Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Sunday smog

We were staying at a hotel over the weekend and our room afforded us a good view of the cityscape to the left and seascape to the right. We weren’t able to get a good view of the sunset as we were practically facing south-east and the orientation of the window prevented any, even slight view of what is always a nice Manila Bay sunset. We did expect to see the sunrise the following morning.

As the sun came up, we took this photo of the cityscape. Closer to us were buildings in Pasay City while those farther away were buildings in Bonifacio Global City. I remembered reading somewhere that what makes our sunsets so colourful or spectacular are the elements in our atmosphere. Air pollution tends to bring the most dramatic colors for sunsets and I believe that’s in a way also applicable to sunrises. I took a snapshot of the cityscape from our hotel window expecting the worst for what could be the equivalent of an exposed negative in the old days. Instead, I got the pretty decent photo below showing the sunlight reflecting off the haze around Metro Manila and giving the cityscape that eerie look on a Sunday morning.

2014-06-01 06.12.33

There’s a joke that is often recycled concerning air pollution and air quality. According to this joke, the Philippines doesn’t need to worry about air pollution since every year it is visited by many typhoons. These typhoons passing through the country sweep away the pollution thereby making the air around us cleaner. This is actually true and one need only to get outdoors after a typhoon to smell the fresh air. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the smog returns and therein lies the punchline to the real joke. At the rate we are going in terms of vehicle emissions alone, we would probably need at least a typhoon every week for the entire year if we wanted clean air to breathe. The dry seasons would probably be the worst in terms of poor air quality. And so we must see that the joke is on us and air quality will only continue to deteriorate if we do not act now and do not pitch in for the fight for clean air.

Nuts behind the wheel

Last night as we were on our way home, we noticed a vehicle in front of us swerving left and right as if the driver . We were in heavy traffic and vehicles from the adjacent lane were already falling back in order to avoid this vehicle. Even with the tint on the vehicle’s rear window, we could see the driver frequently leaning over the passenger side. At first, we would have dismissed this as the driver likely just taking care of the passenger (i.e., a parent perhaps checking on his/her child). However, closer inspection revealed what appeared to be a male driver leaning over to kiss what was likely a girl in the passenger seat. This went on for quite some time as we crossed the bridge along Marcos Highway and at full stop, we could see how busy the guy seemed to be with his display of affection. And so to get the driver back to focusing on his driving, we decided to give them a rap of the horn and flashed the high beam to their attention. The car swerved quickly to the right and sped off in what seemed to be a manoeuvre of embarrassment (We do hope he was embarrassed enough to focus on the road and driving, and not on “enjoying” his passenger. The road is not the place for such actions as they endanger other road users.

2014-06-23 19.28.58Yellow Honda Jazz with plate number NUT 801 was zigzagging along the road and there was no one to apprehend such drivers despite cameras supposedly installed along this road to monitor traffic.

This is a reminder to us that what’s wrong with a vehicle might be the one sitting behind the steering wheel – it’s driver. Drivers and other road users should always think about other people around them. Their behaviour and interactions along the road will determine how safe our roads would be for all users. This is practically the same principles regarding drunk driving or sleepy drivers whose behaviours under the influence or due to drowsiness could result in fatal crashes. These crashes and the resulting injuries and/or loss of lives are preventable with proper driving, riding and even pedestrian behaviour and is something each road user also has a responsibility to promote, even if it means simply getting the attention of another driver for him to drive more responsibly.

The Philippines’ National EST Strategy – Final Report

Friends and some acquaintances have been asking about whether there is a master plan for sustainable transport in Philippines. There is none, but there is a national strategy that should serve as the basis for the development and implementation of a master plan, whether at the national or local level. This strategy was formulated with assistance of the United Nations Council for Regional Development (UNCRD) through the Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which served as the focal agencies for this endeavour. The formulation was conducted by the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman. For reference, you can go to the NCTS website for an electronic copy of the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport Strategy Final Report.

