Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Old style intersection traffic management

Heading to the DOST complex for a meeting, I took a few photos of the enforcers managing the traffic at the intersections at the Bicutan interchange from on top a traffic box. The intersections are formed by the on and off ramps of the South Luzon Expressway, the service roads and Gen. Santos Ave./Dona Soledad Ave. It was a welcome scene considering the enforcers seemed to be doing very well (i.e., traffic was flowing quite smoothly at the intersections) while also evoking times when traffic signals weren’t the norm in major intersections. Of course, it helped that pedestrian movements on the ground were eliminated by the pedestrian overpass set-up at the interchange, a legacy of the BF era at the MMDA.

IMG06272-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer on a box directing traffic at the intersection of the SLEX soutbound ramps, the West Service Road and Dona Soledad Ave. That’s SM Bicutan in the background with its two buildings on either side of Dona Soledad and connected by an elevate walkway. Pedestrians have been eliminated from the equation thanks to the elevated walkway at the SLEX Bicutan interchange.

IMG06273-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer at the intersection of the the SLEX northbound ramps, the East Service Road and Gen. Santos Ave. The PNR tracks run along just after the intersection.

The positive impacts of direct EU flights from the Philippines

It’s all over the news since evening yesterday – the European Union’s lifting a ban on direct flights from/to the Philippines to/from its member countries. While the decision is limited to legacy carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), it is quite symbolic of gates (and not just windows) of opportunity opening up for the country particularly in terms of tourism and other businesses. It is no secret that the Philippines has been pushing for more tourism from abroad, knowing that there is vast market out there who would be willing to spend money on vacations to attractions in many parts of the country.

These attractions include currently popular destinations like Boracay, Palawan (including Coron), Mindoro, Batangas, Cebu (Mactan, Bantayan, Moalboal, Camotes), Bohol (Panglao), Surigao (Siargao) and Davao (also Samal). There are also many emerging destinations for international tourists like those in Ilocos (Pagudpud, Saud, etc.), Cagayan (Sta. Ana, Palaui Island, etc.), Aurora, Bicol (Caramoan, Misibis, Bagasbas, Calaguas, etc.), Guimaras, Siquijor, Negros, Mindanao and so many other attractions in the other provinces. Obviously, that was not an exhaustive list and one would eventually get tired Googling so many places to see around the country. I purposely mentioned “international” here as I would like to believe that local tourists (i.e., Filipinos) have already discovered many of these emerging destinations that are only being developed now judging by the photos being posted on social media, the amount of info now available about so many destinations when you use the search engines, and the continuing aggressiveness of local airlines in offering promotional fares while also maintaining high frequencies to many cities.

Increased tourism arrivals would definitely have wider impact on a lot of businesses and not just those directly dealing with the visitors (i.e., hotels, airlines, etc.). The required logistics will tell us, for example, that agriculture and fisheries sectors will also benefit as they will supply the food required by tourists. Retail will also benefit as it is inevitable for people to make purchases like souvenirs and other items (need or want) during their stays. I had written before about the benefits of a healthy competition among local airlines in the Philippines and the winners are practically everyone and not just the tourists. It should be noted here that the number of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) and their families along would make direct flights worthwhile for PAL.

Offhand though, this development regarding direct flights to Europe for PAL should increase the already tremendous pressure on government to provide the transport infrastructure to handle tourist arrivals. These would be airports, ports and roads that are necessary for smooth travel across the country and not just for our international gateways in Manila, Cebu, Clark and Davao. These gateways, after all, provide a first impression of the country, and I would like to see NAIA Terminal 1, for example, finally getting the upgrade that should have been done so many years ago. Perhaps, the demand translating to more passengers to be handled by our gateways will increase further should approval be granted for Philippine carriers to serve more US destinations. That is not far-fetched given the proverbial green light from the EU for PAL.

Near miss

The crash by an Asiana Airlines B777 in San Francisco reminded me of an experience I had in 2011 aboard an Asiana flight from Busan to Manila. Here is the account I posted elsewhere after that experience in 2011:

Lost in the past days’ heavy rains and the resulting floods that threatened to enter our home last Friday night was the close call I had last Thursday night as I returned from Korea. I had just attended the 9th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS) held in Jeju, Korea. From Jeju, I took the Air Busan domestic flight that was codeshared with Asiana Airlines to Busan, where I was to connect to Asiana Airlines flight OZ 705.

