Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Emergence of motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other cities

Motorcycle taxis operate in many Asian cities. In Southeast Asia, in particular, there are formal and legal motorcycle taxi services in cities like Bangkok and Jakarta. These motorcycle taxis are called “habal-habal” in many parts of the Philippines and are accepted modes of public transport particularly in rural areas where roads are not the same quality as those in urban areas. Motorcycles and motor tricycles are the most preferred modes of transport and their characteristics are usually most suitable for such roads.

In Metro Manila, there are motorcycle taxis operating in many locations including Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood City and White Plains. These are basically discrete operations and providers are low key so as not to attract the attention of authorities. Services though are worst kept secrets considering they have a steady clientele. In Pasig City, and I assume other Metro Manila cities as well, there are ‘formal’ habal-habal terminals. I took a photo of one in a low income residential area that was designated as a relocation site for many informal settlers around the metropolis.

IMG_0668Habal-habal terminal in Pasig City near the Napindan Channel where the Pasig River meets Laguna de Bay

A friend at the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CCTO or CITOM) told us that there is a growing number of motorcycle riders offering transport services in their city. These are illegal but are being tolerated in many cases due to the growing demand for their services particularly during unholy hours late at night or in the early morning. I also saw many of these operating in Tacloban and even crossing the San Juanico Bridge to Samar Island from Leyte.

There are also many habal-habal in tourism areas including in island resorts where there is a lack of formal public transport services. This mode is a necessity and so far, there are only rare reports of these vehicles and their riders being involved in road crashes. This is the case despite their being perceived as unsafe modes of transport. I guess they will continue to be popular in rural areas and will quickly become popular should they be mainstreamed in urban areas just like their counterparts in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, the demand is already there and just waiting to be tapped given the horrendous traffic jams that will drive people towards modes they think can allow them to escape traffic congestion.

The benefits of walking

I came across an old article on walking that appeared in The New Yorker in 2014. This was after reading another article my wife shared that also was about walking. One is about both the physical and intellectual benefits of walking while the other was about walking without a purpose. Both were about walking and thinking, and definitely about the benefits of even a short stroll to our physical and mental being.

Here’s the article from The New Yorker: Why walking helps us think

And the article from BBC: The slow death of purposeless walking

I highly recommend both articles as we ponder about making our cities safe for pedestrians/walking.

Tire conditions

While stopped at an intersection, my eyes wandered to look at the vehicles around me. I took a photo of the rear tires of a truck stopped beside me. Following are some observations about the tires:

  • Most if not all the tires were re-treads
  • Most of the tires are worn out
  • One tire is already damaged and should not have been used in the first place

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Such conditions of trucks’ tires reflect the state of many commercial vehicles in the country. The same observation applies to public utility vehicles. I guess there have been many instances of tire blow-outs involving trucks and jeepneys. These have not been reported as they often lead to traffic congestion (i.e., when a vehicle is forced to stop and block traffic), which is not at all an uncommon experience to many. Few perhaps have led to high profile road crashes featuring fatalities. Still, the potential for major crashes is there and it is contributory to disasters that are always just waiting to happen in many of our roads.

Endangering others by your behavior on the road

A major concern in road safety is the behavioral aspect that includes the attitudes of drivers and riders. Aggressive and irresponsible driving can be observed along many Philippine roads including low traffic roads along which there is a tendency for motorists to speed up. Social media contains many posts of videos showing reckless behaviour (e.g., vehicles zig-zagging along roads), placing other road users in danger with the possibility of crashes involving or influenced by these same vehicles. There are also posts of photos allegedly taken by speedsters boasting of the high speeds they are able to attain or cruise along on tollways and even regular roads.

Such behavior, however, may be influenced by strict and proper enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. I would like to believe that it it should be easier these days to determine if vehicles are speeding beyond the safe speeds roads are designed for. There are many tools such as speed guns or radars. However, these are few with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) having only two guns at their disposal. Operators of NLEX and SLEX are supposed to have their own speed guns and they have been apprehending speedsters as best they can. However, it seems that there are still many who are not apprehended and continue to pose as dangers to their fellow travelers. (I assume that those apprehended may also continue to speed up and do not get caught in most times they do.)

One creative approach for traffic law enforcement should be to browse social media of posts by people who claim to be running their vehicles at high speeds, violating road speed limits. Speeding is dangerous because drivers and riders will have less control over their vehicles and other elements affecting the vehicle. Perhaps the Land Transportation Office’s (LTO) enforcement arm should have an internet unit charged with searching for such cases online and investigate the identities of these people in order to flag them in the LTO licensing system?

speedingExample photo posted on social media where the driver boasts of his reaching high speeds while driving in a Metro Manila road.

Sudden intended acceleration? Intended ones are more dangerous!

