro Manila – I explained that this is still band-aid solution that does not address the roots of the transport problems experienced by Metro Manila. It is not suitable as for one, it will not have the capacity required for regular commutes and, to me at least, it is more a novelty than a solution. Resources would be better allocated elsewhere such as active transport.

Overall, I thought that this most recent lecture generated the best feedback so far from my students. I look forward to more lectures and interactions like this. And perhaps the next one will be face to face.

Work trips abroad

We are traveling again abroad for work. Work-related travel was mostly limited to road trips and local travel (e.g., to Zamboanga) in the past 2+ years. We used to average at least 2 foreign trips per year with my wife usually raising that average due to the nature of her work that used to make her travel to the US at least twice a year.

I got this bear in Arnhem, The Netherlands. He’s supposed to be an Air Force aviator, symbolizing one of those who braved the skies to bomb enemy positions or deliver paratroopers during Operation Market Garden as depicted in the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

On getting started on bike commuting

Here is another article on bike commuting. It really is a challenge to get people into bike commuting even if their workplaces or schools are close to their homes. What more for people who have to travel longer distances between their homes and workplaces or schools?

Bassett, E. (December 1, 2022) “The No B.S. Guide to Getting Started Bike Commuting,” Medium, https://erikbassett.medium.com/the-no-b-s-guide-to-getting-started-bike-commuting-5dd0cbb87e5b [Last accessed:

To quote from the article:

“Assume you’re invisible until proven otherwise.

Like every city I’ve lived or ridden in, yours probably paints pictures on the ground and calls them “bicycle infrastructure.” Road designs encourage excess speed; vehicles aren’t meaningfully separated from cyclists and pedestrians; there are conflicting rights-of-way at intersections, driveways, and so forth.

And that is not right. It’s a sad commentary on urban “planning” in most places that anything but car use requires this degree of paranoia. It points to a profound dysfunction that few (with any serious influence) are willing or even interested to change…yet.

But unless or until it improves, the only viable response is to assume you don’t exist in the eyes of whoever’s driving nearby. “If I weren’t here, would they gun it to make a right turn on red?” Well, assume they will. “If I weren’t here, would they merge up there?” You guessed it: assume they will.

This is unquestionably the worst aspect of bike commuting, and if it’s too stressful in your situation, that’s perfectly fine. But in the spirit of a “no-B.S.” guide, I’d be remiss not to drive home a life-saving lesson that all these years of cycling have so deeply ingrained in me.”

The author also states the difference between bike commuting and sports biking including noting the differences in the objectives or goals for each.

Why do we keep widening roads?

I’m just going to share this article here. The article from The NY Times asks a question that has been bugging planners and engineers, particularly those who are in government and perhaps under the agencies like the DPWH, DOTr and NEDA. This also applies to planners, engineers and those from other disciplines involved in transportation infrastructure development and particularly roads or highways.

 

Safest airlines in 2022/2023?

One magazine published an article recently about the safest airlines in the world. This is very relevant as people have returned to traveling during this period despite the pandemic and the new strains coming out. It is useful especially for people who are traveling overseas since airline choices might be very limited for domestic routes. Here is the article:

Puckett, J. (January 5, 2023) “This is the safest airline in the world,” Condé Nast Traveler, https://www.cntraveler.com/story/the-safest-airlines-in-the-world?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=spotlight-nl&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=thematic_spotlight_010623_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_Afternoon [Last accessed: 1/7/2023]

To quote from the article, the basis for the ranking is as follows:

“The site’s staff analyzes each airline’s records for crashes over the last five years, serious incidents over two years, audits from aviation’s governing bodies and associations; fleet age, expert analysis of pilot training, and COVID protocols. In addition to these criteria, each airline that makes the list is also at the top of the industry in terms of safety innovations and have added cutting-edge aircraft to their fleets, like the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787…”

There are not so many Asian airlines in the list especially if you don’t include the Middle Eastern airlines. Only Singapore Airlines, EVA Air and Cathay Pacific are in the list. I was expecting at least one Japanese airline and perhaps Thai Airways to be in the list. I was not surprised Philippine Airlines was not on the list considering the criteria.

There’s a separate list for low-cost carriers in the article and Air Asia is one though there are actually several Air Asia companies operating out of Southeast Asian countries. It would be nice to see how Air Asia Philippines compares with the mother company based in Malaysia. Cebu Pacific is categorized under LCC’s but with so many of these companies around the world, it won’t be a surprise they didn’t rank among the Top 20 either.