Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Undergraduate research topics on Transportation at UP Diliman, 2013

Topics this year for undergraduate researches on transportation under the Transportation Engineering Group (TEG) of the Institute of Civil Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman are quite a mix. There are topics focusing on issues at the the UP Diliman campus, traffic signals, driver behavior, public transport, environment and aviation. Following are the current topics being developed and for implementation during this academic year 2013-2014:

  • Development of a micro-simulation model for the UP Diliman College of Science complex
  • Traffic impact analysis of new academic complexes in UP Diliman
  • Study on parking supply and demand in UP Diliman
  • Field testing of Smart Traffic Light, a video-actuated traffic signal system
  • Pinoy driver behavior at uncontrolled intersections
  • Characteristics of demand and operations of UP-Katipunan jeepneys
  • Improving passenger flows at Metro Manila LRT/MRT stations
  • Use of carbon footprint tool (TransCO2) to estimate carbon emissions and energy consumption of transportation measures
  • Philippine air transport safety: analysis of incidents over the last decade

Commuting on the EDSA MRT 3

There’s a lot of buzz these days about the challenge posed to government officials responsible for our transport and traffic in Metro Manila and the rest of the country. I must admit I regularly drive between home and my workplace but I often commute to meetings and will usually leave my car at the office when I don’t feel like driving. While its often perceived as difficult to take public transport, it is really quite easy as long as you plan your trip. That is, familiarize in advance with what jeepneys, buses, UV express or rail lines your going to take. I’m sure there are so many tools available to those with smart phones or internet access but then nothing beats asking for directions from those familiar with the commute.  Following are photos I took en route to a meeting at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) from UP Diliman. I took a jeepney from UP until the EDSA MRT Quezon Avenue Station where I took a train to Ayala Station. From Ayala Station, I walked towards the Fort Bus Terminal at the corner of EDSA and McKinley where I purchased a ticket at the Fort Bus booth beside the Shell gas station.

IMG06439-20130719-1552Passengers queuing at the platform at Quezon Avenue Station – there is some semblance of discipline but not like what we saw in Japan, Singapore or Bangkok where people do step aside for alighting passengers before entering the train.

IMG06440-20130719-1553A crowded platform vs. a congested EDSA – commuting is often perceived as a hassle for many in Metro Manila partly because of crowded public transport and the inefficiencies including poor transfers and low quality of service. Many who could afford to own cars or motorcycles take private vehicles instead.

IMG06441-20130719-1558Passengers on a crowded platform form lines directly in front of the train doors instead of allowing for space for disembarking passengers. While there are markings on the platform to guide passengers where to position with respect to the door, these are not followed and there are no MRT staff to guide people to do so.

IMG06442-20130719-1600Passengers lined up for an arriving train can be too close to the train, risking accidents where a simple nudge from behind could get a passenger killed by an oncoming train.

IMG06443-20130719-1601The photo clearly shows the narrow platform of the EDSA MRT station and the markings to guide people where to position with respect to the train doors. This contributes to the congestion on the platform and perhaps is a reason why people can’t line up properly. I’ve observed many people getting stressed out simply because of the undisciplined mix-up during the unloading/loading process whenever a train arrives at the platform. Note also from the photo the sign on top of the guard post informing people of the segregation being implemented in favor of women, children, PWDs and senior citizens. The latter have some cars reserved for them so they won’t have to wrestle it out with other passengers to get in a train.

IMG06446-20130719-1603A Taft-bound train arrives at the Quezon Ave. Station. On a way to increase the MRT-3’s capacity is to have shorter headways between trains. However, this can’t be done without additional trains.

IMG06447-20130719-1604A train is not full as it leaves Quezon Ave. but more passengers board at subsequent stations at GMA Kamuning and Cubao. The train cars are eventually crowded and I stopped taking photos in case someone fancies my phone or gets offended by my taking photos inside the train.

IMG06454-20130719-1628Escalators at the Ayala Station where the platform is practically underground.

IMG06456-20130719-1630Small shops and stalls at the Ayala Station. There is a direct access to SM Makati, which a lot of people take to also have a more comfortable walk through the malls nearby.

