Caught (up) in traffic

Home » 2015 » June

Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rains, floods and traffic

The wet season is here and with it the now typically heavy rains in the afternoons. Last week, the heavy rains brought upon flash floods in Metro Manila and adjacent towns. There have been no typhoons yet so these are mainly monsoon rains (Habagat), which we expect to be daily occurrences. Many of these floods are along major roads including EDSA, C5, Espana, and Quezon Ave. that transformed these roads into parking lots as most light vehicles are unable to traverse flooded streets.

11390151_10152810738186805_18884354179388413_nVehicles run along the flooded Elliptical Road in Quezon City

11390210_10152810738321805_9043366778214047404_nJeepneys and SUVs (at right in the photo) take on the flooded Elliptical Road-Quezon Avenue intersection

Due to the traffic congestion resulting from the floods, many public utility vehicles especially jeepneys and UV Express vehicles were not able to go back and make their round trips.

11391604_10152810738141805_4776796639676842585_nCars risk the floods along Elliptical Road – the deepest waters are, ironically and curiously, along the section fronting Quezon City Hall where there is a pedestrian underpass connecting city hall with the Quezon Memorial Circle. Since the underpass is not flooded then it can be concluded that there’s something wrong with the drainage for Elliptical Road.

The weather is a very significant consideration for transport planning for cities in the Philippines. For Metro Manila it is almost everyone’s concern about how they can travel between their homes, offices, schools and other destinations without them and their things getting wet. This is what a lot of people advocating for road sharing seem to forget or choose to forget in their arguments for walking and cycling. A person residing in Fairview in Quezon City and working in Makati City will most likely not walk or cycle between his home and office because of the weather. This is a reality that could be solved by good public transportation, which, unfortunately, we also don’t have (yet) so people are ‘forced’ to do what they can to improve their plight. Unfortunately, too, what they are forced to do is purchase a car (or more). The proposal to build infrastructure to enable walking and cycling especially over medium to long distance is in the same dilemma as those for mass transit. And the latter is the more urgent matter needing action for the sheer volume of people they can carry and therefore benefit.

Ortigas Avenue Extension Roadworks

Causing much traffic congestion the past weeks and especially these days are sections of Ortigas Avenue Extension. This is basically caused by roadworks between Cainta Junction and Valley Golf. The section between Brookside and Valley Golf is being raised. The section is a low portion of the road and is almost always flooded whenever there are heavy rains due also in part to the creek in the area. The westbound side of that section is completed and the contractor is now working on the eastbound side. The section is a wider segment of Ortigas and it’s possible to close one lane at a time while having 2 lanes usable for traffic along either side of the road.

The more severe congestion is along the westbound side where another contractor is working on drainage between Junction and Brookside. The section in front of the RRCG bus depot only has one lane usable by traffic and so westbound traffic is regularly backed up for hundreds of meters. How bad is it on a weekday? It took me 30 minutes to pass the area between 5:15 and 6:00 AM last Monday.

IMG11845-20150626-1806Eastbound traffic splits into two lanes separated by roadworks

IMG11846-20150626-1807The left lane is part of an already elevated westbound side of Ortigas Ave. Ext. The inner eastbound land has already been graded and ready for concrete pouring. The base course layer is visible in the photo.

IMG11847-20150626-1807Section near Hunters ROTC Road (right where the grey SUV is coming from) and STI, and approaching Valley Golf.

IMG11848-20150626-1807Past STI, the traffic lanes go back to normal just before the intersection at Valley Golf.

Traffic is so severe along Ortigas Ave. Ext. that I am sure a lot of people are looking for alternate routes. Those from Antipolo, Taytay and towns along the Manila East Road would likely take the routes utilizing the floodway including Highway 2000 and C-6. Others would find the longer route via Sumulong Highway and/or Marcos Highway to be worth the time and fuel. Hopefully, work will be continuous along Ortigas and roadworks will be completed before we are deep into the typhoon season this year.

San Diego’s Sta. Fe Train Depot

A highlight of my ‘do-it-yourself’ tour of San Diego, CA was the Sta. Fe Train Depot or Railway Station. The depot was celebrating is centennial and for me represented part of America’s railway heritage being part of a railway line stretching along the US’ Pacific coastline. Following are photos in and about the Sta. Fe depot.

IMG11067-20150506-1223The historic Sta. Fe Train Depot building as seen from the San Diego MTS trolley station.

IMG_9006Front of the train deport showing a fountain and the main doors to the station building.

IMG_9007Entrance to the building, which contains the ticket office and waiting room for passengers and well-wishers.

IMG_9008One is greeted by this splendid view of the building’s interior evoking a time when trains ruled in land transportation. An information booth is seen at the right while the food kiosk is at the left. The ticket windows are further at the center.

IMG_9009The kiosk inside the station building provides sustenance to passengers, well-wishers and passers-by. Note, too, the mosaic designs on the columns of the building.

IMG_9010A closer look at the station’s ceiling and chandeliers shown arches emanating from the columns to support the roof. Such features are of earthquake resistant structures in this earthquake-prone region and particularly in the State of California.

