Undergraduate and graduate research topics, 2021
I noticed again that there seem to be a lot of ‘hits’ for articles I wrote years ago about research topics. Many appear to be looking for topics for their university/college/school research projects including those who might be looking for thesis or dissertation topics. Here are some of my past postings on research topics:
October 23, 2020: https://d0ctrine.com/2020/10/23/research-topics-in-the-time-of-covid-19-part-1/
August 11, 2017: https://d0ctrine.com/2017/08/11/topics-for-transportation-research/
September 28, 2016: https://d0ctrine.com/2016/09/28/research-topics-for-transportation-engineering-and-planning-for-2016-2017/
December 11, 2015: https://d0ctrine.com/2015/12/11/undergraduate-research-topics-for-academic-year-2015-2016/
July 4, 2015: https://d0ctrine.com/2015/07/04/research-topics-on-transport-and-traffic-in-the-philippines/
October 22, 2014: https://d0ctrine.com/2014/10/22/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-for-ay2014-2015/
August 27, 2013: https://d0ctrine.com/2013/08/27/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-at-up-diliman-2013/
October 17, 2012: https://d0ctrine.com/2012/10/17/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation/
October 12, 2011: https://d0ctrine.com/2011/10/12/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-2011-2012/
It is from the July 4, 2015 article where I wrote something that is still very much applicable today or perhaps anytime someone asks about what topics should be pursued by undergraduate, graduate and even faculty research:
“Schools need to develop their own research agendas. That is so that students would be able to choose topics that their faculty can realistically and effectively guide their students instead of sending them out to become the burdens of others. These would include topics concerning local issues. Are there road safety issues at locations such as intersections near the school? Are the streets in the nearby CBD experiencing congestion? Is there an oversupply or lack of public transport services in the city or a nearby town? It seems awkward for a university in Pampanga, for example, to have students taking on a topic concerning EDSA-MRT or students of a university in Metro Manila taking on a topic on Mindanao railways, if their faculty have no relevant experiences or capabilities to properly guide the students.
I would encourage schools to identify topics concerning local issues first. As they say, charity begins at home, and working on solutions for local problems should be top of the agenda of any school. That includes us at UP and there are many topics that focus on issues in and around UP Diliman. If we can’t solve our own problems then how can we be believable in addressing those outside our direct influence area?”
I do encourage prospective student researchers to take on topics addressing local transportation issues. Some recommendations are as follows:
- Active transport – topics on bike use, bike lanes planning and design, pedestrian or cycling facilities, safety, funding and investments, integration with public transport, end of trip facilities, IEC or C4D materials development and deployment, etc.;
- Road/highways – topics on road safety, road capacity (e.g., assessing the necessity and/or effectiveness of road widening projects);
- Public transportation – topics on rationalization, modernization, services in the time of Covid-19, business models including service contracting, motorcycles as public transport (i.e., motorcycle taxis);
- Anything relating transport and the pandemic – topics about transport in the so-called new normal, impacts of Covid-19 on transport, traffic, commuting, etc. These topics can be framed a number of ways and can be very local (i.e., based on local experiences) and/or comparative.
There are obviously more including the “classic” ones on traffic engineering and management (e.g., traffic congestion, intersection analysis, development of micro-simulation models, etc.), transport planning (e.g., travel demand forecasting, transport model development, etc.), as well as those on the various modes of transport (air, maritime and rail come to mind). The objective is to be able to contextualize and address issues closer to your home rather than far from it. I think that’s how best you can contribute to addressing transport problems rather than be over-ambitious or messianic in your research topic(s).
On the STAR Tollway, some recent photos
A trip earlier this year allowed me to take a few photos of the STAR Tollway. STAR stands for Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, which was what the expressway was before it became a tollway. I have memories of this being a regular highway in the early 1990s. Then, it was still a two lane road and there were even animals walking around and at times crossing the highway. Later, even after it became an expressway, the ROW was still not secured (i.e., fenced) so motorists would regularly encounter animals creating unsafe situations to both.
Noticeable in the photos are the wide medians. These are typically used for expansion (i.e., additional lanes) when the time comes that the capacity of the tollway is no longer enough to cater to the demand. Both the NLEX and SLEX used to have these wide medians that are now part of the motorway. Are there alternate uses or purposes for this median? Perhaps, and this has been done abroad, one could fit bicycle paths there? Or maybe install solar panels to generate power? Or maybe do both?
On the future of Uber and other ridesharing/ridehailing companies
A few years ago, Uber was the darling of transportation. It and others like it were considered disruptors. They were but then eventually unraveled as their business model and practices were challenged and exposed. Here’s an article that does not mince words in describing what and how Uber is:
Doctorow, C. (August 11, 2021) “End of the line for Uber,” Medium, https://marker.medium.com/end-of-the-line-for-uber-901e3077bbbc [Last accessed: 8/21/2021]
There’s a wealth of references (links provided) in the article provided to support the arguments of the author. It is not anecdotal but an accumulation of facts from various experiences as well as a documentation of the company’s efforts to hide its flaws.
