Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Future of road assessments in the Philippines

The field surveys conducted under the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) in cooperation with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) employed a van fitted with cameras taking video of the road environment. The surveys were mobile and covered more than 2,000 kilometers of national roads in Luzon and Visayas. The video is then processed prior to evaluation by a team trained to rate road sections according to a criteria established by iRAP and applied in many other countries including Malaysia and Australia. I haven’t had the chance to explain the project to a close friend of ours with the Geodetic Engineering Department of the University of the Philippines Diliman when he explained to me his proposal for a mobile mapping system that we included in the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) program for consideration by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) with their Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) program.

The GE Department recently acquired state of the art equipment for mobile mapping under another project. I presume this will eventually be used for the road environment and the equipment includes a ‎3D Laser scanner installed on top of a survey vehicle. The scanner will enable the construction of 3D images of the road environment with an accuracy that will allow for a more automated (and objective) assessments of road safety.

They also installed an inertial measurement unit (IMU) on the vehicle. This device will be able to measure horizontal and vertical movement of the vehicle, enabling it to measure displacement that can be used to determine road roughness. The latter may be used to determine the international roughness index (IRI), which is a measure of quality of road pavements.

State of the art equipment being installed on an AUV

Close-up of installation work

UP College of Engineering Staff posing after completing installation of the 3D scanner

The Road Safety Research Laboratory (RSRL) of the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) look forward to working with the GE Department on applications of their hardware and software for evaluating road safety in the country. Hopefully, we can get support from the pertinent agencies for this endeavor.

Hong Kong International Airport

I’ve been to HKIA only twice and both have been in transit to another country rather than me visiting Hong Kong for business or its attractions. As such, I would say that the photos I was able to take do not do justice to the terminal, which is probably the caveat for this article.

Hong Kong would be in the Top 3 airports in Asia and perhaps in the world. In terms of efficiency, I would still say Singapore’s Changi would still be the best but HKIA will be a very close second. Incheon will probably come in as 3rd but not really that close to the first two.

Moving walkways – these facilities are a necessity even for those who at first assume they don’t need to use them. The airport terminal is huge and it would take time for one to walk or run to catch a flight, especially a connecting one.

Information technology – the information systems at the airport are top of the line and allows travelers, like our group in the photo, to easily navigate the airport and know the status of our flight.

Shops and restaurants – HKIA is a microcosm of Hong Kong itself as one may go shopping or dining at the airport. We saw a lot of popular booths where travelers can grab quick meals or drinks while waiting to board their flights. The retail shops are a mix of the affordable to the more expensive goods including souvenirs even if you just happen to be in transit at HKIA. There’s even a large Disney Store at the airport.

Cavernous – the architecture of the terminal gives travelers a sense of immensity with the very high ceiling and tremendous space for going around. This is just appropriate for a terminal handling millions of passengers.

Hub – HKIA is the hub of the island’s major carrier, Cathay Pacific. CX, as the airline is designated, flies to so many destinations from HKIA making it a major player among international carriers. I think Cathay Pacific is easily among the top 3 or 5 airlines in the world where all in my list being Asian (e.g., Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways).

View from afar – airport access may be via road or rail transport and one could see the Hong Kong cityscape from the airport. In the photo, the tall buildings before the mountains are probably high-rise apartments where many reside. HK is a very dense city, which necessitates such residential developments instead of the single-detached and even walk-up types to account for space limitations.

Ground handling – a view of the tarmac where a lot of activities happen. I remember a video going around in You Tube about the baggage of a Philippine carrier being mishandled by HKIA ground staff. I guess such things happen everywhere, even in what are already considered as top airports.

Boarding – passengers queued before Gate 4 at HKIA

Best seats in the house – the layout of seats at the departure area allow people to have some personal space in a very public place. The windows afford a view of the surrounding area including airport operations for people interested in transport like our group just coming from an academic conference on transportation.

Window seat – the large windows and high ceilings make every seat practically a window seat

Not crowded at all – we were to board an Airbus A340 for our flight back to Manila. Minutes before the flight, most passengers seem to be anywhere but near the our boarding gate.

Boarding time – I was able to take a photo of a friend taking a photo as well as two queues before a couple of boarding gates at the airport. The queues were generally orderly with airport staff checking the boarding passes of people in line to facilitate the boarding procedure.

Line-up – this line here is actually for our flight. As there were no boarding sequence for those riding in coach, we decided to board later as the line was quite long.

Another look at our fellow passengers lined up to board our aircraft.