I had a long layover at Busan and asked for information about the city and what I could do for the 7 hours available to me prior to my flight back to Manila. I had already checked-in my baggage so I was practically unencumbered to move about. Unfortunately, the transit system from the airport to downtown Busan was not operational (surprise!) and I decided that the trip downtown where I would just probably walk around a mall was not worth it. I thought I would just end up spending on unnecessary shopping or dining.

As I entered the departure area after the routine immigration process, I proceeded for some Duty Free shopping for pasalubong. Afterwards, I took advantage of the free internet services at the airport, replying to emails received that day. There was no free WiFi at the airport so I had to make do with the terminals made available to departing passengers near the airline lounges. Afterwards, I proceeded to the gate assigned to our flight. This was about 4 hours prior to the tentative boarding time indicated on the electronic signboard near the gate.

As I had quite some time before my flight, I tried to catch up on the latest issue of Wired magazine that I had brought along specifically for the long lay-over. It was while I was reading that I noted an announcement for an Asiana flight to another Southeast Asian city being delayed due to technical problems with the their aircraft. I also noticed upon looking around outside the terminal that quite a few planes were sitting out from the terminal where passengers were brought to the aircraft by bus. I had experienced this before when our aircraft arrived in Jeju the Monday before, and at NAIA Terminal 2 in past domestic and international flights that couldn’t be accommodated at the terminal due to congestion. It was then that I noticed the Asiana Airlines Airbus A320 sitting across the terminal, and it looked like it was being serviced based on the vehicles parked beside it and the activity I could see from where I sat. I assumed that this was the aircraft that was supposed to be used by the delayed flight announced on the airport PA system.

A few minutes later, however, the airport PA announced that the delayed flight was now boarding. A while later, I saw an Asiana aircraft taking off, about 45 minutes delayed from its original flight departure time. The other aircraft still sat where it was, and still apparently being serviced. I noticed later that there were no other Asiana aircraft arriving or departing prior to our flight though there were many Korean Air, Air Busan and Jeju Air planes arriving and taking off. I also saw that a PAL flight left for Manila ahead of us and a Cebu Pacific flight left for Cebu one hour before ours. That was when I suspected that the plane sitting from across the terminal would be our aircraft for the trip to Manila.

Upon boarding the aircraft, we already noticed that the airconditioning was off along with the plane’s engine. This was already unusual for me considering a plane that was supposed to take off within the next 20 minutes normally had its engines running already. The Koreans on that same flight apparently were not pleased with the conditions as the cabin became warmer as more passengers settled in their seats for the flight to Manila. Not a few were already voicing their displeasure and were doing so in a way we usually see on TV. It seemed to me that they were already berating the crew. When the pilot started the plane’s engines, the cabin suddenly became dark and a weird sound was heard from outside the plane. Minutes later, the pilot announced that the plane was having problems with its electrical system and we had to wait out for it to be repaired. What followed were more complaints and possible offensive words from the Korean passengers who didn’t like the idea of being delayed. We were, after all, originally scheduled to arrive in Manila at 12:00 midnight. Any delay meant we were arriving early morning of Friday.

Abotu 30 minutes later, the pilot again attempted to start the plane and for the second time, the electrical system failed. This resulted in what I thought were insults and other offensive words from the Korean passengers. I could see that the flight attendants were already quite embarrassed and they could do nothing but try to assuage passengers on the situation. I was already thinking about whether we will be asked to deplane and wait our for our plane to be fixed or another aircraft to take its place. No such announcement was made and we had to wait it out for another 20 minutes. I thought that it was good though that there were cooler heads among the Korean passengers who were able to calm down others who were already threatening the pilot and the crew due to the displeasure about the situation.

The third time around, the plane finally responded and we were able to taxi and take-off without any hitch. The pilot continued to apologize even after take-off and assured everyone that the electrical system was repaired. Nevertheless, I could not sleep in the plane no matter how hard I tried to as each shake and rumble due to turbulence made me think about the possibility that the plane’s electrical system will fail, resulting in a crash. It was no light matter considering that we were traveling 3.25 hours between Busan and Manila, and we will be flying between two typhoons including one whose path was to cross ours. Such assured us of much turbulence throughout the flight including a couple that made me quite nervous as I could not even see the plane’s wings from my window seat due to the thick clouds around us. The only thing I could do was to pray silently that we don’t have a breakdown in midflight.

