Taking the 5:30 AM flight to Roxas City, we had to be at the airport at least an hour before the ETD. We decided to come earlier in order to be able to get good seats. We were taking Philippine Airlines and the airline didn’t have an online check-in facility (!) so we decided to be there 90 minutes prior to the ETD. That meant leaving our homes around 3:00 PM to make it to the airport by 4:00 AM despite the fact that traffic is usually free flowing at those hours.
Check-in: There were few passengers at the airport despite the many early morning flights. Perhaps the fact that Terminal 2 has separate wings for domestic and international passengers also partly explain this, aside from the fact that fewer people are taking PAL. We noticed during check-in that the ground staff seemed slower than before. The staff in red uniform are supposed to be relatively new as PAL decided to outsource many of its services to cut costs.
Departure lounge: The departure area is not at all crowded and you can choose wherever you want to sit while waiting for your flight to be called. Even the cafes were not crowded and we easily got a table where we could drink our coffee while waiting for the boarding call.
Boarding gates: The gates at NAIA’s Terminal 2 look like this with a counter in front of the gate. Only staff are supposed to be behind the counter considering security implications and issues. This wasn’t the case when I was at the same airport for a US flight last year. The ground staff who were apparently newbies along with the security people paid no attention to one foreigner charging his phone behind the counter and talking it up with staff about what’s on their computer screen!
Concessionaires: There are many concessionaires inside the departure area of T2 and fortunately they open early for passengers wanting to have a quick bite or drink before their flights. Some passengers may also have to purchase last minute pasalubong and among the popular items are cakes and pastries from either Goldilocks or Red Ribbon. Terminal 3 is much better though as there are many restaurants and shops in the terminal where passengers and well-wishers can have their meals.
Neat and clean: Terminal 2 is not as big and neat as Terminal 3, which serves the Cebu Pacific, AirPhil Express, PAL Express and ANA flights (T2 only serves PAL). Nevertheless, I think the facilities are much better than Terminal 1 and that includes the toilets. It would seem to me that the floors are good enough for one to sit or even lie on while waiting for your boarding call. I wouldn’t recommend it though.
The Centennial Terminal, as T2 is also called, is supposed to remain as PAL’s terminal even after Terminal 3 would have been fully operational. One plan called for all international flights to be serviced from T3 while all domestic flights, except those of PAL, will be at T1. Hopefully, these re-assignment of services will be done after T1 is renovated. So far, I haven’t got news about the proposed renovation including whether this will push through at all. Manila definitely needs good airport terminals if only to make a good first impression on visitors. Airports, after all, are gateways and provide visitors with a preview of what a country can offer.
I was back in Roxas City a week ago for a quick meeting to discuss a proposed central public transport terminal for the city. We flew into Roxas City via Philippine Airlines, arriving just before 6:30 AM. I took some photos as we deplaned and while exiting through the arrival area of the airport. Following are recent photos taken at the airport.
Airport terminal as it appears to the traveler as one emerges from the plane to descent the stairs to the tarmac.Conspicuous under the airport’s name is the information that the terminal is 2.80m above mean sea level. This is probably related to disaster mitigation and management for info for people flying in to provide support.
Baggage handling from the aircraft – baggage is handled with care unlike how it’s shown in some video circulating around the internet. The cone is one of several that are supposed to mark the restricted areas around the aircraft where passengers may not pass through.
The arrival area cannot fit all the passengers and the porters who typically assist those with luggage or baggage. In fact, much of the area is eaten up by the conveyor system. Note, too, the dart board on the wall on the upper right of the photo. Staff on break probably play darts to while away their time.
Porters in purple shirts gather outside the arrival area as passengers file out of the terminal. Airport staff will signal to the porters once the first bag is on the conveyor following a simple system to avoid overcrowding at the arrival area.
After our meeting with city officials, we were back again at the airport to catch the afternoon flight back to Manila. This time, we took Cebu Pacific as it fit our schedule so we could be back in Manila by late afternoon.
Check-in counter for Cebu Pacific – the staff accepted our boarding passes and seem to be surprised we had already checked-in online.
After passing through the final security check, one can wait for boarding at the pre-departure area where seats were apparently marked by the airline who provided them. These are the older fiberglass seats that are common in many domestic terminals.