Boarding gate – we boarded our aircraft through the same gate where I took a photo of earlier

I’m not sure when I will be using the HKIA again but I’m sure I’ll be trying to take a lot more photos particularly the restaurants and shops in the terminal. Perhaps, too, I could be going around HK itself (I haven’t gone anywhere here except the airport terminal.). I am curious about the streets, the delicious food and, of course, the transportation system.

Port Area Roads 1: Bonifacio Drive to 2nd Street

Heading to a meeting at the DPWH’s National Capital Region office one afternoon, I made sure to take photos of the roads en route to their building located across the Sout Harbor’s container terminal and before the (and therefore near) the Baseco compound along 2nd Street.

Bonifacio Drive – this section is part of Radial Road 1 (R-1) and has 4 lanes per direction. It stretches from R-1’s intersection with Burgos (in front of The Manila Hotel) where Roxas Boulevard (the road more associated with R-1) has its north end. Bonifacio Drive has a generous median and the northbound side is lined with trees on either side since Intramuros is on the right.

DPWH Head Office – this is the approach to the median opening for the DPWH Head Office located along Bonifacio Drive. The Head Office houses the Offices of the Secretary, Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries of the department. It also houses the Planning Service and Bureau of Design. There used to be a railroad behind the DPWH building when the port area was connected to the railway system particularly to carry freight from the ships calling on the Port of Manila.

Walls of Intramuros – the walls on the right are not The Walls but those of the Intramuros Golf Club, which is  located in the area that used to be the buffer zone before the Walled City, much of which are part of a golf course. It is interesting to note that despite the excellent condition of the pavement, much of Bonifacio Drive does not have lane markings. In the previous photo, the markings are badly weathered. It can be observed that many trucks are parked along either side of the road – a preview of more trucks parked along the curbside in the area.

Approach to the Del Pan Bridge – the bridge is where Radial Road 1 ends and Radial Road 10 begins. We didn’t cross the bridge spanning the mouth of the Pasig River but instead took the service road that led under the bridge to what is technically part of the Muelle Del Rio. The interchange provides access to Baseco and the container terminal as well as for vehicles making U-turns towards the southbound side of Bonifacio Drive.

Service road – keeping to the right of Bonifacio Drive, we took the turn prior to Del Pan Bridge. On the right side is a buffer area prior to the walls of Fort Santiago, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Pasig River.

Reduced capacity – the service road’s capacity is significantly reduced by the vehicles, mostly trucks, parked along the road. I am not sure why this is allowed but toleration of such practices goes to show the lack of adequate facilities for freight vehicles around the Port Area, which is something that needs urgent attention.

More parked trucks – many trucks we saw had trailers and were probably waiting to pick up containers at the South Harbor. Conspicuously, many trucks like the yellow ones in the photo seem to be owned by a few companies, who perhaps have no suitable depots or garage facilities for their trucks. Of course, there is also the constraints brought about by the truck ban being enforced in Metro Manila. But this seems to be a flimsy excuse considering many roads in the area allow truck traffic throughout the day, being designated as trucks routes.

Beneath the bridge – under the Del Pan Bridge, there are more parked trucks. Many are being maintained or repaired and there are informal settlers among the truckers camped out under the cover of the wide bridge. There are also barges lined along the river that also seem to be waiting for their turn to be towed and/or loaded.

Intersection – the channelization at this point along the service road guides motorists to where the road branches out into the Muelle Del Rio (straight) and the segment towards 2nd Street and the ramp to Bonifacio Drive southbound (left).

Muelle Del Rio – the road is supposed to be part of the Muelle Del Rio but is being used as part of the port where cranes load and unload materials unto barges lined along the river mouth. There is a gate structure, which suggests that the area is limited access to general traffic. The road is actually a dead-end.

U-turn – turning left at the intersection had us practically making a U-turn under the bridge. In front of us were more parked trucks as we proceeded towards the junction to 2nd Street. Notice the damaged curbs? These are caused by trucks maneuvering and often hitting the curbs.

Container terminal – trucks lined along 2nd Street included those bound for the South Harbor’s container terminal. The one with the blue container is entering the gate, which entails some clearance procedures conducted by security. Truckers seem oblivious to the general traffic that they block on a regular basis. Our friends from the DPWH state that this congestion due to the trucks is among the complaints they get from their visitors.