NESTS coverCover page for the National EST Strategy Final Report



The need for mass transit to the east of Metro Manila

I wanted to use a title stating “the demand for mass transit to the east of Metro Manila” but the word “demand” for me seemed a bit technical (I associated it with the supply and demand concepts for transport.) and would need some numbers to support it. So I settled for the word “need” instead of “demand” so I could be flexible (i.e., more qualitative) with the way I wrote this article. “Need” is a more pedestrian term that can easily be understood and imagined, and there is no lack for images of this need for more efficient and higher capacity modes along the main corridors to the east of Metro Manila. The main corridors are Ortigas Avenue and Marcos Highway, which have the highest road capacities among other roads (i.e., higher capacities than A. Bonifacio Avenue in Marikina, the Batasan-San Mateo Road, or C-6/Highway 2000). These are also the corridors along which most public transport services may be found. Such connects the eastern towns (e.g., Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo, etc.) to the transport hubs of Cubao and Crossing, which are major transfer points for many people taking public transport. Of course, there are UV Express services from these eastern towns that go directly to CBDs like Makati and Ortigas.

You can observe the crowds at Katipunan and Santolan Stations of the LRT Line 2 as well as the people waiting for their ride home along Marcos Highway. I have observed that there are also lots of people along Ortigas Avenue from Tikling Junction to C-5 who religiously and patiently wait for their rides to school, office or home. This happens everyday and this regularity seems to be a never-ending sacrifice of time and patience. These people do not have much of a choice except taking whatever public transport is available to them. Many probably can afford to have a car or already have a vehicle in their household. Unfortunately, that vehicle is not usually enough for their commuting needs and so they are captive users of an inefficient public transport system (there are some who question if what we have can really be called a system).


IMG08724-20140603-1814People waiting for a ride in front of Robinsons Metro East along Marcos Highway in Pasig City – these have occupied 3 lanes of the highway as they position themselves for the next available jeepney. There is a UV Express terminal at the mall and another at the nearby Sta. Lucia mall but these are not for the destinations these people are going to.

News that the LRT Line 2 Extension from Santolan to Masinag would finally be constructed was initially met with speculation. Such news have been circulating for so many years but no actual work could be seen along Marcos Highway to convince people that the project was underway. Now, that the soil test samplings have been completed, people are anxious about the actual construction of the extension. I think this is a project long overdue and the question that needs to be answered is if the line needs to be extended further, perhaps until Cogeo. I believe there is a tremendous market for this mass transit system along this corridor where a lot of residential subdivisions and relocation sites have sprouted over the years. The DPWH recognised this as a high capacity corridor and is already widening the road from Masinag to Cogeo.

Hopefully, the Ortigas Ave.-Manila East Road corridor can also have its own mass transit line. The regular bus services along this corridor is no longer sufficient and operations are not so efficient despite what appears as competition among 2 bus lines. There had been a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line proposed for this corridor but there seems to be no progress towards the realisation of that project. Whichever of rail or BRT would be the option for the corridor though, it doesn’t take a genius or too many consultants to determine the need for a good mass transit line along this corridor. When that will be is a question with an answer that is still up in the air. Perhaps the local governments of Rizal, especially the province, should push for such transit systems. The governor and mayors should champion such systems that will definitely benefit their constituents and translate into real revenues for their LGUs from the certain business that will come along these corridors.

Food for thought – a few articles on transport and traffic

This will just be a quick post for now and I just wanted to share a few recent articles on transport and traffic from a favourite magazine – Wired:

What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse

Why We’re Sad the Best Airport in the World Is Getting Even Better

The Hidden Genius and Influence of the Traffic Light

These are very well written, easy to understand articles on things we encounter everyday (traffic congestion, traffic signals at intersections) and when we travel long distance (airports). They show different perspectives of things we take for granted or assume we understand. An example of the latter includes notions that road widening or road construction will solve traffic congestion problems. Much of what goes around regarding road widening or road construction as solutions do not account for induced demand, which is basically additional traffic generated or encouraged by wider or new roads. The second article talks about Changi Airport, arguably the best in the world, and the high tech approaches they have employed or will employ in order to ensure efficient operations there. Such tools, I think, should be used in our airports especially NAIA where the long standing excuse is the limitations of the runway(s) and the airport terminals. Certainly, there are other issues that need to be addressed and going high tech and employing sophisticated methods for airport operations should alleviate problems until we ultimately build a new airport elsewhere. The third article takes a look into behaviour and mentions a “social contract” we have agreed to in order to reduce mayhem in our roads. This “social contract” as well as others related to it should be revisited and understood as they are very much a part of how we behave when we travel and have a significant effect on others around us.