The newer metallic seats seem more comfortable. We checked-in early so there were few passengers in the area when I took the photos. Notice the gleaming floor? They replaced the old dark tiles with these that made the area brighter and more neat-looking.
Concessionaire in the terminal – this is the last place where one can buy pasalubong. I was disappointed, though, to see that the products being sold were from Guimaras rather than from Roxas or Capiz.
Stairs for boarding the aircraft – to expedite the boarding process, a second set of stairs is provided for rear entrance. Passengers are sorted before boarding for those who are to use the front and aft doors.
There are plans to upgrade Roxas Airport. It currently has a relatively short runway that allows for A320 or A319 aircraft operations, but landings and take-offs must be quite precise as they practically use up the entire length of the runway. It also has to improve the capacity of both its departure and arrival areas given the tendency for overcrowding even though it seems the terminal only handles one aircraft at a time, unlike other busier airports such as Iloilo and Bacolod. And oh, the toilets are clean and well-maintained. In fact, the Secretary of Transportation who is from the city and bears its name (the former president was his grandfather) uses the toilets himself so if its good enough for him, its probably good enough for most other people using the airport toilets.
After being branded as a “killer highway” and regarded as the most dangerous road in the Philippines, authorities have scrambled every now and again to come up with various schemes to reduce the incidence of road crashes along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. The highway has been designated as a traffic discipline zone, pedestrian overpasses have been constructed, the speed limit has been set at 60 kph, and a lane has been assigned for motorcycles. All this and still Commonwealth has been assessed to be unsafe.
Why is Commonwealth Avenue unsafe after all the initiatives, all the programs and projects implemented along the corridor? There are many reasons both general and specific. However, let us list only four:
1) Driver behavior – despite all the safety programs, driver behavior (both for private and public transport) has not generally improved. There are still many aggressive and reckless drivers weaving in traffic. PUB and PUJ drivers often exit the lanes designated for them. Private vehicle driver continue to speed above the speed limit, knowing that there is only 1 speed radar deployed along the highway. And drivers continue to use median openings to cross the highway, creating situations with high likelihoods of crashes. Gap acceptance is typically aggressive and driver and riders seem to travel thinking others will just avoid them should there be conflicts along the way.
2) Pedestrian behavior – even with overpasses constructed, This is particularly the situation along the section from Fairview Market to Litex where people of all ages continue to cross at various points along the highway, seemingly oblivious to the dangers posed by motor vehicles along the highways many lanes. People seem to be generally unaware or do not care about the risks as shown by the pedestrians below including parents crossing while carrying their child. Jaywalking (or if there is an equivalent running and dodging vehicles) is quite prevalent along Commonwealth despite the construction of several overpasses. One problem, it seems, is the fact that many overpasses are not used because of some design flaws (stairs too steep or have limited capacity) and the propensity for setting up shop right on the overpasses themselves, thereby limiting its capacity for pedestrian traffic.
3) Enforcement – let’s be honest and accept the fact that enforcement along Commonwealth is patchy at best. It’s strict only during the initial days of a new program but eventually relaxes. We have a term for this – “ningas cogon.” This applies to both enforcers of the MMDA and Quezon City DPOS and the Philippine National Police. In fact, there are many violations that are taken for granted perhaps for the sheer difficulty of sustaining enforcement efforts. It was mentioned previously that there is still a problem pertaining to pedestrians and such problems that include jaywalking and illegal vendors on overpasses are among those that need constant attention from enforcers. There is also the persistent challenge from public transport that includes racing and the non-usage of lanes designated for them. In the photo below, for example, jeepneys take up the outer lane of the highway, which also happens to be part of the public transport lanes where PUB’s and PUJ’s are supposed to be confined while traveling along Commonwealth.
4) Geometry – the highway is not only too wide but also generally straight and level for long sections. These conditions are perfect for high speed travel and without enforced speed limits will normally tempt a lot of drivers and riders to speed up. This is something that has been well established abroad and can easily be observed along our expressways and national roads where the formula of availability of space (wide roads) plus excellent sight distance combine with aggressive, risk taking driver/rider behavior to result in high vehicle speeds.
