Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: December 2011

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.
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.

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.
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.