IMG08800-20140617-1521Traffic congestion and traffic signals along the 4-lane C.P. Garcia Avenue in UP Diliman



We deserve better transport!

In the news lately are various problems pertaining to transport and the solutions authorities have come up with that they think are stop-gap solutions to alleviate the problems. The EDSA MRT Corp, for example, tried to experiment with a bus service to supplement the supply of transport for the tremendous demand for the MRT 3 trains. For some reason, the MRTC did not coordinate with the MMDA as well as the LTFRB for the experiment and this resulted in their buses being halted by the MMDA for being “colorum” or illegally operating public transport services. That quickly fizzled out even as they tried to convince queued passengers at stations to take the express bus instead.

More recently, this May, the MRT 3 experimented with what they called express trains. This was actually a “skip” train service where certain trains will not be stopping (i.e., skipping) certain stations. This was supposed to address congestion as well as improve travel times. It didn’t on both ends. Such services would have a chance if the MRT had the trains (rolling stock) for this kind of operation to be sustainable. Also, there’s the issue of the MRT tracks not being designed for trains to bypass stations with stopped trains (i.e., express trains bypassing local trains). That alone means there’s a limit to the number of trains you can deploy because there’s no way one can bypass the one ahead of it.

The MMDA recently re-introduced ferry services along the Pasig River. These are basically school buses loaded up on boats. While I’m sure the people behind this are well meaning, I couldn’t help but cringe with the idea that this seems to be the best we can do with the resources we have and agencies like the MMDA and the DOTC (especially the DOTC) seem content with their ideas for a solution to the transport/traffic mess we are in. Is it safe? So far, there have been no incidents yet so there are

The bottomline is that we do not deserve this low quality of transport services. The inefficiencies have directly or indirectly cost us a lot in terms of actual money or time that could have gone into more productive ventures. And the problem seems to be that many people have become manhid of their conditions and have taken transport matters in their own hands. Such comes in different forms like getting a motorcycle so they won’t have to take public transport or get caught in traffic jams. Another way is to get a second (even third or fourth) car so that the number coding scheme will not affect one’s trips. These examples, however, are more exceptions compared with the majority who cannot do anything about their plights except perhaps wake up earlier or stay at the office or school later so they don’t have to deal with traffic jams or difficulties of getting a ride.

I think we should voice out our displeasure with the current conditions and there are many ways to do this without going out in the streets to protest. That includes using social media to get the attention of those responsible for transport and traffic in your city or town. You just have to watch out for the trolls as there are many out there including those who seem to be working with the very same people responsible for transport and traffic. In such cases, you have to be careful how you react if someone heckles your posts. Actually, you shouldn’t mind them because otherwise, you would easily become frustrated or offended, which is what they want you to be. So you got to keep your cool and be patient with this social media approach. There are many advocacies out there that you can probably participate in and these include initiatives by competent NGOs who push for sustainable transport, inclusive mobility and clean air, among others. I like the term a friend coined from various experiences they had with their work on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu and Manila – dignity of travel. We have to get back this dignity that has steadily deteriorated or degraded by the poor quality of our transportation systems.

Habal-habal in Metro Manila?

Habal-habal is the term used for motorcycle taxis that proliferate in many rural areas but are steadily making their presence felt in urbanised areas as well. In Metro Manila, there are already some reports and spottings of habal-habal operations at Bonifacio Global City and in the White Plains area in Quezon City. I’m sure there are other areas where these informal services are being offered and the easiest way to spot these are by way of observing if there are motorcycle riders waiting in an area with extra helmets. The usual excuse if they are accosted is that they are just going to fetch someone (perhaps a relative or a friend) so they bring along that extra helmet for that person. When they do engage a passenger, I would like to think that they just ask the passenger to play along with them should they be apprehended and asked about their business.