Pedicab, trolley and the Sta. Fe Train Depot

I took some refreshments at the kiosk in the station. The hotdog sandwich was good and the coffee was strong. I took the trolley from the station to explore San Diego along its commuter train lines. More on San Diego’s trains and stations in future posts.

 

Kilometer Zero

Kilometer Zero for the Philippines’ national road network is located at Rizal Park in Manila. Many people still think that this is designated at the flag pole in front of the Rizal monument at the park. The marker for kilometer zero is actually just across from the flagpole with an elegant kilometer post clearly showing it as KM 0.

2015-06-13 07.05.50The KM 0 post in front of the another monument on the Quirino Grandstand (west) side of Rizal Park. There are many other markers in the park other than those associated with Rizal and other heroes (e.g., Gomburza). There is also a bronze statue of St. Lorenzo Ruiz (the first Philippine saint) in the middle of the grounds across from the grandstand that was dedicated by Pope John Paul II to the Filipino people to celebrate the saint’s beatification in the early 1980s when John Paul II visited the Philippines for the first time.

2015-06-13 07.10.39Some people thought that the flagpole in front of the Rizal monument in Manila’s Rizal Park is the marker for kilometer zero. The flagpole is shown in the photo above with the Manila Hotel in the background.

2015-06-13 07.20.00The marker up close.

Some setbacks for sustainable transport

There have been a few setbacks for sustainable transport in the news recently and not so recently. One is the burning of an electric vehicle, a COMET to be precise, that saw one unit burn to the ground near the UP Town Center along Katipunan Avenue. I am not aware of any official or formal findings being released as to what really happened to the vehicle but that is basically a big PR problem now as detractors of e-vehicles will point to the incident as proof that e-vehicles still have a long way to becoming a viable and safe option as public utility vehicles. E-vehicles have a lot to prove especially as an option for public transport and such setbacks only strengthen the argument against them and leaves us with the current conventional options.

Another is the discontinuance of service inside the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) of hybrid buses operated by Green Frog Transport. This one is due to what Green Frog described as exorbitant fees being charged by Bonifacio Estates Services Corp (BESC) for their buses to enter BGC. This is making the rounds of social media but there seems to be no response from BESC nor from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which is supposed to also have a say with policies in BGC. Perhaps BESC thought it best to just give Green Frog the silent treatment for what appears as a trial by publicity approach by Green Frog. One commuter commented that maybe BGC authorities should push for their Fort Buses to be hybrid and phase out the jeepneys in favour of higher capacity transit inside BGC.

There have also been issue on road safety including many incidents of pedestrians getting run over by vehicles. Many of these have been captured on video particularly by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which has set-up a network of cameras in many intersections along major roads. Many show vehicles Given that many cases feature jaywalking, it is still the responsibility of any motorist to exercise caution when manoeuvring, especially when turning at intersections. Drivers will always have blind sides or weak sides when they manoeuvre so they should be very careful when in doubt and not immediately proceed when it is not clear that they have a clear path. At BGC (again) one will notice that many motorists do not give way to pedestrians even when the latter are crossing at the right locations and according to the sign clearing them to cross the street. In one case involving two speeding SUVs, one lost control and hit a pregnant woman crossing the street. While a significant number of vehicles in BGC are through traffic, it is still the responsibility of BGC’s traffic enforcers to ensure motorists follow traffic rules and regulations including prioritising safety over haste. Simply attributing such safety issues to through traffic is no excuse for traffic enforcement being as lax as or par with the rest of Metro Manila, especially for a CBD that packages itself as better than the rest of Metro Manila.

Transport Planning in the Philippines (WB, 1976)

I know its been a long while since the posts on UTSMMA (1973), MMETROPLAN (1978) and other studies – past studies and plans concerning transport in  Metro Manila. It seems apt that I finally was able to finish this piece in time for the Philippines Independence Day. Sinasadya talaga. I left a question hanging about what caused the changes in mindset reflected in MMETROPLAN that practically did away with the proposed mass transit network in UTSMMA. Browsing other materials at the NCTS Library, I came upon a report that I thought would have likely influenced the MMETROPLAN study team as well as government officials at the time. This is the report that I think would be the vital link between UTSMMA and MMETROPLAN – for what happened between these two studies and why the “about face” when feasibility studies were already underway for what could have been the country’s first subway line. The World Bank published a report entitled “Transport Planning in the Philippines” in 1976. The report had recommendations that were not favorable to rail transport whether for long distance or urban applications. Some excerpts are shown in the succeeding photos of pages of the document:

IMG09229-20140905-0938Cover of the report indicating some disclaimers and restrictions to circulation. I assume that since a copy is found in a public library then it is already declassified. It is definitely a historical document and a valuable one if we are to understand transport in the Philippines and Metro Manila.

IMG09230-20140905-0943Scan of page 36 showing the WB’s assessment of UTSMMA

IMG09231-20140905-0943Page 37 states the conclusion of the WB report regarding UTSMMA.