I was only able to relax when we finally landed in Manila. In fairness to the pilot, it was one of the smoothest landings I ever experienced even despite my being too conscious of the turbulence throughout the flight. Yet, my worries were renewed when the the cabin blacked out momentarily after we stopped at NAIA Terminal 1. I could not help but think about what could have happened if this occurred earlier while we were still in the air. Moments later, my suspicion was confirmed by an airport supervisor who was going around the conveyor belt telling Filipino passengers that our bags will be delayed due to the difficulties experienced by ground staff in opening our plane’s baggage compartment. I could not help but feel relieved that I “survived” that flight. Perhaps it was my prayers? My faith? No matter. I am truly thankful and grateful to the One Who watches over us and did so formally while in Church this morning to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.

Dream plan for the Greater Capital Region?

A report came out last Saturday on a major daily about a JICA study estimating losses of as much as 2.4 Billion pesos per day due to traffic jams experienced in Metro Manila. Not mentioned was the 1.0 Billion pesos per day estimated losses for the Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite areas that are at present considered part of what has been loosely defined as Mega Manila or the Greater Capital Region (GCR). That’s 3.4 Billion pesos per day of lost productivity and potential income that if reduced, could generate resources that could be distributed to the rest of the country. The JICA estimate, as reported by NEDA, is the product of a study that is in its concluding phase that looked into transport for an area comprised of Metro Manila, Region 3 (Central Luzon) and Region 4A (Southern Tagalog or Calabarzon). The main objective of the study was to come up with a Transport Infrastructure Framework and Roadmap for the GCR that would guide planners and engineers, and most importantly decision-makers (i.e., our leaders) in identifying and prioritizing transport infra projects that would ultimately improve the way we travel in the GCR.

While I am not at liberty at present to divulge the details of this study as the entirety has not been made public yet, I can say that the study was comprehensive and the conclusion an urgent reminder to what needs to be done for transport in the GCR. The latter is necessary because we have failed to deliver on the transport infrastructure required by Metro Manila and its surrounding areas since the late 1970s adn early 1980s when some decisions were made that were detrimental to public transport development and, to my view, inhibited and limited us from implementing a much more efficient transport system than what we have now. In my own conversations with the person who led the study, I can understand his own frustrations as he was himself a witness to the deterioration of transport in this country. Much of this deterioration have been attributed to a lack of political will to make the hard decisions in relation to transport. These decisions include those pertaining to the rationalization of transport services like phasing out jeepneys and tricycles where they are no longer suitable and committing to the implementation of mass transit projects that have been delayed for decades now.

MM RTR map2Network of recommended rail rapid transit (RRT) lines for the Manila Metropolitan area in 1973 (UTSMMA, 1973)

Perhaps we are at a crossroads in terms of transport in this country. Perhaps our leaders should listen to the clamor of their constituents for better transport systems in our cities, for more efficient ways to move about. Perhaps, too, we could finally see what’s really at the end of the tunnel rather than the proverbial light that we have always seen, frustratingly, for the past few decades. Perhaps the current administration will prove itself the catalyst for transforming transport in this country towards what it has preached as a “straight path.” Will we have a champion or champions who would push for the realization of a dream plan for transport? Whoever should step forward would definitely get my vote in 2016!

Some issues on pedestrian crossings at signalized intersections at BGC

I had heard from friends working at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig that it is difficult for pedestrians to cross at intersections at BGC. For one, the cycle settings (i.e., movements allowed for every green signal) for the intersections, at least those I’ve seen, often had turning traffic in direct conflict with pedestrian crossings. This meant that while given the green light to cross the street, for example, pedestrians had to contend with left turning as well as right turning vehicles who are also allowed movement for particular green phases. The phasing and the cycle settings are definitely more favorable to motor vehicles and assume that motorists will give way to pedestrians already on the carriageway and crossing the street. This is not the case and motorists tend to assert their way against pedestrians. These pedestrians are not jaywalkers but actually have the right of way by virtue of them getting the green light to cross. There is also  that frequently violated rule of vehicles having to give way to legitimate crossings when people are already on the road. This is practiced in many other countries including the US, Japan and Singapore but is lost upon our motorists who seem to believe they own the road.