More queuing – just when we thought the queue of trucks were only because of the South Harbor’s container terminal, we saw this line of trucks past the gate. The buildings on the right are DPWH’s (NCR and Bureau of Maintenance). There is often no other choice but to run counter-flow to the traffic in order to get to our meeting.

Home free – our driver managed to get through the queue of trucks as truck drivers allowed us to turn towards the DPWH offices after we got their attention and signaled towards our destination.

Return trip block – after the meeting, we had to go back to where we came from as 2nd Street was a dead-end. We were greeted by the same queue that occupied one lane of the road and necessitated for counter flows like the lorry partially covered by the trailer in the photo.

Container traffic – most if not all the trucks bound for the terminal carried containers. I assume these were laden with various goods that are to be loaded unto ships at the port. Those that didn’t have containers were probably picking up freight previously unloaded at the terminal and cleared for transport. I can only imagine what if there was still a railroad line operating to transport such containerized freight. These would have been more efficient for long distance origins and destinations where trucks will only have to provide feeder or collector services (distribution).

Hogging the lanes – as if the queued trucks occupying one lane were not enough to cause congestion, this truck followed the counter-flowing tricycles (Yes, there are tricycles here serving the Baseco compound and 2nd Street.). It was a good thing the 2nd Street’s lane widths were quite generous so it could actually fit 3 lanes. Curiously, there are no pavement markings on the street to delineate the traffic lanes.

Trucks galore – finally getting back on Bonifacio Drive (southbound) to return to Quezon City, we were greeted with more trucks, this time parked along R-1. While traffic was generally light, I couldn’t help but wonder why these practices of trucks are allowed to continue and why such issues have not been addressed by the City of Manila and the Philippine Ports Authority.

Tolerated too? – we spotted these tricycles with the yellow sidecars along Bonifacio Drive. These apparently serve the streets (local roads) in the port area. Tricycles are supposed to be banned from national roads so they should not be traversing Bonifacio Drive nor should they be allowed to have informal terminals here.

Underground economy – vendors and hawkers at the island to the entrance to 13th Street (aka Oca, Sr.) at the Anda Circle (rotonda).

Model roads – past the Anda Circle, the well-maintained section of Bonifacio Drive was complete with lane markings and noticeably clean.

Proof of concept – Bonifacio Drive should indeed be according to standards considering that its just in front of the DPWH Head Office. It would be an embarrassment for the department if the road in its backyard is poorly maintained.

Fort Bonifacio flyover

After only seeing the new overpass to C5 northbound from Bonifacio Global City when it was under construction and after its completion from the perspective of a traveler using C5, I was finally able to use the flyover a couple of weeks ago. The following photos show the newly constructed overpass connecting 36th Street to C5 northbound that is supposed to decongest the older interchange emanating from 26th Street/McKinley Parkway.

Approach to the new overpass – the chevrons are supposed to guide motorists as to the separation of traffic lanes. The lane to the right leads to the service road for Market! Market! and connects with C5 southbound.

Curvature – the alignment from the approach to the turn towards C5 is actually a reverse curve

View from the top – this is what motorists will see upon reaching the top of the overpass as he/she turns towards C5, which is shown on the left of the photo. There is also a good view of the Sierra Madre mountains.

Descent – traffic along the two-lane overpass was very light when we used it; quite ideal for speeding a bit to save on time on our return to the university

Separate ways – the lines delineating the two lanes of the flyover transform into chevrons and directional arrows are visible to guide motorists merging into C5 and traveling in the direction of Pasig and Quezon City, and those heading towards Taguig and Pateros via the service on the right.

Overpasses galore – the south component of the elevated U-turn pair, a remnant of the previous MMDA dispensation, is obscured by the pedestrian overpass connecting the East Rembo districts separated by C5.

Interchange? – the pair of elevated U-turns is called the C5-Kalayaan interchange, quite a stretch to many traffic and highway engineers who were critical of the facilities that were constructed instead of the recommended underpass along C5.

Road crashes: disasters waiting to happen

While I’m very appreciative of the efforts of the MMDA particularly on traffic management, there is still much to be desired regarding enforcement around Metro Manila. These include the need for consistent and firm enforcement of traffic rules and regulations along major roads such as Commonwealth, EDSA, and C5. There are still many instances of speeding along Commonwealth as many drivers (cars and buses) and riders (motorcycles) are already aware of the usual positions of MMDA enforcers measuring speed along the highway.