I leave it up to the reader how he/she will interpret this but I think it is also important to contextualize this contents of this report to the situation of the Philippines at the time. In my opinion, too, it is basically one consultant’s word against another. From what I’ve learned, the recommended plan in UTSMMA came from a team led by a very senior and well-respected professor of the University of Tokyo’s Department of Urban Engineering. Looking back now, it seems that their work was visionary and its refuting by this WB report was a critical point in the (non)development of Metro Manila’s transport.

IMG09232-20140905-0944A reference to LRT systems, which to some will seem like a counter-recommendation to UTSMMA

The same report suggested taking a look at LRT instead of the heavy rail recommendations of UTSMMA. This eventually led to subsequent studies seemingly having bias towards LRTs and distancing from much needed resources to improve the plight of the PNR.

IMG09233-20140905-0945Recommendations for the long term were explicit about the importance of having a sound spatial strategy for Philippine cities.

One could only speculate what went on in the background that were off the record or not documented. Did the WB exert its influence and ‘convince’ the Philippines to shelve ambitious plans for a heavy rail network in favor of what we now know as ill-planned light rail lines? It is this same WB report that recommended for the reorganization of the then DPWTC and DPH into the DOTC and DPWH that we know today. Thus, it is not only transport policy and infrastructure influenced by this report but also institutions dealing with transport. One person’s guess is as good as another in terms of the thinking back then as there are very few people who were directly involved in planning and decision-making then who survive now and are likely willing to divulge anything that will lead us to the truth and some closure regarding what went wrong at this critical time for transport development in the Philippines.

The data and evidence points to something Marcos loyalists would cringe to admit, that the former President ultimately failed in bringing a modern public transport system to this country and its capital. [No, the LRT wasn’t as modern and progressive as they thought it to be back then. We know now that Lee Kwan Yew got it right by investing in heavy rail urban transit at that same time.] We can only speculate that perhaps the WB and those behind the scenes knew Marcos and his ilk would probably steal much of the funds that could have been allocated for the rail rapid transit system and so did their best to come up with the conclusion that it was too expensive and the Philippines couldn’t afford it. I hope my economist friends would correct me but I am leaning towards thinking that “Uutang ka na din lang, umutang ka na para sa imprastraktura na magagamit di lamang ng mga anak mo kundi pati na rin ng mga apo mo at nila.” This seems to be the basic philosophy applied by other nations that have invested much on their transportation infrastructure. Such infrastructure has already paid off many times more and are part of the backbone of strong and resilient economies.

One colleague offered the analogy that the new JICA Dream Plan for Mega Manila is actually an updated version of UTSMMA. I also believe so and it is an updated and much more validated version of what we had back in the 1970s that was at best only partly realized (the recommendations for roads were mostly implemented). However, the price for such infrastructure will not be cheap and it will only become more expensive while we procrastinate in building them. Perhaps this should be an election issue come 2016 and something that we should strongly advocate for from our leaders.

Finally, the LRT Line 2 Extension begins construction

The groundbreaking ceremony for the extension of the LRT Line 2 from Santolan, Pasig City to Masinag Junction in Antipolo City was held last June 9, 2015. This marks the beginning of the construction of the much anticipated and much delayed extension of the line to what was supposed to be part of the first phase of Line 2. I say supposed because most experts believe the current line should have terminated at Masinag from the start instead of at Santolan where the depot is located. Masinag had much more sense many years ago as it was a good staging point for possible extensions to Cogeo, Antipolo City proper or Marikina City. The areas along the Marcos Highway corridor beyond Masinag alone have experienced tremendous growth especially after the floods of Ondoy (Typhoon Ketsana), which submerged much of the Marikina Valley including Pasig, Cainta and lower Antipolo.

IMG11770-20150609-0638Traffic cones and signs guide motorists away from the inner lanes of Marcos Highway.

IMG11771-20150609-0638Two lanes from each side of Marcos Highway at the current end of the Line 2 were appropriated in addition to the median for the groundbreaking ceremony.

IMG11772-20150609-0638The stage is set – the stage for the ceremony is set under the viaduct with these barriers practically shielding the participants from curious passers-by (usyoso). Regardless, the event cause congestion along the highway.

Of course, that was the groundbreaking ceremony. As of today, there’s no sign yet of the contractor, DMCI, fully mobilizing and already reserving the inner lanes of Marcos Highway for the construction of the viaduct and stations. If the current works for the NAIA Expressway in the airport area is to be a reference, then severe traffic congestion is to be expected along the highway and this will extend beyond the actual construction site from Santolan to Masinag. As such, the public will experience inconvenience for the next so many months or perhaps couple of years (or more if there were delays). However, I believe that once the line is operating all the way to Masinag, it will help to ultimately decongest Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard and a lot of people will benefit from the improved travel times.

Incidentally, the term LRT is actually a misnomer here because among the 3 operational rail mass transit lines (I am excepting the PNR Commuter Line here.) in Metro Manila, Line 2 is actually a heavy rail system. Perhaps the government should already correct this by simply referring to Line 2 as ‘LRTA Line 2’ or renaming LRTA to reflect its nature as a transit authority that should not be limited to light rail only.