Another situation I’ve observed and personally experienced is the insufficient amount of time allocated for pedestrians to cross streets. This is particularly true for the wider streets of the Fort where it seems the people who set the signal cycles failed to estimate how much time it requires for people to cover the distance from one side of the roa to the other. What’s more is that the pedestrian settings allow only one or two people to cross at a comfortable pace. That is, other people will have to rush or run to be able to cross. Of course, the pedestrians would have to contend with the

IMG06311-20130628-0853Intersection of 26th Street and 5th Avenue (view along 26th and towards 4th) – notice the green light given to through and left turning traffic as well as the signals for pedestrians, which include countdown timers.

IMG06117-20130531-094426th and 5th (view at the corner facing the Net Lima building)

IMG06118-20130531-094726th and 7th (view from the corner towards The Fort)

The solution to this issue about pedestrian crossings is a little bit more tricky that what seems like something that can be addressed by a simple adjustment of signal settings to provide more time for pedestrians. There is a need to revisit the phasing scheme for vehicle movements allowed at the intersections. Then there is also a need to find the optimum cycle and green time allocations considering the requirements for pedestrians and not just for vehicles. I believe whoever is in charge of the signal settings at BGC should look into this and if they are not capable of adjusting the settings then they should require the provider of the signals to make the necessary adjustments if not show them how to do this considering that traffic is quite dynamic and settings would need to be programmed to be responsive to demand not just for vehicles but pedestrians as well. BGC has great potential to be a pedestrian friendly CBD but whoever is in charge of transport planning and development should step up and level up, so to speak, in providing an environment that will encourage people to walk rather than take their cars. High Street is already there and is an important element in that mix of development but then the cluster of offices and residential condos aren’t exactly designed for efficient walking, and the settings for the intersection signals, as we pointed out, need to be adjusted for pedestrians.

Transport related topics in the 2013 UP College of Engineering Professorial Chair Colloquium

The College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman is holding its Professorial Chair Colloquium on July 11 and 12, 2013. These will be held mainly at the Melchor Hall, which has been the home of the College since it transferred to Quezon City after the Second World War. The colloquium is an annual event where Professorial Chair holders deliver lectures on selected topics of research being undertaken in the various institutes and departments of the college.

On July 11, 2013 (Thursday) at the Geodetic Engineering Theater, 4th Floor, Melchor Hall, U.P. Diliman:

  • Dr. Hilario Sean O. Palmiano, Institute of Civil Engineering, “Traffic Noise Perception in UP Campus Dormitories” [DMCI Developers Professorial Chair] – 0950 to 1010.
  • Dr. Nathaniel B. Diola, Institute of Civil Engineering, “Blended Cement for Road Construction” [Prof. Jose Ma. Diago de Castro Professorial Chair in Civil Engineering] – 1010 to 1030.
  • Dr. Ricardo G. Sigua, Institute of Civil Engineering, “Blackspots and Their Identification” [Primary Group of Builders Professorial Chair Award in Engineering] – 1050 to 1110.

On July 12, 2013 (Friday) at the Maynilad Room, 3rd Floor, Melchor Hall, U.P. Diliman:

  • Dr. Jose Regin F. Regidor, Institute of Civil Engineering, “Transport Infrastructure, Poverty and Inclusive Growth” [Pozzolanic Philippines Inc. Professorial Chair] – 0910 to 0930.
  • Asst. Prof. Gerald Jo C. Denoga, Department of Mechanical Engineering, “Optimization of Parallel-Series Hybrid Powertrain for Public Transportation” [Emerson Professorial Chair in Engineering] – 0930 to 0950.
  • Dr. Karl B.N. Vergel, Institute of Civil Engineering, “Evaluation of Compliance of Specifications of Customized Local Road Vehicles (CLRV) with Local Regulations and International Standards” [Maynilad Professorial Chair] – 0950 to 1010.
  • Dr. Edwin N. Quiros, Department of Mechanical Engineering, ” Coconut Methyl Esther (CME) Performance and Emission Characteristics Using a Common-Rail Direct Injection (CRDI) Engine” [Emerson Professorial Chair in Mechanical Engineering] – 1010 to 1030.

