Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Mission accomplished: the Commonwealth – Quirino link up

Over the weekend, I happened to pass by what used to be the north end of Commonwealth Avenue near the back entrance to Jordan Plains Subdivision. Public utility jeepneys and private cars commonly use the subdivision streets to go to and from the Novaliches town center (Bayan). As such, the subdivision bears much of the negative externalities brought about by mostly unwanted through traffic. These include vehicle emissions and noise from motor vehicles, and the incidence of crime (mostly burglaries) in the  subdivision. Too long have they waited for Commonwealth and Quirino Highway to be connected to reduce through traffic and its unwanted derivatives in the subdivision.

After delays due to various reasons, the project was finally bidded out and implemented this year. The construction didn’t go without any problems and there were times particularly during rainy days when the site was quite difficult to traverse due to excavations, materials and a so-so traffic management scheme (mostly counterflows) that ensure vehicles traveling as if they were negotiating a labyrinth.  Still, work went on and at least people saw that it continued unlike other projects that went untouched after some excavations were made (“naka-tengga”).

I guess it was quite rewarding and a relief to a lot of people that the project will be completed soon and hopefully within the year and apparently on schedule.  Following are a few photos of the area I took last Sunday.

 

First look at the approach to the completed section of Commonwealth Avenue connecting to Quirino Highway.

Closer to what used to be a chaotic intersection towards Jordan Plains, it was clear that most of the major works have been completed and that the section to Quirino was passable. The only elements missing are the pavement markings and traffic signs.

Close-up of new intersection and section of Commonwealth leading to Quirino. Pedestrian crossing markings and lane markings and edge delineators are visible in this photo.

Kudos to the contractor of this project and the DPWH and Quezon City government for the near completion of the project. Now, if only the contractors of roadworks along Marcos Highway and Ortigas Avenue will follow the Commonwealth example and get their acts together and work more efficiently, not to mention do a better job managing traffic along the way, then probably people using those roads will have less headaches during this season.

 

Municipal transport in San Francisco – Part 1

San Francisco has an extensive public transport system with the combination of buses, LRT’s and cable cars allowing its citizens and visitors both accessibility and mobility for much of the city. A friend says that the objective Muni set out to accomplish was for anyone using the system to be able to alight from a public transport vehicle at most one block from one’s final destination. A block already represents a very comfortable walking distance well within the 200 to 300 meters radius often mentioned by public transport planners for the catchment areas of stops or stations.

SF’s Muni operates several types of buses including what are probably among the last electric trolley buses in the world.

That’s a trolley bus in the photo above stopping near the BART station where I was waiting to be picked up by a friend. Note the flexible, long pantograph that is used to pick-up electricity from the overhead cables. The photo was taken in 2007 during a previous trip to the Bay Area.

Following are three photos I took back in 2007 at an intersection across the Balboa Park BART Station, where I thought I hit the jackpot in terms of watching the Muni’s various transport modes pass by. Think bird-watching but replace the birds with buses and LRTs.

The typical Muni bus has a number designating its route that can easily be found in transit maps to guide regular commuters and visitors alike. Most buses I saw had bicycle racks located in front of the bus that would enable cyclists to bring along their bikes during a long commute. Most buses these days run on natural gas. On the far right of the photo, one can get a glimpse of a LRT vehicle.

LRT vehicle coming out of the depot  – the rails are embedded on the pavement and allow for the mixed use of roads by motor vehicles and LRTs.

LRT crossing the intersection. LRTs are given priority at intersections and the traffic signals are programmed to facilitate the flow of these high capacity public transport mode. This is a reflection of prioritization of public transport over private transport, which should be the case rather than the other way around.

Inside a bus in San Francisco, there are seats provided for the elderly and the physically challenged. Entrance is via the front door where a passenger must first pay for the ride or show his pass for the driver to see. Exit is via the back door, which is wider to allow for the efficient unloading of passengers. To stop the bus at the designated stops along the route, a passenger should push a button (on the newer buses) or pull on a cable (on older buses) to activate a signal for the driver. To open the rear doors, one need only to push the bars across the doors.

Another look at the interior of a Muni bus. Although the bus appears to be old, it is clean/tidy. There are the occasional vandalism and there are signs asking passengers to report incidence of vandalism on the bus. There are also signs stating that conversations may be recorded and that the bus is under video surveillance. These seem to be standard security features of public transport in the US especially after the incidents of 9/11. Such information is welcome considering everyone would prefer to travel safely.

