Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Let’s revisit the Marikina Bikeways

Calls for more walkable and bicycle-friendly cities and a lack of local data for these modes of transport got me thinking about Marikina. The city has its own bikeways office, the Marikina City Bikeways Office (MCBO), that was under City Planning and Development Office but borrowed staff from other offices of the city. The MCBO has gone through many challenges since the time of Bayani Fernando, who instituted the office, and his wife Ma. Lourdes under whose terms the office was downgraded. I’ve learned that the office has been strengthened recently and is implementing a few programs to promote cycling especially among school children. I wonder, though, if Marikina has been collecting and keeping tabs on cycling related data. I recall that during the conduct of the study for the Marikina bikeways network, it was established that there was a dearth of data on cycling and data collected pointed to cyclists primarily comprised of workers in factories or construction sites in the city and neighbouring areas. These are the regular commuters using bicycles instead of motorised vehicles. It would be nice to see if these increased in numbers (observations along major roads like Sumulong Highway seems to support the increase) and if there have also been shifts to motorcycles as the latter became more affordable in recent years. Enforcement is still an issue with regards to the bikeways as not all paths are segregated. As such, those lanes painted on the roads are more susceptible to encroachment by motorised vehicles. Still, Marikina is a very good example of realising people-friendly infrastructure and many LGUs could learn from the city’s experiences with the bikeways.

IMG09156-20140813-0934A bicycle bridge along Sumulong Highway in Marikina City

Recently, some students consulted about designing bikeways in other cities as well as in a bike sharing program being planned for the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. These are good indicators of the interest in cycling that includes what discussions on the design of cycling facilities and programs intended to promote bicycle use especially among young people. We strongly recommended for them to check out Marikina to see the variety of treatments for bikeways as well as the examples for ordinances that support and promote cycling.

Flooded roads and some thoughts on flooding

I’ve always said that transport and traffic problems will always take a back seat to flooding. Traffic also takes a back seat to floods in this post. Issues like congestion and terrible public transport services are experienced by many everyday but basically do not stop people from their routines. Floods on the other hand are a major inconvenience that makes things like congestion or getting a ride during the rush hours much worse. Floods also have a way of making things stop as people cannot go to work and students cannot go to school. It seems that whenever there are floods, everything grinds to a halt and productivity takes a dive. Such losses, of course, are in addition to the cost of damages directly brought about by the floods.

The following photo was taken by a staff of our office who was going around near his home. Fortunately, their place was not flooded so that afforded him time to go around and take some photos of the swollen Marikina River along Marcos Highway in the Pasig-Marikina border.

Mario flood1Marcos Highway Bridge over a swollen Marikina River – not visible in the photo is the road leading to FVR Road and C-5, which is usually subject to flooding. The tall building in the background is SMDC’s Blue condominium along Katipunan Avenue. [Photo credit: Roy Velasco, NCTS, September 2014]

These extreme floods have been happening more frequently lately. I think these extreme rain events brought about by typhoons or monsoons are the norm now and we should be more prepared than ever in dealing with such heavy rainfall. Flooding can be alleviated if not eliminated and the experiences of some flood-prone LGUs can help us in determining suitable approaches to alleviate the problem and mitigate its impacts.

The philosophy applied by previous administrations of Marikina City  did not have the objective of eliminating flooding. That was too expensive for a growing city that needed to put resources to other aspects or areas of development. The main objective was to alleviate flooding; mainly to reduce the depth as well as the duration of flooding. That is, instead of having waste-deep waters, perhaps knee-deep would be more tolerable. And instead of having to deal with flooded homes or streets over a day or more, half a day would make life better for people affected. The key was to address issues that led to severe flooding. Such issues include poor drainage stemming from inadequate maintenance of facilities and the still tremendous amounts of garbage irresponsibly disposed off by people, especially those living near waterways.

Marikina, Antipolo and Cainta at least should consider building retention basins in order to mitigate serious flooding. A lot of waterways were lost as residential subdivisions were developed and developers responsible for these should bear part of the burden by doing their part (e.g., identifying and turning over or donating lands than can serve as sites for the basins) in helping alleviate flooding. One friend pointed out that the critical time for flooding would be when rains are heaviest (e.g., last Thursday to Friday for Mario or the 6 hours of extreme rains by Ondoy in 2009). Basins should be designed so they can accommodate waters from the rains during the critical period so that instead of neck-deep floods, perhaps there will only be knee-deep or waist-deep waters. Yes, there will still be floods but they will be more tolerable and perhaps faster to dissipate than when you don’t have the basins to mitigate such events. There will be significant costs for such facilities but then the costs surely don’t compare to the annual losses that can be attributed to flooding and relocating whole communities definitely is much more costly and is not an option for those in the Marikina Valley and other food prone areas. Floods have been issues for many LGUs during elections and whoever can come up with a good plan to alleviate flooding will surely win a lot of votes.