There are also the unusual designs of median openings (U-turns) that were claimed to have taken into consideration vehicle turning radii as well as trajectories along the the highway. Yet, there is the persistent observation that the median islands appear to be “nabubuntis” or getting pregnant based on the bulging island where the U-turn slots are located. U-turns also encourage weaving and aggressive behavior in order to cover the distance and width to a median opening. The non-occurrence of crashes now do not mean they will not occur in the future. These are examples of disasters waiting to happen just like the conditions at the huge roundabout that was constructed along Commonwealth in the Fairview area (photo below) where vehicle movements show motorists generally do not know how to use roundabouts. Thus, you get buses making U-turns and jeepneys and cars doing left turns in this portion of the highway.
Let me emphasize a main point I made in the previous paragraphs: It is not because there are few road crashes occurring (compared with the potential often cited by various parties criticizing the U-turn scheme) that Commonwealth is deemed safe. The fact is that any assessment of the highway will be based on the likelihood of crashes occurring due to the conditions along the road. It is probably by sheer luck that the incidence of fatal accidents is not that high. It is still a case of a disaster just waiting to happen.
There is still much to hope for since the MMDA and others involved continue in their efforts along Commonwealth including the designation of motorcycle lanes and the enforcement of speed limits (despite their limited hardware). These have obviously influenced motorists’ behavior in a positive way along the highway. Behavior change is a very good thing that needs to be reinforced further in order to improve safety along Commonwealth. But constructive and more permanent behavior change with respect to transport and traffic will take time, and efforts need to be consistent, firm and sustained to condition the minds of travelers for this change.
The case for Commonwealth might as well be applied to other roads not just in Metro Manila but throughout the country as well. Much is required in terms of resources and commitment to effect significant changes that will lead to the improvement of transport and traffic conditions. And yet the treatments are often generally varied, each city going about its own ways despite good practices available for adoption or adaptation. Perhaps the lessons from Commonwealth will be applied elsewhere, or perhaps not. Let us just hope that it won’t go the way officials in other cities jokingly say about traffic schemes in Metro Manila – “We observe what they do in Metro Manila and then we don’t do it here.”
The Cagayan Valley Road is part of Asian Highway – 26 (AH-26) and the Pan-Philippine Highway. I have had only three opportunities to travel along this road and only once so far was I able to cross into Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan. Two previous trips have only taken me as far as San Jose City in Nueva Ecija. When the chance to travel to Tuguegarao, Cagayan came up one time, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer and opted to take a road trip in order to have the best view of the land and points of interest along the corridor.
Aside from the absence of pavement markings, there is also a dearth of road signs. While it may be reasoned that these are unnecessary due to the light traffic, there are minimum signs and markings required for such roads to guide motorists.
Minimum required signs and markings along curves are shown in the photo with the double yellow indicating no passing along both sides of the road. Signs should, however, be free from obstructions. such as the makeshift fence of houses along the highway.
The solid yellow along the broken white lines states that motorists are prohibited from passing along the lane on the right using the left lane. Vehicles on the left (opposing traffic in this case) may overtake using the right lane.
Sections like this where sight distance is excellent is ideal for passing. Travelers should enjoy the view of the countryside and the mountains up ahead. Sadly, the mountains have much fewer trees after years of illegal logging that have exhausted our timber resources. These have remained generally unaddressed to this day.
Barriers set up by locals to slow down traffic – there are similar others placed on the road by the PNP, the DENR and barangays for various reasons including checkpoints for illegal logs, firearms, etc. While mostly for good intentions, these can become hazards along the road especially at night when the highway is generally poorly illuminated.
Marginal maintenance of roads is quite common where cracks are often addressed by asphalt seals. Several of the chevrons along this section have been taken by vandals with only the posts remaining along with 3 signs.
Poorly maintained section where the pavement already needs to be rehabilitated, i.e., “re-blocking” as it is often called is necessary for many sections where there is also a need to re-assess the base or sub-base layers.
Many sections have large cracks like this section. I took a photo of this also because of the old signs warning motorists of the reverse curve ahead and the speed limit of 30 kph. I doubt that the speed limit is enforced or followed by drivers and riders but the section is even more dangerous because of the plunge on one side and the barriers seem inadequate for preventing vehicles from taking off from the highway.