 

Truck weight limits in the Philippines

I noticed a lot of interest on the “truck ban” scheme from the statistics provided by WordPress on my dashboard. It seems there are very limited material available on the scheme especially in the Philippines where there have been variations of and misconceptions on this travel demand management (TDM) measure. Why do cities like Metro Manila implement a truck ban? Or better yet, why are there designated truck routes in cities? The answer can be quite simple if viewed from the perspective of asset preservation. That is, by restricting trucks to use specific roads, we are also limiting their impacts (read: damage) to the road infrastructure. Such impacts come in the way of damaged pavements and/or bridges that bear the brunt of the weights carried by heavy vehicles. But such argument begs the question of why, in the first place, shouldn’t we design our pavements and bridges so that they may be able to withstand the cumulative loads of heavy vehicle traffic over a prescribed period of time, say 20 years, give and take a few years for variability and reliability in design and construction methods? Such is a question that needs to be answered, and clearly, by our DPWH, at least for the case of our national roads and bridges. It is really not a simple matter and certainly not something that cannot be blamed solely on the fact that evidences in the Philippines point to truck overloading as one of the culprits for damaged pavements and bridges.

The website of the Department of Public Works and Highways provides information on the axle load and truck weight limits for national roads. The matrix of weights may easily be downloaded and is provided in the following document:

DPWH Matrix of Trucks

The maximum single axle loads for different countries around the world are provided below:

Max Permissible Truck Loads World

I found another table of values this time for European countries. Based on the table on weight limits in European Union Countries, France seems to have the heaviest single axle load limit.

EU Axle and Truck Loads

Still, the question running in the minds of most people involved in policymaking, monitoring and enforcement, and research is “How did we come up with the 13.5-metric ton maximum single axle load value in the first place?” Surely, it wasn’t a number that was plucked out from the air?

The 13.5-metric ton was most probably derived from an axle load study conducted in the 1990’s. Such a study could have, among others, determined the appropriate maximum axle loads that could be adopted by the country in lieu of the limits at the time that were already deemed obsolete given the evolution of trucks over time (i.e., they’re bigger now compared to, say, 30 years ago). What is problematic is that it seems the study was only able to derive the maximum single axle load and was not able to estimate maximum loads for tandem and tridem axles. Tandem axles are two axles positioned one after the other while tridems are three axles grouped together. These tandems and tridems are typical configurations for the rear axles of large trucks and trailers, enabling them to support heavy loads that typically are distributed more towards the rear axles.

San Francisco’s Cable Cars

Part of the experience of traveling to and staying in San Francisco, CA was taking public transportation in that city. The public transportation system in SF is probably among the best I’ve used considering the layout and character of the city and it prides itself with what they term as “museums on the move.” The city’s transport system consists of electric trolley buses, hybrid and natural gas buses, LRT’s, electric street cars and its most famous cable cars. There is also the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) that passes through the city and connects it with the other cities and counties in the Bay Area. For transport in the SF, it is highly recommended that one take the 3-day or 8-day pass depending on the length of stay. In our case, we purchased a San Francisco City Pass that included unlimited use of municipal public transport (buses, light rail, street cars and cable cars) as well as entrance fees for museums, the California Academy of Science, and a cruise of the bay. Following is a photo journal of one of our many cable car rides.
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The photos show a particular journey aboard a Powell & Hyde cable car from Market Street (near Union Square) to Hyde Street (near Argonaut Hotel). The trip takes one through notable spots like Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill and Russian Hill, including a stop at Lombard Street that has that famous crooked section popular with tourists and residents alike. There are also breathtaking views of the bay as the cable car descends towards Mason or Hyde Streets, towards the pier.
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Cable car arriving at the end of the line near Market Street

The trip will pass through Powell Street, which is lines with many shops, restaurants and hotels.

To the right is Union Square famous for its Christmas Tree. However, there is that monument at the square that people tend to take for granted. Filipinos should be aware that it is one commemorating the victory of one Comm. Dewey and the US Fleet over Adm. Montojo and the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay back in 1898, a significant part of Philippine and American histories.