Dr. Palmiano is the current Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). Dr. Diola is the immediate past Director of the Building Research Service (BRS). Dr. Sigua is the head of the Road Safety Research Laboratory (RSRL) of the NCTS. Dr. Regidor is past Director of the NCTS. And Dr. Vergel is the head of the Transport & Environment Laboratory of the NCTS.

Asst. Prof. Denoga is the past Chair of the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering (DME) and has led teams in the design of vehicles that participated and won in international competitions on energy efficient vehicles, representing the country and the university in these contests. Dr. Quiroz is the head of the DME’s Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL).

These lectures as well as others on the mornings of July 11 and 12 are open to the public. Venues are at the Melchor Hall (along the Academic Oval), and the UPAE Hall and the EEEI Building at the College of Engineering Complex along Velasquez Street (across from the College of Science complex).

What is the context for electric tricycles in the Philippines?

The NEDA Board recently approved six projects that included one that will be promoting electric vehicles throughout the country. Entitled “Market Transformation through Introduction of Energy Efficient Electric Vehicles Project” (formerly Market Transformation through Introduction of Energy Efficient Electric Tricycle (E-Trike) Project), the endeavor seeks to replace thousands of existing conventional motorized 3-wheelers (tricycles) with e-trikes and to develop and deploy charging stations for these vehicles. While I have nothing against electric vehicles and have supported their promotion for use in public transport, I am a bit worried about the context by which electric tricycles are being peddled especially the part about equating “transformation” with “replacement.”

First, it is a technology push for an innovation that has not been fully and satisfactorily tested in Philippine conditions. The deployment of e-trikes in Bonifacio Global City is practically a failure and a mode that was not suitable from the start for the area it was supposed to serve (i.e., while there were already jeepneys serving the area, there were also the Fort Bus services and plans for a BRT linking the Ayala CBD and BGC. There are now few (rare sightings) of these e-trikes remaining at the Fort, as most of these vehicles are no longer functioning due to problems regarding the batteries, motors, and issues regarding  maintenance. Meanwhile, the e-trikes in Mandaluyong, a more recent model, have also been difficult to maintain with one case reportedly needing the unit to be sent back to China for repairs.

Second, the e-trikes are a whole new animal (or mode of transport). I have pointed out in the past including in one ADB forum that the 6 to 8 seater e-trike model is basically a new type of paratransit. Their larger capacities mean one unit is not equivalent to one of the current models of conventional tricycles (i.e., the ones you find in most city and municipality around the country). Thus, replacement should not be “1 e-trike : 1 tricycle” but perhaps “1:2” (or even “1:3” in some cases). This issue has not been resolved as the e-trike units continue to be marketed as a one to one replacement for conventional trikes. There should be guidelines on this that local government units can use, particularly for adjusting the number of franchises or authorized tricycles in their respective jurisdictions. Will such come from the Department of Energy (DOE)? Or is this something that should emanate from Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)? Obviously, the last thing we like to see would be cities like Cabanatuan, Tarlac or Dagupan having so many e-trikes running around after they have replaced the conventional ones, and causing congestion in the cities. Emissions from the tricycle may have been reduced but emissions from other vehicles should be significant due to the congestion.

Third, the proliferation of e-trikes will tie our cities and municipalities to tricycles. Many cities already and definitely need to upgrade their public transport systems (e.g., tricycles to jeepneys or jeepneys to buses, and so on). Simply replacing tricycles with electric powered ones does not effect “true” transformation from the transport perspective. Is the objective of transformation mainly from the standpoint of energy? If so, then there is something amiss with the project as it does not and cannot address the transport, traffic and social aspects of the service provided by tricycles (and other modes of transport).

So what is the context for the e-trikes or conventional tricycles? They are not even under the purview of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) as they are regulated by LGUs.  Shouldn’t the DOTC or the LTFRB be involved in this endeavor? Shouldn’t these agencies be consulted with the formulation of a framework or guidelines for rationalizing and optimizing transport in our cities? These are questions that should be answered by the proponents of this project and questions that should not be left to chance or uncertainty in so far as the ultimate objective is supposed to be to improve transport in the country. I have no doubt that the e-trikes have the potential to improve air quality and perhaps the also the commuting experience for many people. I have worries, however, that its promise will not be kept especially in light of energy supply issues that our country is still struggling with and deserves the attention of the DOE more than the e-trikes they are peddling.