In the vicinity of current and former U-turn slots, there are also many violations especially where motorcycles can squeeze into openings to conveniently (though dangerously) make turns. Some U-turn slots are positioned across side streets of major roads and are used by motorists for making left turns. Often, one will find vehicles inching their way to cross the major road, effectively blocking through traffic. This is particularly the case along Katipunan just across from the gate of an exclusive subdivision well-known for its politician residents. While the Katipunan – C.P. Garcia intersection is only a few meters away for those intending to travel along the southbound side of C5, many vehicles (conspicuously those which are expensive and of the luxury type) cross C5 northbound to make left turns at the U-turn slot/median opening. A few meters away, MMDA enforcers and QC Police turn blind eyes to the practice, leaving motorists to fend for themselves in trying to avoid each others’ vehicles while also trying not to constrict traffic.

Such situations increase the likelihood for road crashes in the area, exposing people to unnecessary risks. These also exacerbate traffic congestion as crossing vehicles interrupt the otherwise smooth (and continuous) flow of traffic towards C.P. Garcia. Such situations are also perfect examples for cases where there may not be crashes occurring but there is a high likelihood for incidents to happen. Crashes waiting to happen seem too theoretical that the MMDA and the PNP apparently have difficulties understanding the concept, which is the basis for assessments of road safety including the star ratings given out by iRAP. It is not necessarily only the actual number of crashes (or accidents) occurring that is evaluated but the likelihood for them to happen given the conditions at any particular area. Perhaps this is why many of our roads remain unsafe because many of our administrators, planners, engineers and enforcers continue to fail to understand this concept for the potential for crash occurrence. And this is where we should work on to address – very hard!

The following photo was taken one early morning along Katipunan prior to the peak period that typically starts around 6:30AM during times when there are classes at the schools along this stretch of C5.

Early morning road crash near the La Vista gate along Katipunan (C5) involving vehicles encroaching towards the U-turn slot to make a left turn at the median opening.

Perhaps we should also extend our appreciation of the concept of disaster risk prevention and mitigation to our streets. After all, road crashes may also be treated as disasters. They result in deaths, injuries and damages to property. The only difference and probably more frightening aspect of these disasters on the road is that they do occur on a much more frequent basis than you major earthquakes and typhoons.

Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport

Traveling to Surabaya, Indonesia for a conference in 2009, we made the trip via Hong Kong rather than via Jakarta. It was the call of our sponsor rather than ours to fly via HK. I understood the logic of the arrangement as both legs of the trip (Manila to HK and HK to Surabaya) were international flights. If we flew via Jakarta, the second leg would a domestic flight. Cost-wise, the latter option could have been cheaper but comfort-wise, the first option was definitely better. Our sponsor booked us on Cathay Pacific Airways, which flew directly between HK and Surabaya. From what I’ve learned from other more experienced travelers, given the option they would always take Cathay over Garuda, which is Indonesia’s national carrier. Another option, which another friend took, was to fly via Singapore using Singapore Airlines between Manila and Changi, and then Silk Air (SIA’s regional spin-off) from Changi to Surabaya. I can imagine that to be also a good option considering the usually excellent service of SIA.

The following photos show just a glimpse of Juanda Airport as I didn’t get a chance to take photos during our check-in and stroll within the airport. I wasn’t that conscious about taking a few photos here and there as I was not blogging about transport and traffic back then. But based on what I remember, arrivals at the airport was no different from domestic operations in many of the larger Philippines airports. And for departures, the Juanda Airport offered only the basic conveniences to travelers and had few shops for last minute purchases or recognizable restaurants for quick meals. On our way back, it wasn’t really an issue as we were passing through HK and had a few hours to burn at HKIA prior to the Manila leg of our return trip.

Security check for vehicles bound for the airport

The Juanda International Airport terminal as seen from the highway

Taxis lined up for passengers at the airport

Approaching the terminal, we were surprised with the pedestrians crossing the wide road

Private cars and public transport (e.g., taxis, buses) carrying common passengers stop along the terminal building

VIPs and others get to use the road closer to the terminal shown on the left in the photo

Departure lounge at the Juanda International Airport

Our group posing for a souvenir photo at the airport

Garuda Airbus A320 docking at the air terminal, Garuda is Indonesia’s national flag carrier

I was not impressed with Juanda Airport at the time we visited Surabaya in 2009. It was my first time in Indonesia so it would be unfair to judge Indonesian airports by what I saw in Surabaya. Bali/Denpasar was much better and a more recent experience, and with a new terminal being constructed there to accommodate the millions of passengers traveling to Bali, I guess those facilities will be built to impress visitors and residents alike.