Borders closed shop but there are many other shops and stores in downtown SF.
During one part of our stay, we regularly walked the stretch from Market to Sutter Street. This assures one of a good exercise, especially the uphill part of the walk.
Cable car descending towards Sutter Street. Note that each cable car seems distinct from another.
Notice the tourist hanging on on the left side? She’s also taking photos along the way.
Pavement markings delineate where vehicles may park or travel and there are special markings designating the path of cable cars. In the horizon, one can already get a preview of the excellent view of the bay.
Descending towards the pier, whether towards Mason Street or Hyde Street, provides passengers with a breathtaking view of the bay.
The topography in this part of the city is quite unique and travelers get an excellent vista.
Cable car rounding a curve – there are two lines emanating from Market and Powell, one goes to Mason Street and the other to Hyde Street. These are clearly marked on each cable car for the guidance of passengers.
Street where cable cars run in the opposite direction
A close-up of the rails – the slot between the tracks are where the underground cables run through.
The topography assures us of many steep climbs necessitating the cable cars in the first place. The designer happens to be a mining engineer.
The route runs through many residential areas. That’s Mason Street ahead where the Powell & Mason cars will turn right towards the Pier. Our Powell & Hyde car will go straight and turn at Hyde.
The rail coming from the right are from the Cable Car Museum, which is along the Powell & Hyde route. It features real, functioning cable cars as well as typical museum stuff that tell the story of this system.
A typical intersection along the route.
That’s Hyde Street ahead and the final turn towards the Pier.
A closer look at the curve and the traffic signal. Cable cars follow the signals though I thought at first they were given priority over motor vehicles.
A tree-lined section of Hyde Street.
The cable car on the opposite side is filled with passengers. Most of those hanging on at the front portion of the cable car are tourists.
Crests and sags are quite common in SF given its topography.
The cable and rail designs allow for switching between tracks.
Lane markings designating the path of the cable car – the double yellow (no overtaking from either side of the road) is seriously enforced in San Francisco. Again, the passenger is afforded a preview of the spectacular view of the bay towards the end of the journey.
This is the stop at Lombard Street, famous for being the crookedest street in the world. The crooked section is at right starting from the corner with the American flag-inspired tarps covering construction work on one building.
Descent from Russian Hill and Lombard Street presents a highly anticipated view of the bay and harbor.
Ships and boats docked and with the Maritime Museum can be seen along with Alcatraz Island, the former prison.
It’s a steep descent from Russian Hill but the cable system and the skillful drivers ensure a safe journey. Yes, that’s a cutter with its sails on the left side of the photo. It is part of the SF Maritime Museum along with other ships and boats regularly visited by school children on educational tour.
Another view of the bay with Alcatraz on the upper right of the photo.
A view of a side street – many cable car stops are on in the middle of intersections. This is because the intersection is usually on even ground to facilitate the flow of vehicles, particularly turning movements.
Another side street along Hyde – I took the photo not because of the trailer but because of the sign stating that roadside parking is allowed, and the pavement markings designating bicycle paths.
Final stop – cable cars queue on the right side as they wait for their turn to go to the terminal where there is a turntable that enables cable car operators (There is always 2 – the driver and the conductor/brakeman.) to turn the vehicle around for the return trip.
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Note that the cable cars are not tourist transport as some people might see them. They are part of a very functional and efficient public transport system and there are people who regularly use the cable cars for their commute. In fact, I spotted many who have passes for the cable cars, which have more expensive fares (US$ 6 per ride compared to the US$2 minimum for the trolley buses).

Pedestrian facilities around Saitama Shintoshin Station

I have found many examples of excellent pedestrian facilities during my visits to Japan. Among the best are those integrated with the Saitama Shintoshin Station along the JR Keihin Tohoku Line. I had the good fortune of staying at a hotel near the station, from where I could easily catch a train to go to Saitama University via Kita Urawa Station where I transfer for a short bus ride to the university. Following are photos taken in September 2008 showing the walkways connecting my hotel with the JR station. Along the way the walkway connects other buildings such as those hosting government offices and the Saitama Super Arena, a major venue for indoor sports events like the Asian basketball tournaments that determine the continent’s representatives to the Olympics and World Championships.