There are wide shoulders along the road for layovers of truckers and other motorists seeking some rest from a long travel. There are usually stores or eateries here where people can purchase some refreshments.
Trucks parked along the road – there are common areas where truck crews rest or have quick maintenance checks for their vehicles. There are typically repair and vulcanizing shops along these highways.
The shoulder along the outer edge of the highway is wide enough to allow for enough space for recovery or emergency stops. I am not sure though if the barriers are adequate for preventing vehicles from going over the ravine on this side of the road.
The drive along this highway was quite educating with respect to the varying conditions along our roads and the environmental impacts of deforestation. The climates here could have been cooler and the air fresher if the mountains had much more trees than what remained.
Trucks parked along the highway – truck crews generally take rests on long trips and would usually time their travel to factor in the truck bans in some towns along their routes and in Metro Manila as well. It is usually difficult for them to travel continuously during the day as they are slowed down not just by the terrain but by local traffic (e.g., tricycles).
Slow climb – travel can be significantly slowed down by trucks negotiating the slopes. Trucks laden with goods are usually hindered by their loads as they would have to overcome gravity. In many cases, these trucks may be overloaded, making their engines work more to be able to carry their weights.
No signs? – while there are pavement markings along this section, the centerline marking should have been a solid yellow to discourage overtaking prior to and along the curvature, especially since sight distance is very limited by the terrain and the foliage. There should also be traffic signs to inform motorists of the approaching section and to guide drivers as they traverse the segment.
Engineers designed and constructed this section with a roof to protect the road section from landslides or rockslides. One will find similar structures along Marcos Highway on the road to/from Baguio City.
Sign by an organization informing motorists of the view deck along Balete Pass coming up along the road. There should be a standard sign for such attractions along our national roads. Perhaps there is already one erected in the area considering this photo was taken about 5 years ago.
Upon entering the province of Isabela, we decided to take the alternate route to avoid what we anticipated as heavy traffic along the towns and cities including Santiago and Ilagan. I will feature these sections in a future post that will serve as a sequel to this one.
The Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway connects the province of Laguna with Batangas, stretching from the SLEX extension in Calamba, Laguna to the spur road along Sto. Tomas and on to Batangas City. It has been the subject of criticism for being unsafe and this is for many reasons. Such include the fact that a significant part of the tollway is 2-lane and undivided like most national highways around the country. Fortunately, however, there seem to be few road crashes being reported along the tollway. This is probably due to the relatively low traffic volumes observed along the STAR combined with motorists being aware of the potential for crashes. Such awareness increases their alertness to situations that can lead to accidents. Following are photos I took almost a year ago during one trip to Batangas City.
Junction leading to the entrance of the tollway
Two-lane, two-way section of the tollway – the section is along half of the ROW and would have been the SB section of a divided road. The undeveloped land on the right will be the section where the NB section will be constructed. That’s a typical pedestrian overpass in the photo.
The full ROW for the tollway was acquired prior to its construction but due to the low traffic demand, the owner-operator decided against building the full, divided highway. Nevertheless, the highway generally has standard shoulders on either side and standard lane markings.
San Miguel Corporation, a company traditionally associated with beverage (San Miguel Beer) has acquired the STAR in its expansion to infrastructure projects. It is said to be planning for the construction of a full 4-lane divided tollway that will finally see the construction of the northbound lanes for a significant portion of the highway. There are, however, more improvements necessary in order to improve the safety of the tollway. These, of course, includes the installation of standard road signs and pavement markings. In is quite noticeable, too, from the photos above that there are few if any lamps along the tollway. This situation causes the tollway to be quite dark at nighttime and this lack of illumination may lead to road crashes especially along the undivided sections in Batangas. It is expected that traffic along the STAR will continue to grow in the coming years due in part to the increase in the volume of inter-regional trips including those taking the nautical highway system. Batangas Port already serves a lot of vehicles that cross the water between Luzon and Mindoro and this will continue to rise in number as towns along the corridor prosper and lead to increased vehicular traffic.