I co-authored several papers analyzing what was seen as a phenomenon. It was clear that people preferred Uber or Grab over regular taxis because of the higher quality of service they got. Similar results were obtained elsewhere and spelled the doom of many taxi drivers. Those that survived were the better serving ones like taxis in Japan and Singapore. However, the more recent of those papers have shown that what are called TNVS or transport network vehicle service have basically been deceiving and took advantage of their drivers (whom they do not want to refer to as employees). Did they help reduce congestion? They did not, and even added more cars to traffic.
Article on “invisible exercise”
Here’s another share of an article I recently read about what is referred to as “invisible exercise”. This might just be semantics to some people as we often just refer to this as “chores”. Yes, you can do a lot of exercise by being active around your home. Handwashing clothes and dishes, doing gardening, cleaning the house, walking the dog(s), etc. all burn calories. I recall having a workout at our old house in Iloilo where we have wood floors. It’s no joke polishing the floors using a coconut husk (bunot). Just imagine you’re doing/dancing the twist. 🙂
Putka, S. (August 9, 2021) “The invisible exercise that might count more than your workout,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/hidden-exercise-better-health [Last accessed: 8/19/2021]
To quote from the article:
“More physical activity is almost always for the better when it comes to living a long, healthy life. But only some of us have access to the time, equipment, and resources it takes to engage in what we typically think of as “exercise.”
The spaces we occupy, or our “built environment,” can also erode or enhance chances of staying “fit” over time. In many cases, the necessities of daily life mean many people will get their exercises from daily activities — especially if they live in low-income countries.”
There’s another article I recently read about how regular exercise helps one become resistant to Covid-19. There’s also another that states regular exercise or being active may contribute to those who have Covid-19 to have milder cases (of course this is combined to already having been vaccinated). The key here is being active!
On priority lanes for public transport
I am currently part of an International Research Group (IRG) involved in studies on bus priority. Yesterday, we had a meeting where one professor mentioned the importance of being able to clearly explain the advantages of having priority lanes for buses in order to improve their performance (i.e., number of passengers transported and improved travel times). There was a lively discussion about how the perception is for bike lanes while transit lanes have also been implemented for a long time now though with mixed results.
There are very familiar arguments vs. taking lanes away from cars or private motor vehicles and allocating them for exclusive use of public transport and bicycles. It may sound cliche but ‘moving people and not just cars’ is perhaps the simplest argument for priority lanes.
EDSA carousel buses lining up towards a station
Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue – is this a temporary thing? a fad because traffic is really not back to the old normal? Katipunan is infamous for being congested with cars generated by major trip generators in the area such as schools/universities and commercial establishments.
The bike lane along Commonwealth Avenue proves there’s just too much space for private motor vehicles. And with the Line 7 in the horizon, perhaps more lanes can be taken and made exclusive to road public transport. [Photo credit: Cenon Esguerra]
On defining the 15-minute city
I have shared articles and briefly written about the concept of the 15-minute city on this blog. Here is another discussing how a 15-minute city is defined:
(February 8, 2021) “Defining the 15-minute city,” Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2021/02/08/defining-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 8/10/2021]
Here is an image from the article:
Again, it is important to contextualize these concepts. I share these as references and topics for discussion. Of course, I have my own opinions about this and I have written about those in previous posts. I guess in the Philippine context, we can include the pedicab or non-motorized three-wheelers in the discussion. These are also very popular modes in many cities and municipalities despite their being also prohibited along national roads like their motorized counterparts. It would be nice to have more visuals in the form of maps that show travel times for essential destinations or places like hospitals, markets, grocery stores, workplaces and, of course, homes. I assume there is at least someone, somewhere who perhaps have made multi-layer maps of this sort and attempted to related them along the lines of this concept of a 15-minute city (or perhaps the even older “compact cities”).
On the BRT gaining popularity
Bus rapid transit or BRT has been around at least since the 1970s when the first ‘real’ BRT systems went into operation in Curitiba, Brazil. Here’s an article presenting the current state of deployment of these systems in the US:
Duncan, I. (July 23, 2021) “Cities are turning to supercharged bus routes to more quickly and cheaply expand transit services,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/07/23/bus-routes-public-transit-brt/
“There are indications that BRT lines can promote some of the density long associated with rail routes. A new analysis of job and residential growth by researchers at the University of Arizona examined areas around BRT stations in 11 cities between 2013 and 2019. In each case, they found areas close to the stations accounted for a significant share of regional growth.”