The motoring community in the Philippines has been in rather heated discussions regarding the Mitsubishi Montero’s alleged defect that causes what has been termed as ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ or SUA. This term refers to the vehicle suddenly, and without the driver doing anything, rapidly accelerating, forward or backward, and hitting anything in its path. The proofs to these alleged incidences are supposed to have been documented by many including videos that have been uploaded to YouTube and even shared or used by mainstream media. The vehicle’s manufacturer itself denies that there is a defect in the model(s) being cited for SUA. They have also released a new model of the vehicle in the market and most people not paranoid about SUA seem not to mind the buzz about the alleged defect. The new model, after all, is supposed to be free of that particular defect considering the manufacturer, despite its denials, should have been aware of the complaints and concerns.

Defect or none, I think what’s more dangerous is not the ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ of vehicles. In fact, I am not aware of any fatalities attributed to this and all the videos I’ve seen alleging the defect happened in parking lots and driveways. These have caused only minor injuries and, surely, damage to properties. What is more dangerous and should be the concern by all is the intended acceleration leading to speeding (or over-speeding) that is so common in our roads regardless of whether these are expressways or city streets. Such behaviour are almost always intended and therefore the drivers are very much aware of their actions and in control of their vehicles. In control, that is, until they hit something or, worse, someone. Such irresponsible and often reckless behavior plague our roads and one person’s folly can be the doom of others as is usually the case in road crashes involving (over)speeding.

Helmet or no helmet when biking?

We were at the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) this morning to help defend our proposal for a bike sharing system. UP Bike Share is an initiative coming out of a group of students from various programs in their respective colleges at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

One question that was raised among the technical panel to whom the proposal was presented for evaluation was concerning safety of people participating in the bike share. One panelist asked if cyclists were required to wear helmets. We replied that those participating in the bike share were not required to wear helmets and that despite helmets being available few, if any, borrowed the available helmets. I mentioned that there was an article I came upon before that stated the requiring people to wear helmets discourage biking. It seems a coincidence that as I browsed my Facebook just now, I found a link to that very same article I mentioned in a meeting earlier today:

To encourage biking, cities lose the helmets [by Elisabeth Rosenthal from The New York Times, Sunday Review, September 29, 2012]

The article makes a lot of sense especially the observation that requiring helmets seem to send the message that it is dangerous to bike. People associating danger with biking with helmets tend to opt out of biking. I recall that in Japan before, I didn’t have a problem biking in urban areas and helmets were not required. Of course, drivers of vehicles in are very admirable by the way they drive safely and respecting other road users’ right to the road. Instead of having a campaign to require helmets for bikers perhaps efforts should be focused on how to make our roads safer for all users including bikers and pedestrians.

Towards safer roads: design, respect and education

Fatal crashes involving cyclists have been posted in social media including a recent one involving a mother of two who was run over by a garbage truck that encroached on the on-street/painted bike lane in, of all places, Marikina City. Emphasis on Marikina is made here because it is a city well-known for its comprehensive bikeways network. The network is comprised of segregated and on-street bikeways.

Following are some photos showing examples of good and bad practices pertaining to bikeways design in the Philippines:

IMG03101-20120612-1058

Example of segregated bikeway at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. Cyclists actually share the carriageway lane allocated from the Academic Oval with pedestrians and joggers. They are not physically protected from motor vehicles that can encroach on the bike lane.

IMG03426-20120707-0902

Example of segregated and protected bikeway along Marcos Highway in Pasig City (similar design for the sections in Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) – bikeway is on the sidewalk and cyclists essentially share space with pedestrians despite delineations.

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Example of segregated and protected bikeway/walkway along EDSA in Makati City – note that space to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists is very constricted.

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Example of poor design along White Plain Avenue – the MMDA seems to have designated the entire sidewalk space for cyclists.

Three examples from Marikina’s bikeways are shown below:

Mkna Bikeways3Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway on either side of a two-way road [Note: This is basically the design along the street where the crash in Marikina occurred.]

Mkna Bikeways2Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway along a one way road

Mkna Bikeways1Segregated and protected bikeway off the carriageway along Sumulong Highway

Granted that the ideal set-up would have segregated or protected bikeways that are designed properly, we take a look at two other very important elements that are not at all as technical as design and planning of bikeways – respect and education.

Education is an important aspect of driving. Many Filipino drivers are poorly educated in terms of traffic rules and regulations, road design as well as local policies pertaining to transport and traffic. As such, there is a tendency for many drivers to disregard rules and drive/ride aggressively and recklessly. This must change and it starts with reforms in the way licenses are issued to all types of drivers including perhaps stricter certification systems for truck drivers and public utility vehicle drivers. Traffic education should also be integrated into the academic curricula of schools starting at a very young age. Road safety parks are one way to promote traffic education for kids.

Respect is partly derived from education but is also related to attitude. No matter how much driver or road user education or skill you get if you have a bad attitude, you will still have the tendency to be reckless or irresponsible with your actions on the road. One way to curb bad attitudes on the road and to educate road users (particularly errant drivers and riders) is strict traffic enforcement. Many cities already have CCTVs installed at major intersections that allow law enforcement units to be able to monitor traffic behavior and perhaps zoom in to determine driver and vehicle information including license plate numbers.

The crash that killed the single parent in Marikina is not so much as an issue one whether we need segregated and protected bikeways but is more an urgent need to assess the state of traffic education and enforcement in this country.

Articles on the crash and calls for reforms may be found in this link.