I like to take aerial photos of islands and distinguishing formations or features on the land below. Among those I’ve been able to catch on photo on clear days are Mayon Volcano, Taal Volcano, the Chocolate Hills, Cagayancillo, and Corregidor Island. I took some snapshots while our plane was approaching Metro Manila around 5PM. This time, what caught my attention was not the any land feature but something above it – the smog that covered Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.
Yes Manila, that’s the air we breathe! This is what we inhale everyday and is the result of years of neglect and irresponsibility for those who cheated on the emission tests prior to vehicle registration, and continue to fail in the proper maintenance of vehicles.
Manila with a thick band of air pollution above it. Pilots and tourists arriving by aircraft see this everyday and I’m quite sure that they have a bad impression about Metro Manila from this scene of the smog alone.
Another shot of the airport runways with the haze above. At the lower part of the photo and along the approach to NAIA’s main runway is a bird sanctuary being threatened by plans to reclaim and develop the area.
The presence and persistence of smog over Metropolitan Manila should be a cause for concern if not outright panic considering the impacts of such pollution on our health. Unfortunately, people on the ground do not see this haze and would even likely interpret this as just cloud formations. Perhaps we tend to forget that one reason sunsets at Manila Bay are so colorful is because our air is already too polluted. It is sad that such realizations have not led to more urgent action from the government, often depending on NGOs to do much of the work. There is no other time than the present to be aggressive in such efforts as to clean our air. This is why we are pushing for sustainable transport…this is why we work!
The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines recently received a very generous donation from the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC), which has partnered with the Center in the conduct of training programs for its staff. The donation includes several software packages that would help the Center leapfrog from its modest capabilities and allow it to be par in as far as tools are concerned with government agencies and private entities who have acquired similar software.
Commercial transport planning and traffic engineering software such as those for travel demand forecasting and traffic simulation are quite expensive, and the Center has been using only old versions of TRAF-NETSIM, JICA STRADA and software developed by its staff using programming languages that are also taught by the several of its fellows. Perhaps the most recent acquisition of the Center prior to the donation is the CUBE transport planning software, which has been utilized to migrate the transport model for Metro Manila that was developed in 1999 using JICA STRADA. The latter effort was conducted in cooperation with the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) with data gathered through various projects over the last few years to update the road network and traffic inputs.
The donation includes academic versions of VISSIM (the same simulation software acquired some years ago by the MMDA followed by the DPWH) and SIDRA, which is for intersection analysis. Also acquired in the donation are full versions of the same SIDRA, Synchro with SimTraffic (also a micro-simulation software) and Anadelta TESSERA (highway design software). Soon to be delivered are a new version of the TSIS/TRAF-NETSIM software and accident analysis software (road safety). This is in addition to GPS units that were recently delivered and a LIDAR gun for speed measurements that will donated this year (2012).
Dr. Ricardo Sigua, head of the NCTS Road Safety Research Laboratory and a Professor at the Institute of Civil Engineering of UP, recently held a brief training session with our senior undergraduate students for using the VISSIM software. He gave them group assignments afterwards and already, there is much excitement among the students who have the opportunity to use top of the line software for their studies. We look forward to their presentations in two weeks time when they are to show the outcomes of their modeling work.
Passed by the construction site of the underpass along Quezon Ave. and the project seems to be running on schedule and should be finished prior to the next school year. Much is expected of the project because it has been touted as the solution to the traffic congestion along both major roads intersecting at this point.
The following photos show the work site from the westbound side along Quezon Ave. from Honda to Sto. Domingo:
The following photos show the work site from the eastbound side of Quezon Avenue from the Sto. Domingo to Puregold:
There seems to be a lot at stake with the completion of this project considering concerns about the drainage (Talayan is nearby and so is a river that usually overflows during periods of heavy rains.) as well as the capacity of the roads to handle traffic. While there should be no problems along the eastbound direction of Quezon Ave. due to the available capacity due to the widened sections of the highway, it is quite a different case for the Manila-bound direction where congestion may occur due to Sto. Domingo church and the series of intersections including the busy one at Banawe. Nevertheless, the main concern will be if the traffic signals at the at-grade Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection will be able to handle the remaining traffic considering that most through traffic along Quezon Ave. will be expected to take the underpass. While the DPWH simulations seem to show relief at the intersection, the actual outcomes are something to wait for in order to validate traffic engineering analysis for the junction.