IMG06457-20130719-1630Ayala Station is one of the larger and more developed stations along EDSA-MRT and among the busiest given its location.

IMG06458-20130719-1631Among the shops and stores at the station is a local courier service and a license renewal center of the Land Transportation Office (LTO). These cater to people on the go and quite convenient to commuters.

IMG06459-20130719-1633Direction signs to guide passengers transferring to the Fort Bus of Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

IMG06470-20130719-1924MRT stored value card – these along with the single journey cards may be pruchased at the stations. A stored value card is worth PhP 100 with the last journey assured regardless of the remaining balance in the card. As can be seen, the card has seen better days. However, the long-delayed common ticketing system for rail transit in Metro Manila should be implemented soon (crossing my fingers). Perhaps other ways can be explored like commuter passes for regulars including discounted ones for students and senior citizens. In Japan, for example, one can get such passes for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or even a year, paid in advance for unlimited trips between one’s “home” station and “work” or “school” station.

I think our government owes it to the more than 80% of travelers who take public transport to improve our transport system. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of the quality of service including comfort, convenience and reliability that can be addressed only if we invest in public transport infra and introduce reforms that have long been recommended but not implemented (for many reasons). Let’s take it from Enrique Penalosa, who was mayor of Bogota and a leading proponent of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was quoted as saying “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”

Floods and traffic

Transport and traffic problems take a backseat to the flooding problem during this time of the year in the Philippines. Since there are practically only two seasons (dry and wet) in the country, floods become a genuine concern once monsoon rains arrive and these are usually complicated by a high frequency of typhoons between August and November. Many major roads in Metro Manila are prone to flooding including Espana Avenue, Araneta Avenue, Gil Fernando Avenue, Ortigas Avenue, and EDSA. Flash floods often lead to traffic congestion and commuters and motorists alike would have a hell of a time traveling yet it seems very little has been done to address a situation that’s been here since the Spanish period. This is a perception by many people and a reasonable one given the historical evidence of flooding in the area and elsewhere in the country.

IMG06611-20130819-1323Pedicab ferrying passengers in a flooded residential area

There are many images on the current floods in Mega Manila that one can find in various reports online and on TV. The Telegraph provides good photos for describing the situation around Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, and especially in the low-lying areas like Marikina, Malabon, Rodriguez and Cainta. These images could have been taken in any other year in the past and the images would probably be the same with slight changes in some buildings that could have been improved (e.g., additional floor?) in response to the flood experience.

Floods and possible solutions have been the topics of discussions every year and usually during this rainy season. While there have been efforts to address this problem, these are usually and obviously not enough and a more comprehensive approach is needed. Quite obviously, too, solutions that tend to dig up faults in urban planning throughout Metro Manila have led nowhere as legitimate residents and other locators in these areas are not in a position to give up their properties just like that. Relocating informal settlers and others who have encroached from waterways and other critical areas is a start but will have limited impacts in part because Mega Manila does not have a good drainage system in the first place.

Expensive as they are, engineering solutions like perhaps what Tokyo has done in this underground wonder. Of course, this example is a kind of ultimate solution and would require tremendous resources to realize. But then this is also like the transport and traffic problems we are experiencing where years (or decades) of inaction and hesitation due to resource and technical questions have led to the despicable transportation we have now The reality is that solutions will not get cheaper as we continue to balk at the cost of the required solutions. Floods and traffic will not be solved overnight. It will take years to improve the lives of many people in flood prone areas and implementing solutions should have started yesterday.

More bikeways please!

After the construction of  a bikeways network in Marikina City, the city became a poster child for sustainable transport in the Philippines. The bikeways was initiated with assistance from the World Bank for the pilot route and was later expanded by the city under the leadership of its Mayors, the former MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando and his wife Marides Fernando. The bikeways were promoted as a good practice example for non-motorized transport (NMT), with the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman involving the Marikina City Bikeways Office (MCBO) in its studies and advocacy work on Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST).