Tiled walkways with provisions for the blind (the yellow tiles) and protection from the elements

The walkways are wide and should be able to accommodate a high volume of pedestrian traffic. This section leads to the Saitama prefectural government offices located in the building on the background.

The yellow tiles forming the paths for blind pedestrians are designed to be under the shed and extends to the stairs from which the pedestrian could access the sidewalks and establishments at the ground level of the complex/area.

Stairs are designed with hand rails to support physically challenged people including the elderly. Note the yellow strips prior to the first step down the stairs.

Pedestrian need to have access to information and maps and directional signs provide guidance for people especially those unfamiliar with the area (e.g., visitors or tourists). Most signs in the urban areas of Japan have English translations like what is shown beneath the Japanese in the signs above.

Some maps have interactive features. In this case, there are buttons that provide audio description of places of interest on the map. Today, there are already touchscreen maps in malls and there should be outdoor versions of such facilities.

Another photo of the spacious walkways in the Saitama Shintoshin area. One could see the roof of the Saitama Super Arena on the upper left part of the photo and the building housing the elevators for those using wheelchairs or carrying heavy items.

Closer to the station and the arena.

There are plant boxes containing brushes and trees along the walkways, providing a more relaxing environment for pedestrians.

The walkways eventually lead to the complex where located is the Super Arena on one side to the train station in the middle and the commercial complex on the other side.

Walking from the station to the commercial establishments and office after the Super Arena (at right in the photo), there is a wide space for visitors (e.g., fans, spectators, etc.). There are many coffee shops and restaurants in the area where people could meet up for coffee or tea aside from grab a quick or leisurely meal.

This the view of a pedestrian approaching the Saitama Shintoshin JR station. Shops are located along the right side of the promenade while the arches form the roof structure of the station, reflecting the modern architecture of the transit station.

The Saitama Super Arena is also host to a museum dedicated to the late Beatle John Lennon.

Inside the JR station plaza with kiosks on the left side and ticket machine to the right. Further on are more commercial establishments located in an upscale mall.

 

Fast ferries in the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago, meaning it is comprised of islands, some 7,107 of them. As it is impractical (read: too expensive) to connect the larger islands by bridges or tunnels, the connections would have to be made via either maritime or air transport. In previous postings, I have already written about some of the more modern airports in the country like the Bacolod/Silay, Iloilo and Davao airports. What I have not written about in this blog is something in maritime transport.

To get a feel of the current state of commercial maritime inter-island transport (i.e., not including those using motorized or human-powered boats or bancas), I thought it most appropriate to feature fast ferry/fast craft services that are quite popular in the Visayas and Mindanao. I will write on roll-on, roll-off (RORO) services and the nautical highway in the future.

There have been much progress in the upgrading of maritime transport services between islands in the Visayas and Mindanao. This was made possible with the introduction in the 1990’s of fast craft or fast ferries popularly called Supercat with the cat in reference to the catamaran-type vessels plying routes like Bacolod-Iloilo, Cebu-Tagbilaran and Cebu-Dumaguete. These fast crafts effectively cut down travel times by half with the Bacolod-Iloilo run trimmed down from 2-2.5 hours to 1 hour. Following are a few photos of fast crafts and terminal facilities in Cebu City.

Typical fast ferry docked at the Cebu terminal of the Aboitiz Co.

Twin-hulled SuperCat approaching the Cebu port

Inside the fast ferry terminal, there are plenty of space and seats for waiting passengers. There are also concessionaires selling food, drinks and souvenir items.

Floating piers serve as the port’s extensions to accommodate fast craft operations

Passengers boarding the fast craft via bridge connecting the terminal to the floating piers

On-board the SuperCat, seats appear like those for long-distance buses complete with head rests for the comfort of passengers. The vessel cabin is fully air-conditioned.

Another view of the seats inside the vessel show comfortable seating for passengers as well as wide windows for those wanting to have a view of the islands. There is also a snack bar inside the vessel serving food and drinks to hungry or thirsty passengers.

Fast ferry/fast craft services are quite popular in the Visayas and Mindanao and provide a less expensive option to air travel. These complement the RORO services that are more about long-distance travels between cities in different parts of the Philippines, like for example Manila to Iloilo. Such services offered by fast craft are essential for both commerce and tourism and should be encouraged for further development or upgrading, especially in terms of terminal facilities that are still wanting or deficient in many ports in the Philippines.