Streets of Malabon

I happened to be in Malabon one weekend for a get-together with the wife’s relatives who lived in the area. Malabon is an old town that is often mentioned in history books (i.e., during the Spanish period). Though the name of the town is said to have been derived from the term “ma-labong,” which is short for “maraming labong” or plenty of bamboo shoots, it is likely, too, the place was named after San Francisco de Malabon. Here are a few photos we managed to take as we drove along Malabon’s streets. I was not familiar with the area but Waze and Google maps provided ample information for us to navigate our way around.

IMG09030-20140726-1624 Gen. Luna Street in the Malabon city proper is a one way street. Other streets in the CBD have also been designated as one-way streets as all (and not just a few or most) roads are narrow.

IMG09031-20140726-1624Non-motorized transport are popular in Malabon and you will see a lot of bicycles and pedicabs along the streets. These are usually in mixed traffic and seem to blend quite well with motorized vehicles. This seems to be a good example of practicable road sharing.

IMG09032-20140726-1624While the streets are designated one-way for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedicabs generally travel counterflow and oblivious to the risks of doing so. Still, motorists seem to be okay with this and traffic enforcers do not mind the practice.

IMG09033-20140726-1626There are many people using bicycles and pedicabs in Malabon. Noticeable are the unique designs of sidecars as the bicycles used in the trikes are taller than the usual bikes elsewhere.

IMG09034-20140726-1630One of the narrow side streets in Malabon. I think these should only be used for walking or cycling and motor vehicles (including motorcycles) should not be allowed to use these. Malabon can be developed as a walkable city and since it has narrow streets, traffic circulation needs take into consideration how to effectively use one way scheme or combinations in the network.

Malabon is a flood-prone area. Combined with its narrow streets, the area needs an all weather transport system. Non-motorized transport like bicycles and pedicabs can provide this as well as buses perhaps, though the narrow streets and tight turns at intersections can definitely be tricky for large vehicles. It would be interesting how the city will continue to develop considering the constraints. The town proper itself is challenged in terms of the area available for development and perennial flooding will always be an issue that will be quite difficult to overcome. Still, the city and its citizens persist and have been able to overcome these challenges. It can only be hoped that the city will continue to thrive amidst the challenges.

Lane discipline

Among many peoples’ pet peeves in traffic would probably be the propensity for lane changing among many drivers and riders. This is especially true for wide multi-lane roads like Commonwealth Ave., Marcos Highway and EDSA. While it can be an understandable behaviour for free flowing traffic along long stretches where weaving can be executed safely, lane changes can be quite risky at intersections and may instantly lead to crashes. These are likely the bases for the swerving violations that the MMDA and other traffic enforcers became notorious for issuing for a time.

We chanced upon a scene at the Commonwealth Ave.-Mindanao Ave. intersection in Novaliches where a car seemed to have attempted to cut in front of a bus in order to make a turn but got hit by the bus. From the angle of the collision, it appears that the driver of the car likely maneuvered for a U-turn and made the critical assumption that he could beat the bus for the turn. It was obvious that the bus was in the right position while the car was not. This is often the case for drivers who do not care for positioning themselves along the correct lanes at intersections and seem to rely on their guile to get ahead of others. Such drivers might just be the same ones who would likely do counter-flows also to get ahead of others queued along the right traffic lanes.

IMG09144-20140803-1104White car attempts to make a U-turn right in front of a bus and gets hit by the bus whose driver likely did not notice the white car sneaking in front of the vehicle.

Lane discipline becomes more important with the revival of traffic signals all around Metro Manila. In addition, it is also important for the appropriate lane markings to be placed at intersection approaches. Such markings are supposed to guide drivers where they should position themselves so that they will not block traffic going in another direction. These can also aid in the enforcement of lane discipline as vehicles on the wrong lanes can be apprehended. This was the case in Cebu City in the 1990s when the city adopted the SCATS traffic signal system, which employed detectors embedded on the pavement along the approaches to intersections. These detectors helped determine whether there is demand for a particular movement (left, through or right) and so requires lane discipline for the system to work effectively. –

Repair C6 now!

The existing roads that comprise what has been designated  as Circumferential Road 6 is an important link that serves as an alternate route for people and goods traveling between the eastern towns of Rizal province and Metro Manila to urban centres in Makati (Ayala CBD) and Taguig (Bonifacio Global City) as well as the southern areas of Metro Manila all the way to Laguna and Cavite. During the last dry season or summer, the roads conditions have been quite good such that travellers from Rizal could easily reach BGC or Makati in less than an hour give and take typical congestion during the peak periods.