Checkpoints around Metro Manila and many other cities and towns routinely stop motorcyclists to check on their registrations (i.e., there are many unregistered motorcycles around the country) and to pre-empt crime involving those “riding in tandem.” Motorcyclists with more than one passenger are risky and have a higher likelihood for severe crashes. The provision of services in exchange for monetary compensation (i.e., payment) puts these informal transport under the category of colorum services. These are not covered by insurance as required for formal public transport and so there are issues of liability should there be a crash involving these vehicles. No insurance means that passengers cannot claim for anything except compensation they can demand from the service provider (assuming he survives the crash) or the other parties involved (if it can be established that the other party is also at fault). You can always sue people but in this case, the pre-condition is that they shouldn’t have been riding a habal-habal in the first place.

IMG08761-20140609-1015Alleged habal-habal waiting in front of an establishment along Katipunan Road. These typically cater to employees of establishments or staffs of households in the exclusive villages along this road, which has no formal public transport service due mainly to its being a private road that happens to tolerate through traffic. You can find other motorcycle riders offering such services at the corner of Katipunan with Boni Serrano Avenue.

On walkability

There is an increased awareness for walking and cycling these days thanks to the increasing number of advocates and the aggressive and persistent campaigns for people to take up these modes of transport instead of the motorised forms. In the Philippines, the joke has been for people to have the propensity to ride a jeepney or tricycle even for short distance trips that elsewhere would be considered walkable. Why is it like this? Are Filipinos really lazy? Or is it a matter of not having the facilities for people to be able to walk safely and comfortably? I believe it is the latter case that discourages people from walking. There is the fear that you can get sideswiped by errant vehicles driven by reckless drivers or riders. There is also the impression that you can get injured from uneven paths or incur unwanted exposure to the elements (e.g., heavy rains, floods, punishing heat, etc.).

An important thing for this advocacy for walking would be to promote good, sound design and not just making walking an afterthought for streets. I have seen and heard a lot about sharing the road but for the wrong reasonings and without understanding the pre- or co-requisites for successful programs for walking and cycling. I would like to think that atop the list of pre- or co-requisites would be a good public transport system. We currently don’t have that in Metro Manila and it is difficult to cite exceptions around the metropolis given the poorly planned transit stations where transfers between modes are inefficient and definitely not seamless. However, standalone examples of walkable places and facilities can be seen around Metro Manila. I feature some of them below:

2014-05-16 06.34.0430th Street in Bonifacio Global City is a good example of how roads in urban areas should be developed. Note the wide spaces provided for walking and cycling and the limited space (4 lanes) for motorised traffic. I just hope that the wide pedestrian spaces are not intended for future widening of roads for motorised traffic. During early mornings and evenings you will find many joggers along this road and around Bonifacio High Street – proof that the environment is conducive enough for such activities.

IMG07896-20140316-1737On the ground, 30th Street looks every way walkable with the trees providing the shade (and oxygen) to make walking an attractive option anytime of the day. 

IMG07897-20140316-1738Pedestrian crossings should be clearly marked and in the case of BGC, even those at signalised intersections are painted as zebra crossings (more appropriate for unsignalised crossings) instead of the standard parallel line markings. Unfortunately, whatever may be the case for these cross walks, most motorists seem to be unaware of the rule that once a pedestrian steps on the cross walk, then motorists should give way to the pedestrian. Motorists should also slow down upon approaching a cross walk – something not commonly seen in the Philippines.

IMG07902-20140319-0930Atop a typical pedestrian overpass – I took this photo at an overpass along C-5, which is an example of the more recent overpasses constructed in Metro Manila. Previously, there were a number of issues regarding overpasses constructed during the time when Fernando was MMDA Chair including slippery steel floorings, low railings and steep stairways (i.e., not friendly to senior citizens and persons with disabilities). This overpass has a more sturdy design and the railings provide users with a sense of safety. Stairs are also less steep than those of previous ones.

