Caught (up) in traffic

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Daily Archives: September 21, 2011

UP’s official pronouncement on the proposed AGT

I wrote about the proposal for a transit system at UP Diliman in a couple of posts where in one I included a figure of what was being put forward as a possible route for a loop at the Diliman campus. In another post, I included photos of the test track that was constructed at the DOST compound in Bicutan and featured a prototype vehicle that was more of a “confidence builder” than a viable transit vehicle. In the posts, I already articulated that a transit system such as an AGT or a monorail would most likely be not viable for an area like UP Diliman considering the limited demand and the prospect of having high maintenance costs. These are aside from the issues pertaining to social acceptability and other impacts of such a system on the campus. Perhaps an AGT or a monorail would be feasible elsewhere like how they are currently being used in CBDs or airports, where the demand would be enough to at least allow for decent revenues.

I’ve read a few articles including one that appeared a few days ago where it seemed to me that the writers were not really knowledgeable of what was going to be the collaboration between UP and DOST in as far as the transit prototype was concerned. Articles have even gone to the extent of saying farewell to the Ikot jeepneys as the primary mode of public transport when going around the campus. All these are mostly theoretical at best considering that perhaps road-based transport is still the best option for UP Diliman. We only need to ensure that such transport will be of the environmentally sustainable kind.

Meanwhile, UP’s official statement regarding what will really be constructed at the Diliman campus may be found at the university’s website. It is clear from the statement that a test track will be built and that a prototype will be tested to determine whether local designs actually work. This perhaps will be the basis for determining whether the system can be replicated elsewhere, even considering the prospects of scaling up where such transit may be applicable. Studies will also be able to validate the costs of a system since it is being touted as something that should be less costly than other systems that are already in operation elsewhere (i.e., other countries). For what its worth, a locally developed, cost-effective system will be a welcome option for many Philippine cities that badly need a modern public transport system.

Katipunan parking predicament

Developments along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City are good examples of fragmented land use and transport planning in Philippine cities. The developments, particularly the high rise condominiums have been the subject of much opposition from residents of subdivisions in the area as well as two major institutions of higher learning that have defined the stretch of Katipunan that has been developed in the 15 years. I mention 15 years because this is the period during which most of the high density developments along Katipunan have been constructed, apparently with the blessings of city hall. It is also in the last decade that schemes such as road widening and the U-turns were implemented.

On-street parking along Katipunan at lanes that used to be part of what was a west service road. In many cases, onstreet parking has been the result of a violation of a very basic provision of the National Building Code, which prescribes the minimum number of parking slots for establishments such as restaurants, shops, banks and offices. Despite being quite outdated and disconnected with more progressive parking generation principles, the NBC should have been a basis for the local government to assess whether minimum guidelines are satisfied, and perhaps impose penalties on those who are not able to comply such provisions. This is a fundamental case where individuals (owners of parked vehicles) impose external costs (e.g., congestion and crash risk) upon the general public.

Another look at onstreet parking just beneath the pedestrian overpass across from Ateneo’s Gate 2 – restaurants along Katipunan are major traffic generators and despite the presence of public transport (jeepneys and tricycles) a significant number of trips generated by these establishments use private vehicles including cars, vans and SUVs. Katipunan’s pedestrian facilities are inadequate as there are practically no sidewalks, thereby forcing people to walk along the road. This exposes many and particulrly students to risks like getting sideswiped by vehicles driven by reckless drivers.

Waiting vehicles effectively occupying 2 lanes of Katipunan – many employ drivers who can stay with the vehicles while the occupants eat, shop or transact at establishments. In most cases, standing vehicles are practically parked vehicles as they occupy road space. High-rise residential condominiums along Katipunan may have complied with minimum parking requirements stipulated in the NBC but their trip generation characteristics considering the commercial establishments located at the same buildings surely require many more parking spaces than what are available.

Congestion along Katipunan’s southbound side – may be caused by onstreet parking, standing (waiting), or vehicle maneuvers with respect to the limited parking slots fronting most establishments along the road. One tutorial center located near a U-turn slot, for example, generates significant vehicle traffic that it affects both U-turn and through traffic. Meanwhile, traffic enforcers seem either ineffective or helpless in their efforts to manage traffic, including preventing vehicles from taking 2 lanes of Katipunan.

Standing/waiting vehicles in front of a new development along Katipunan – the new building hosts several establishments including a major bank, a book shop, a popular gym, and several restaurants or cafes. Despite the potential for vehicle attraction, only a few parking spaces were provided, leaving all other vehicles and their drivers on their own to find parking spaces or just occupy road space in front of the building. The footbridge across Ateneo’s Gate 3 has been extended to the building but this obviously has marginal impact in reducing vehicle generation and parking demand.

Another photo showing the parking situation in front of the new building – while traffic is generally a manifestation of economic activity, one opinion is that many developers are irresponsible by designing buildings that have inadequate parking and resulting in the general public bearing the burden of traffic externalities. Add to this local governments that turn a blind eye on such discrepancies in design (who reviewed the design that obviously violated the building code?) only to be on the receiving end of complaints. In some cases, LGUs probably will be forced to shoulder costs of providing solutions that developers should have covered in the first place if they were responsible enough or made responsible for mitigating negative impacts of their projects.

In the end, it is inevitable that we need to address the root of the problem, which pertains to land use planning and the zoning policies LGUs are implementing. Consistency is one thing and being circumspect about established guidelines is another. Sustainable development, after all, does not pertain to continuous transformation from low to high density development but more about balancing elements that would preserve the character of neighborhoods and communities, particularly and most importantly to ensure that quality of life is not compromised.