The Philippines should have had its first BRT line more than a decade ago if the government had been decisive about it. The first opportunity was under the administration of Macapagal-Arroyo when it was first conceptualized for Cebu City under a UNDP project and picked up by the WB for implementation.* The next opportunity came under the Aquino administration when the Cebu BRT could have been one of those low-hanging fruits for public mass transportation. Now, the same project is nowhere near completion as the Duterte administration has less than a year before it bows out. Meanwhile, there are proposed BRT’s in Metro Manila and Davao that have yet to see the proverbial light of day. The EDSA carousel is supposed to morph into a BRT but has not become so and requires more tweaking for it to be one.
*[Note: The BRT that was supposedly implemented by the MMDA under its then Chair Bayani Fernando was not a BRT or even a BRT light. It is not even at the scale of the current EDSA carousel.]
On quantifying the benefits of bike share
I’m sharing another article that presents a quantification of Such articles and studies are gaining interest as cycling or biking becomes a popular choice for many seeking an alternative to their usual or former modes of transport. It helps that there are many initiatives promoting active transport in general and cycling/biking in particular.
Wilson, K. (July 23, 2021) “Study: Bike Share Saves the U.S. $36 Million Public Health Dollars Every Year,” StreetsBlog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/07/23/study-bike-share-saves-the-u-s-36-million-public-health-dollars-every-year/ [Last accessed: 8/6/2021]
While the article is about bike share, the conclusions can be extended to cycling/biking in general. The article points to at least 3 major areas where benefits can be derived: safety, air pollution (reduction) and physical activity. To quote:
“I think the message to cities is that bike share — and biking in general, though that’s harder to quantify in the way we do in this study — can contribute a lot to their long term goals,… Most cities want to improve quality of life, the economy, the climate, and their public health outcomes. Bike share does all those things.”
On the other benefits of cycling – pavements
Here is a very interesting article that tackles a not so obvious benefit of switching to cycling:
Dion, R. (July 12, 2021) “Biking’s Billion-Dollar Value, Right Under Our Wheels,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/113986-bikings-billion-dollar-value-right-under-our-wheels?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07262021&mc_cid=51555c9a39&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/4/2021]
To quote: “A strategic switch to biking would dramatically reduce the depth of roads, saving untold billions over the next generation.”
This is relevant from the perspective of highway engineering particularly concerning pavement design, construction and maintenance. It is intriguing, too, since pavement design (and consequently pavement thickness) is not necessarily correspondent to light vehicle traffic volumes. In the Philippines, for example, only heavy vehicles are considered for the pavement load estimation. It is assumed that light vehicle traffic, which compose most of the traffic along roads contribute mainly to pavement weathering rather than structural aspects.
Tinkering with decentralization of public transportation planning, franchising and regulations
I recall an informal discussion my colleagues and I had about the then Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) more than a decade ago. We were comparing the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s and DOTC’s structures. DPWH has regional offices but also District Engineering Offices (DEO). These DEOs were practically mini me’s of the DPWH with the District Engineer calling the shots. Under him were a Design Engineer, Planning Engineer, Maintenance Engineer, etc. who were the equivalent at that level of the Bureaus. DOTC didn’t have the equivalent even though there were Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) regional offices. So if there were regional development council (RDC) meetings, the DOTC’s representatives are usually from the regional offices of LTO and LTFRB plus other offices of agencies under DOTC – Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Air Transportation Office (ATO now CAAP) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).
I mention these because perhaps one vision for the future is to have something like Metropolitan, City or Municipal Transit Authorities similar to those you’ll find in other countries. And these should have the capacities for route planning and assessment that are currently centralized in DOTr (i.e., Road Transport Division). But perhaps these transit authorities should not only have road based public transport under them but also rail, too. This is especially applicable to metros like MM, the loosely defined Metro Cebu and Metro Davao and other HUCs that maybe ripe for some form of urban rail transport. In some cases, I would even dare include maritime transport as well since modes like the Pasig River Ferry should also be included.
This idea of decentralization is something worth considering as local government units build capacity and capability for public transportation planning, operations and management. Some are already capable though mainly concern themselves with tricycles and pedicabs. These two modes are not under the LTFRB but are arguable the most in number around the country. There are already best practices about their management including those that have been documented in past studies on sustainable transport (e.g., San Fernando, La Union, Quezon City, Olongapo City, Davao City, etc.). Many of these cities are highly urbanized and would need to deal with all public transport and might just be the most knowledgeable and experienced in their jurisdictions. National government should at least identify pilot cities where bus, jeepney and van transport planning, franchising and management (including operations and enforcement) can be devolved or delegated. That is so we can already have an idea how these local transit authorities can be operationalized. Many already have their Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP) so that is a good starting point for LGUs to establish their transit units around.