IMG06409-20130713-0951Bikeways between pedestrian walkway (red pavement) and parking slots in Marikina City.

Acad Oval 2Bike lane along the Academic Oval at UP Diliman in Quezon City.

IMG03425-20120707-0831Bike lane integrated into the sidewalks along Marcos Highway in the cities of Marikina, Pasig and Antipolo.

IMG05323-20130121-1142Bike lanes (red pavement) in Malate, Manila.

IMG06119-20130531-1027Bike lanes integrated with the sidewalks along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

IMG06120-20130531-1027Bike lanes integrated with the sidewalks along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of bike lanes and bike ways in the Philippines. I am sure there are similar projects in other cities and I am aware that cycling is becoming more popular around the country. These are but examples of what has been accomplished so far and it is clear that we need to do more to promote cycling not just as a sport or for recreation but, more importantly, as a means for commuting. Integrating cycling into one’s daily routine is a healthy and money-saving option, and segregated bikeways and bike lanes ensure the safe travels for cyclists. This, of course, is in consideration of the little respect cyclists (and pedestrians) get from motorists who believe road space is theirs alone.

Some thoughts on the issues on bus bans and terminals in Metro Manila

I had originally wanted to use “Clarifying issues on bus bans and terminals in Metro Manila” as the title for this post. However, I felt it was too strong a title, and one that would be more appropriate for a government agency like the MMDA or DOTC, or an LGU like Manila. More than fault-finding and criticizing government agencies and local governments, I believe we should take a closer and more objective look at the issues (or non issues?) pertaining to the Manila bus ban and the opening of the southwest provincial bus terminal for Cavite-bound buses. Following are my comments on issues raised the past weeks about the two initiatives.

Issue 1: There were no or few announcements about the implementation of the bus ban in Manila and the southwest terminal in Cavite.

Comments: While the bus ban in Manila came as a surprise to many, the move was actually a consequence of a Manila City Council resolution. Normally, such resolutions would take time to implement and would entail announcements for stakeholders. Though we will probably never know the truth or who is saying the truth about the resolution and its implementation, it is likely that bus operators already knew about the implications but decided to call Manila’s bluff and play the media and public appeal cards rather than comply with Manila’s requirements for franchised buses and terminals as they have done before in other issues like fuel prices and fare hikes.

I find it difficult to believe that the MMDA did not do its part in announcing the opening of the southwest terminal. Perhaps people thought the announcement was over a very short period? Or maybe people didn’t mind the announcement and are also at fault for paying no or little attention to the announcement? If so, then the public is also partly to blame for disregarding the announcement from the MMDA, assuming the agency won’t push through with its initiatives to implement central terminals for buses. Next up will be another southern terminal at Alabang and a northern one near Trinoma.

Issue 2: Poor transfer facilities and services including a lack of pedestrian facilities between the bus terminal and transfer point, and lack of public transport like jeepneys to ferry passengers to their destinations.

Comments: I think it’s quite clear that the MMDA and LGUs are at fault here. Despite the construction and scheduled opening of the southwest terminal, there have been limited effort in improving pedestrian facilities. Such facilities needed to be in place prior to or upon the opening of the southwest terminal and requiring all provincial buses to terminate at the facility instead of continuing to Metro Manila. People-friendly facilities could have helped people in adjusting to the new policy though walking from 100 to 200 meters is certainly not for all, especially during this rainy season. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) would have specific needs that could have been addressed from day one of operation of the terminal. One approach to “bridge the gap” between the terminal and where people could take city bus and jeepney rides could have been to modify some city bus and jeepney routes to make these closer to the terminal. Ideally, the terminal could have been an intermodal facility providing efficient, seamless transfers between modes of transport.

In the case of Manila, the jeepneys were already there with routes overlapping with buses but their numbers and capacity could not cope with the demand from the buses. Since the main objective of Manila was to weed out colorum buses, it could have coordinated with the LTFRB to check the registration and franchises of buses rather than generalizing among all buses. Perhaps Manila just wanted to make a big statement? But then this was at the expense of the riding public, which obviously got the attention of many including the media. Coordination among agencies and LGUs, however, has not been a strong suit for these agencies, and this thought leads us to the next issue.