The situation has significantly worsened since the onset of the wet season as the pavement quickly deteriorated with the combination of heavy rains and heavy vehicles utilising the road. Highway 2000 from Taytay, Rizal was already in bad condition during the summer so it became only worse once the rains came. However, it is the C6 segment from Pasig to Taguig that has deteriorated and is now in a state of disrepair. Following are photos that show how bad the conditions are and which have led to travel times worsening to more than double than what it should be if the roads were in good condition.

10171274_10152311461081889_7569716475256902561_nSection in Taguig along the shores of Laguna de Bay where even large trucks avoid the deep holes along the road. These situations along C6 constrict traffic everyday.

10703562_10152311461566889_6414876550669679017_nC6 section in Pasig City where what used to be asphalt is now a muddy mess.

10635802_10152311462251889_8405359378178629931_nAnother section in Pasig City where C6 passes through a relocation area (Lupang Arenda) where local traffic affects through traffic and C6 is probably at its narrowest.

The section from Pateros to Taguig was built as a road dike protecting these areas from floods brought about by the increasing level of Laguna de Bay during the wet season. While it is basically a secondary road compared to the other circumferential roads, traffic has significantly increased along C6 due to many people discovering that you can travel faster between Rizal and Makati or BGC via this road. Sadly, there seems to be little or no attention given to its current state.

I understand that the DPWH has a process for determining whether a road needs to be repaired and given limited resources, the agency also applies a process for prioritisation of road repairs (i.e., there are many other roads that also need repairs). However, there should be a way to allocate resources for the repairs of the road and this includes involving the LGUs whose constituents benefit from the use of the road. Rizal province and towns and Pasig City should take the initiative to find ways to improve the conditions along C6. It is also in the interest of Taguig to improve this road as many of its residents use it, too. Hopefully, the road will be repaired sooner rather than later and travel times will improve again. Of course, this should be the case whether or not the proposed C6 expressway is realised.

The return of traffic signals at Katipunan

It’s been more than a decade since the MMDA implemented what was formally called the Grand Rotunda Scheme. To most, it will always be the U-turn scheme that was implemented all around Metro Manila. After seeing what seemed like success along roads like Commonwealth and Quezon Avenue, it was concluded that the U-turns were the answer to Metro Manila’s traffic woes or at least the part that’s blamed on signalized intersections. The perception by many at the time was that traffic signals were not working and caused so much congestion as evidenced by the long queues at intersections. This is not entirely false as intersections with in-optimal settings would definitely bring about congestion especially along corridors or networks where signals are not coordinated. It was, however, a generalization at a large scale and led to more experiments of opening and closing slots in order to determine which would be the most effective combinations. These experiments and their outcomes include drivers becoming more aggressive in order to maneuver ahead of others at the U-turn slots. Weaving has become the norm and in many cases have increased the risk of road crashes.

IMG09196-20140901-0625Traffic signals have been installed and the section of the median island has been removed across Ateneo’s Gate 3. This will become a three-leg intersections once again but I hope the signals will not favor Ateneo over through traffic along C5.

IMG09197-20140901-1339Traffic lights are already installed along the southbound side of Katipunan at the approach to the junction with Miriam College’s Main Gate. This will be a four-leg intersection as across Miriam is B. Gonzales Street that connects to Esteban Abada.

The signals are supposed to be operational starting September 13, which is a Saturday. Perhaps this is to try it out first during that weekend and for the MMDA to do some tweaks before the real deal that is traffic on Monday. But then how can you simulate traffic generated by the two schools in the area except maybe if there is significant enough traffic on Saturday? Did the MMDA or its consultants do some simulation using their computers and the VISSIM software they acquired many years ago? Or will we see more of the experiments as signals are fine-tuned according to the conditions along Katipunan?

We are hopeful that the signals along Katipunan will help improve the traffic along this very busy corridor. The results for sections of C5 from Libis (QC) to Ugong (Pasig) are promising and many people I know have told me that traffic has improved. Of course, this may also be partly due to the one-lane policy the MMDA has implemented for trucks. It’s never just one scheme or measure that will work wonders for Metro Manila traffic. It will always be a combination that will alleviate traffic woes in the metropolis. We’ll soon know what will become of traffic along Katipunan. We should, however, temper expectations at least for the 6:30 – 7:30 AM period during weekdays when traffic peaks in the vicinity of Ateneo and Miriam. The sheer volume of vehicles generated by the schools will overwhelm any system that is put up in the area. Nevertheless, for the rest of the day at least traffic flow should improve when signals are operational once again for Katipunan.

Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

In a previous article, I had written about the Urban Transport Study for the Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA), which was completed in 1973 and proposed, among others, a rapid rail transit network for Metro Manila. The government proceeded to undertake a feasibility study for the first line of that network almost immediately afterwards. However, something happened a few years later that effectively contradicted UTSMMA’s recommendations and, from what the documents available to us now suggest, effectively doomed the future of transport in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) was implemented from January 1976 to February 1977. It was apparently commissioned by the Philippine Government, and funded by the World Bank, which commissioned the precursor of Halcrow Fox to do the study with a steering group comprised of senior government official dealing with transport at the time.


The MMETROPLAN project team is shown in the photo below. Note the inclusion of some familiar names particularly from the DPWH and DOTC who were then with what was the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (DPWTC) and Department of Public Highways (DPH) before these were reorganised. Note, too, a familiar name under Planning, who is very much active today with his own advocacies.


The study is more expansive in terms of scope as it included components on land use and development planning for Metro Manila. It identified three main strategies to address issues on traffic congestion and public transport requirements, namely:

  • Cordon pricing,
  • Bus lanes, and
  • LRT

Short-term recommendations focused on bus and jeepney operations, recommending that:

  • Standard buses (non-airconditioned) be designed for more standing passengers and charge a fare affordable by the poor;
  • Premium buses (including Love Bus) be designed for seated passengers and charge a higher fare; this may be used to cross-subsidize Standard bus operations;
  • Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) bus operations should not be further expanded:
    • MMTC buses should operate missionary routes, which are generally unprofitable routes.
    • There should be no arbitrary exemption on franchises like in the case of MMTC.
  • In reference to private bus companies, the project states that “properly regulated competition” provides best course of action for the foreseeable future;
  • Jeepneys are suited for low demand but high frequency service

MMETROPLAN also touched on the route structure for road public transport. However, its most far-reaching recommendations on road public transport concern the issuance of franchises for buses and jeepneys. The study recommended that franchises should be issued for a period of a few years instead of 25 years and to define a minimum LOS. The study cautioned against arbitrary restrictions on franchises for buses at the time while mentioning that there were already restrictions for jeepneys. MMETROPLAN further recommended the encouraging of small operators for both jeepneys and buses.

However, MMETROPLAN deviated from the recommendations of UTSMMA in that it struck down the proposal and plans for the Rapid Transit Rail (RTR) network for Metro Manila. The long-term recommendations and conclusions of the study show these and one particular recommendation that probably doomed heavy rail transport and the RTR network is quoted below:

“Heavy Rapid Transit (HRT) would provide public transport passengers with much faster journey, but by 1990 would attract only 2.5% of motorists and would have negligible impact on traffic congestion. Partly because of this and partly because of its very high capital cost, it would be hopelessly uneconomic: the annualized capital costs would be higher than the estimated benefits in 1990…passenger flows are not high enough to exploit its full capacity…and the large savings in time for public transport passengers are not given a high value in Manila, and are not high enough to persuade motorists to change mode.

These results are conclusive, and are unlikely to be changed by any circumstances or reasonable assumptions…it is clear that any other fully segregated public transport system, whether light rail or busway, would also be uneconomic. As such systems would require the appropriation of most, if not all, of the available funds for all transport (including highways) in Metro Manila for the foreseeable future, and as there is not other rationale for their implementation, they have been rejected from further consideration.” (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

The study also did not have good words for the PNR as it concluded that its “routes related poorly to the major demands for movement” and that it would be expensive to improve the PNR at the time. PNR costs were compared to buses and jeepneys with the further concluded that these road transport modes are preferred over an upgraded PNR.

MMETROPLAN assessed the LRT vs. the Monorail in the context of cordon pricing and bus lane strategies. While the monorail was dismissed for reasons that included few monorail systems operating at the time, the study recommended for an LRT along Rizal Avenue, which was considered feasible. These conclusions and recommendations by MMETROPLAN would eventually have far-reaching impacts on Metro Manila’s transport system and the study would be among the most cited in discussions and future planning where land use and transport are discussed in the same light.

For land use planning, the report also provides us with a history of land use planning for Metro Manila, which we can now compare with what actually happened. That is, if the plans made back in the 1970’s were actually implemented and to what extent were they realised. Many of these plans remain controversial to this day and are often invoked whenever there is talk about the perennial flooding and the spectre of earthquakes threatening much of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas in addition to other issues like the transport and traffic problems experienced around what has become a megalopolis.

[Reference: MMETROPLAN, 1977 – NCTS Library]

But what could have  influenced the MMETROPLAN study team and government officials to debunk UTSMMA? Why the “about-face” for something that seems to be the JICA Dream Plan circa 1970’s? UTSMMA and the rail rapid transit network, after all, was the product of a vision for future Metropolitan Manila transport by  a visionary professor from the University of Tokyo – one Dr. Takashi Inouye of that university’s Department of Urban Engineering. I think the next article will provide us with the answers to these questions regarding the turnaround. Abangan!