More on walkability in future posts!

Green light for the Cebu BRT

The NEDA Board chaired by the Philippines’ President approved last week a number of major infrastructure projects. One project is particularly important as it seeks to introduce an innovative public transport system in the Philippines. The Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project was finally given the green light and is projected to be completed and operational by 2017. I remember that the Cebu BRT was conceptualised while we were doing a social marketing project for Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) that was supported by the UNDP. That was back in 2006-2007 and right before we embarked on the formulation of a national EST strategy that was supported by UNCRD. I remember, too, that sometime in 2009, Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia who has championed the BRT cause visited the Philippines to give some talks in Cebu and Metro Manila about public transport and pursuit of better quality of life through good transport systems. From that time onwards, a lot of work has been put into the studies to support this system including social marketing for stakeholders to understand what such a system will require including its impacts on existing transport modes. It took sometime for this project to be approved but that should no longer be an issue and focus should now be on the detailed design and implementation of the project.

There are many detractors of this BRT project. While I respect the value engineering work that was supposed to have been conducted by NEDA, I would like to speculate that perhaps it was unclear to them how important a functioning, operational BRT in Cebu is as a strategic accomplishment in transport in this country. For most people, the idea of bus transport is what they have seen along EDSA in Metro Manila. The impact on commuting behaviour of a high quality public transport system like a BRT would be very hard to quantify and the criteria and metrics used would be quite tricky considering the strategic and behavioural aspects of the system. Such evaluations can also be tricky depending on who were doing the study in the first place as the outcomes could easily be affected by the biases of those who undertook the evaluation. Thus, it is important that value engineering exercises be done by open-minded, flexible if not disinterested parties to the project of interest.

Many of those who have expressed skepticism about the BRT are likely pining for a rail transit system that was earlier proposed for the city but which has failed to gain the critical support. For one, the LRT that was proposed for Cebu City was simply too expensive and financing would have been difficult for a system that would have been less flexible in operations compared to an at-grade bus system. The numbers supporting the LRT were also in need of much updating as the study on that system was already quite dated and had not considered the major developments in Cebu and its surrounding cities that loosely or informally comprise what people refer to as Metro Cebu. These realities would need a new and more robust study that could surely result in a recommendation for a rail system but upon close comparison with a BRT option should lead to a conclusion that Cebu will be better off with BRT at this point and in the foreseeable future.

The truth is that while rail transport remains as an ultimate goal for high demand corridors in highly urbanised cities, it is an expensive proposition and ones that will take more time to build. We don’t have that time in our hands as our cities are rapidly growing both in terms of economy and population. We cannot sustain this progress if our transport system remains primitive. And strategically, too, a BRT system may just pave the way for a future rail system in Cebu. This model for transport system development can be replicated in other cities as well including Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Cagayan de Oro, to name a few. But we should always not forget that building this system requires holistic development of complementing infrastructure such as pedestrian walkways and bikeways, and the rationalisation of jeepney and multi cab services with respect to the mass transit system. I believe those behind the Cebu BRT project have these covered and it is now a matter of time before the country’s first BRT becomes operational in the “Queen City of the South.”

Seminar on urban transport systems in the Philippines

The University of the Philippines Diliman, through its Institute of Civil Engineering and National Center for Transportation Studies, recently held a seminar on urban transport systems. The seminar was held last May 26, 2014 and presentations included one on urban transport in the Philippines by Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr., an Associate Professor of the School of Urban and Regional Planning of UP Diliman and another on international best practices by Prof. Fumihiko Nakamura, Dean of the Institute of Urban Innovation of the Yokohama National University in Japan.

2014-05-26 15.01.39The seminar was held at the Aloe Room of the new Marco Polo Hotel at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City.

2014-05-26 13.57.14Dr. Montalbo talking about the concept of “dignity of travel.”

2014-05-26 15.05.59Prof. Nakamura discussing the concepts of “park & ride” and “kiss & ride” with respect to transit systems.

The presentations during the seminar may be downloaded from the NCTS website. The seminar was supported by the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).