Issue 3: Lack of coordination among LGUs and agencies in implementing transport schemes.

Comments: This issue is an enduring one and has been the topic of discussions, arguments and various fora for as long as we can remember. On one hand, the DOTC and the LTFRB should provide guidelines and guidance to local governments on transport planning and services. The agencies should be proactive in their engagement of LGUs in order to optimize transport services under the jurisdiction of national agencies and local governments. On the other hand, LGUs must accept the fact that most if not all of them are ill equipped or do not have the capacity nor capability to do transport planning much less addressing issues regarding public transport. Citing the Local Government Code and its devolution of local transport to LGUs everytime there’s a transport issue certainly won’t help LGUs solve their problems.

Issue 4: Terminals required for city buses in Manila.

Comments: There should be a terminal for city buses in Manila but not a terminal for each company. There should only be one or maybe two terminals where buses can make stops prior to making the turnaround for the return trip. There is actually a terminal in Manila, which the city can start with for city buses. This is the one just beside the Metropolitan Theater and near City Hall, which can be utilized by city buses. It is also close to the LRT Line 1 Central Station so the facility can be developed as a good intermodal terminal for land transport.

Issue 5: Colorum or illegal public transport vehicles in Manila

Comments: This is actually a problem not just for Manila but for the rest of Metropolitan Manila and the rest of the country. The colorum problem is there for both conventional and paratransit services as there are illegal buses, jeepneys, UV express, multicabs, taxis, tricycles and pedicabs everywhere. Many of these are allegedly being tolerated by national agencies and local governments with many allegedly being fielded or owned by public transport operators themselves.

In most cases, the best time to evaluate a traffic policy or scheme is NOT during its first days or weeks of implementation but after a significant time, say at least a month, after it was implemented. This is because the stakeholders, the people involved would take some time to adjust to any scheme or policy being implemented. This adjustment period will vary according to the magnitude or scope of the scheme/policy and can be quite “painful” to many who have gotten used to the old ways. Usually, a lot of comments and criticisms are quite emotional but it is clear that the collective sentiment is the result years or decades of poor transport services and fumbling by government agencies. Transport in Metro Manila is already quite complicated with routes overlapping and services competing with each other for the same passengers. Perhaps it is time to simplify transport while also in the process of optimizing and rationalizing services. I have written about this in this previous post.

More transport issues in Manila will come about should the city train its attention on other modes of transport including jeepneys, UV express vehicles, tricycles, pedicabs and kuligligs. If the city is really intent on reforming transport services within its jurisdiction, it should consider the needs of all stakeholders and especially and particularly the riding public. Transport should be inclusive, people-friendly as well as environment-friendly and there are many good practices in other cities that Manila could refer to and study for adaption and adoption for the city. If it is successful in improving transport, then perhaps Manila could be the country’s model for transformation from being the “Gates of Hell” to being a “Portal to Heaven” to residents and visitors alike.

P. Casals Street and Ayala Boulevard

This is a continuation of an earlier post about Manila streets. Legarda eventually becomes Pablo Casals Street and then Ayala Boulevard after the Ayala Bridge. There are many prominent academic institutions along the road including the Technological University of the Philippines and the Philippine Normal University.

IMG06424-20130717-0937Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) has a branch along P. Casals St.

IMG06425-20130717-0937Bridge across a tributary to the Pasig River is full of shanties. This is in the San Miguel district of Manila that is near Malacanan Palace. It is between the Quiapo area and the Palace and the tributary leads to the Golden Mosque to the right.

IMG06426-20130717-0939Ayala Bridge where P. Casals Street ends and becomes Ayala Boulevard on the other side of the Pasig. I think the street lamps are quite odd and more decorative than functional. I’ve seen these at night and they look more like lanterns than street lights. At one side of the bridge (on the left in the photo) is the Isla de Balut and the Hospicio de San Jose.

IMG06427-20130717-0939Ayala Boulevard is a 4-lane, undivided road. The southwest direction (downstream) leads to Taft Avenue.

