Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Some thoughts on transport safety and security

There is an Office of Transport Security (OTS) under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). Under its mandate is coming up with plans and programs in order to ensure safe and secure travel for all. Security here is most often associated with the prevention of crime and the control of criminal elements in how they could affect transport (i.e., terrorists, robbers, etc.). I believe that this interpretation extends to safe driving as well since reckless driving is practically a criminal act especially when we realize the potential for fatal crashes due to these behaviors by drivers and riders. Unfortunately, the OTS like many agencies under the DOTC have a lack of personnel to be truly effective in carrying out their mandate.

I think passengers should be more proactive in ensuring their rides will be safe and secure. They should be in a position to pressure the driver to be more careful and responsible with the operation of the vehicle. However, there will always be apprehensions on the part of any passenger who might be thinking about the backlash or negative reactions they would get from the driver, conductor or even fellow passengers. Ironically, its the reactions from the latter that could turn something proactive to an embarrassing or humiliating experience. I recall one time a friend was conducting a survey on bus operations and one driver commented that passengers get angry with them when they slow down, saying the reason they rode buses of this particular company was because they drove very fast. Such thinking betrays their ignorance and disregard for safety – until, of course, they happen to be involved in a crash!

And so perhaps the OTS and other responsible agencies could enlist the help of other government personnel who would have the training required for authority figures on security and safety. For example, there are many of our servicemen in the armed forces and the police who take public transportation or who provide transport services by being operators or drivers (to augment their incomes with the AFP or PNP). Those who are passengers should assert themselves in the service of other passengers by accosting reckless drivers and reminding the latter of their responsibilities as service providers and the penalties for irresponsible driving. Servicemen can be formally (and legally) granted this authority by the LTO and/or LTFRB, which do not have the personnel to police the thousands of public utility vehicles around the country.

Innovations for cycling and walking

I usually browse the net for the wealth of information now readily available on transport facility designs that are pedestrian and/or cycling friendly. In the Philippines, there has been an increased awareness lately for people-oriented systems encouraging cycling and walking. These have extended to calls for more bikeways and walkways to enhance mobility, with several projects being implemented to further the advocacies for non-motorised transport (NMT). Of course, there are already existing examples of both good and bad practices around the country including ideal and undesirable cases in Marikina City, which is the first (and only?) city in the Philippines to have a comprehensive network of bikeways. 

Recently, I found this article entitled “Urban Innovations That Could Turn Your City Into a Bicycling Paradise” on one of my favourite websites io9.com. It contains some of the more prominent examples of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly designs that have been implemented elsewhere that we could probably take note of as good practice references when we do plan and design similar facilities in our cities. I’m sure there are many people out there, and not just architects or engineers, who would have good ideas for people-friendly infrastructure design. We need to encourage them to come out and propose these ideas that can be adapted into sound design according to architectural and engineering principles (i.e., the designs would still have to follow standards or guidelines, e.g., seismic, wind, etc. in order for these to be safe for use and last long.

Government agencies especially the DPWH and local government units should be open to new ideas or innovative designs to help transform our transport system to become more people-oriented than vehicle-oriented. There should be initiatives from within these agencies to come up with innovative designs while keeping the details up to standards or following established guidelines. So far, there have been no notable push for updating road designs, for example, despite road safety assessment findings and recommendations that should resonate more within agencies and LGUs if they are not comfortable dealing with NGOs or civil society groups advocating for people-friendly infrastructure.

I believe government engineers are competent and have the talent to come up with innovative designs and guidelines but there is a lack of incentive for them to do so and to think out of the box. The bottom-line is still to create an enabling environment for such design ideas to come out and be implemented. Perhaps the academe could lend a hand here with their strong linkages with government planners, architects and engineers. The schools could provide the environment for encouraging new thinking in as far as transport infra is concerned and the leading universities would have the resources that can be harnessed towards innovative designs.

 

 

Walking vs. cycling?

I remember an episode in an old series, The West Wing, where White House staff had to meet with various proponents of renewable energy. The very same proponents advocated for the RE they thought should get the  most attention, and therefore funding support from the government. They ended up criticising each other’s advocacies, even pointing to the flaws of each and basically putting each other’s proposals down. The POTUS (ably played by Martin Sheen) had to intervene and scolded these people for working against each other rather than working together to push a common RE agenda.

This is pretty much where we are now with many proponents of sustainable transport initiatives. People and certain groups would advocate for walking, cycling, BRT, rail transit, etc. as if these are exclusive from one another. The results have often been haphazard facilities such as entire pedestrian facilities being painted and designated as bikeways and regular bus services being mislabeled as BRT. I have some friends who insist that cycling is the way to go simply because they cycle between their homes and workplaces, not fully understanding that this mode is not for everyone especially with the various issues in urban sprawl affecting our choices of residence. Clearly, what is good for one person is not necessarily applicable to everyone else, and that is why we should have options for travel or commuting. These options would have to be integrated, complementary, affordable and people and environment-friendly.

 

IMG08759-20140609-1012The MMDA fenced off entire stretches of sidewalks and painted the pavement red to designate them as bikeways. This basically alienates pedestrians and while the wire mesh fence has its benefits from the perspective of safety, it also effectively constricts the space that cyclists and pedestrians have to share. Note also the trees and poles that pedestrians and cyclists would have to evade or risk injury.

IMG08799-20140610-1657Along EDSA, the same treatment of fences and coloured pavements was applied ahead of Temple Drive/Corinthian Gardens. The space is just too constrained for sharing given the trees and poles and then you have the smoke belching buses adding to the misery of people using these facilities.

 

While there have been some quick wins for pedestrians and cyclists, it seems to me that many if not all do not seem to be as sustainable as we want them to be. Many cases are classic for their being “pwede na yan.” There is no innovation in design or no design involved at all much like what we typically see as best or good practices abroad. Marikina still has the best examples so far for integrated bikeway and walkway design though there are many examples of good pedestrian facilities around including those in Makati and Bonifacio Global City (I tend to resist saying Taguig because that city practically has no say in how BGC is developed.). Quezon City (along Commonwealth) had a little promise and the UP Diliman campus but perhaps that can be realised with the rise of a new CBD in the North Triangle area. Of course, we look forward to developments in Iloilo City what with the bikeways being constructed along the long Diversion Road. Still, I believe that there should be a conscious effort not just from the private sector but from government agencies, especially the DPWH, to come up with new designs and guidelines that LGUs could refer to. That agency so far has not measured up to the expectations of many for it to take a lead in revitalising our roads so that facilities can be truly inclusive and environment-friendly.