There was a story appearing in the news recently about motorcycle riders staging a motorcade rally to bring attention to their plight in relation to the motorcycle lane along Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) or Circumferential Road 4 (C-4). The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) implemented the scheme along EDSA after getting generally positive results along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City and Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City. Perhaps the thinking here was that if such a scheme succeeded in other roads, it would also succeed elsewhere. Right? – Wrong!
EDSA is always so different from may other Metro Manila roads, most definitely from Commonwealth Ave. and Macapagal Blvd. For one, EDSA carries more traffic than these two roads (combined?) and the sheer volume of private vehicles during busy times of the day cannot be handled by the lanes designated for them. The two outermost lanes of EDSA are supposed to be for the exclusive use of buses but private vehicles frequently encroach on these lanes due to the inevitable spillover from congestion. Fortunately, there is a truck ban along the highway (these generally use Circumferential Road 5) but this does not translate to less congestion as the following photos show. Commonwealth is wider than EDSA while carrying less traffic. As such, vehicles can speed up along many sections of that highway. In fact, the main problems along Commonwealth happen to be related to speeding and weaving. Macapagal has even less traffic and generally does not carry public transport. Perhaps it will carry more traffic in the future once the reclamation areas are fully developed.
Heavy traffic along EDSA at mid-afternoon – many cars encroach upon the two outermost lanes that are supposed to be for buses. The same vehicles practically occupy the lanes designated for motorcycles.
Vehicles occupying the lane designated for use by motorcycle along EDSA – note the “fine print” on the sign on the pedestrian overpass stating the lane is also for use by private vehicles. Riders are lobbying for the lane to be for their exclusive use.
The motorcycle lane proceeds through EDSA along its underpasses and overpasses – EDSA’s capacity during peak periods is not enough for cars and so they usually spill over to the bus lanes. It’s also status quo for them in as far as using the motorcycle lane is concerned, unlike in the case of Commonwealth Ave. where the wider carriageway allows for private vehicles to avoid taking the motorcycle lane.
The initial assessment we made for the motorcycle lanes along EDSA was positive and hopeful for the behavior change that it is supposed to bring about both with drivers and riders. I believe that despite the dry run and the aggressive enforcement that followed, the scheme as applied along EDSA is still very much in the “honeymoon” stage and there’s room for some adjustments here and there including some flexibility on motorcycle riders who are often forced out of the designated lane by cars. It is clear from the photos above that private cars really cannot be given too much freedom to use the motorcycle lane. Perhaps by prohibiting cars from generally using the motorcycle lane, we’ll eventually have a safer EDSA. This comes at a steep price, however, as that will be one less lane for private cars. But then again, if the objective is to discourage car use (especially the low occupancy kind) then it should be good but with the caveat that public transport services along EDSA, including the MRT running along the center of the highway, should have improved quality of service.
I was thinking about things that are more fun in the Philippines when I suddenly remembered I was able to take a couple of photos of fellow passengers descending from our aircraft via stairs, walking along the tarmac, and then ascending the stairs to the air bridge/tube. This, because there was no tube operator available for our plane at NAIA Terminal 3. I could still remember various remarks from passengers ranging from the unkind to those that come across as jokes to those made in jest including the by-line “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” that was adopted by the Department of Tourism as their slogan.
Passengers deplaning from the Cebu Pacific A320 aircraft – the plane was already docked for it to be served by the air bridge but it tool about 20 minutes before the flight attendant informed passengers that the aircraft had to be re-positioned to allow for the stairs to be brought alongside the aircraft. It was also announced that the reason for this was because there was no operator available for the air bridge.
Passengers ascending the stairs to the air bridge – after walking the distance from the plane, passengers were instructed to climb to the air bridge, which connected to the corridor leading to the immigration area. This was at 2:30 PM in the afternoon when passengers are exposed to the scorching heat and elderly passengers had to negotiate two stairs with minimal assistance from ground personnel. For domestic flights, I remember that passengers could proceed to the baggage claim area that was practically at the same level as the tarmac since they didn’t require processing through immigration.