IMG06428-20130717-0939Just pas the bridge is an intersection with San Marcelino Street, which is part of a major truck route. Along San Marcelino is Adamson University and what was the old St. Theresa’s College Manila campus whose buildings have been integrated with Adamson.

IMG06429-20130717-0939There are two major institutions of higher learning along Ayala Blvd. These are the Technological University of the Philippines and the Philippine Normal University.

A bit of trivia: These institutions (TUP and PNU) together with the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) formed the pillars of professional and technical education introduced by the Americans to a post-Spanish Philippines. TUP used to be the Manila Trade School (1901) and then the Philippine School of Arts and Trades (1910) under the Americans. The PNU was Philippine Normal School during the American Period (1901) and later became the Philippine Normal College after the Second World War (1949). The PUP was the Manila Business School (1904) and later the Philippine School of Commerce (1908) during the same period. The University of the Philippines was the first state university established by the Americans in 1908. TUP was established to provide education and training in various trades (vocational school). The PUP was established to provide education and training for business/commerce. The PNU was established to provide education and training for teachers. And UP was established to provide education and training to professionals in the fields of engineering, law and medicine.

Walking around Ginza

The Ginza District in Tokyo is one of the most prominent areas for both shopping and offices. It is reputed to be upscale as many of the world’s top brands such as LV, Chanel and Hermes have big shops here aside from the more recognizable Japanese shops like Matsuzakaya and Mikimoto. From a transport perspective, it is a very accessible area with metro lines having several stations here and the district being a few minutes walk from the JR Lines. Sidewalks are wide and therefore a boon to pedestrians and cyclists. There are no jeepneys, tricycles or pedicabs here that are used in the Philippines as modes for almost door-to-door transport and for short travel distances. Instead, you have to walk between buildings and metro or JR stations or bus stops.

2013-07-30 19.20.42Cyclists making a turn at an intersection in Ginza.

2013-07-30 19.21.27Taxis patiently wait for pedestrians to cross before making a left turn (Japan’s using the right hand drive system) – you will hear no horns from motorists as they give way to pedestrians and cyclists cross the streets unlike Metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines where motorists will run over people despite the latter having the right of way.

2013-07-30 19.22.30Vehicles crossing a busy intersection in Ginza. Turning vehicles position themselves for the turn phase of a signal in anticipation of the green light and would give way to crossing pedestrians including stragglers who made the cross at the last instance.

2013-07-30 19.22.46Navigating in Ginza – newcomers can get lost in any city and especially something as large and seemingly complicated as Tokyo. Fortunately, we now have map apps in our smart phones and we can more easily determine the way to our desired destinations. This is a friend and his daughter consulting the map on our way to our dinner venue.

2013-07-30 21.13.38This fuzzy photo was taken as we crossed the street to get to the Higashi Ginza subway station where we parted with some of our company. The bright building at the center of the photo is the Kabuki Theater.

2013-07-30 21.22.45Access to the Hibiya Line’s Higashi Ginza Station – note again the wide sidewalks.

2013-07-30 21.22.52A quick shot of a street in Ginza with buildings and signs all lighted up.

2013-07-30 21.24.00The lights and signboards reminded me of Shibuya (remember the movie Lost in Translation?) and Shinjuku, in other parts of Tokyo. I was not able to go there on my recent trip but will surely go next time I’m in Tokyo.

2013-07-30 21.24.29Another look at a street as we crossed it to reveal a long line of buildings with the shop and store signs lit up.

2013-07-30 21.51.08A large electronics store, Bic Camera, near the JR Yurakucho Station. Japan is well known for electronics and Tokyo is dotted with a lot of electronics stores selling the latest gadgets and appliances. Of course, there is the Akihabara “electric town” where there are stores and shops everywhere selling the same plus games and collectibles for hobbyists. But that, as they say, is another story to be told in a future post.

2013-07-30 21.51.19Wide pedestrian crossing at the JR Yurakucho Station. The area is host to many offices and generally has high pedestrian volumes.