Cities and Automobile Dependence: What Have We Learned?
We end the year with an article from Todd Litman via Planetizen. The topic is something that we really need to ponder on as we or if we are to move towards more sustainable transportation for our cities and municipalities. The experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic should have provided us glimpses of how it could be if we put active and public transport above automobile dependence or car-centricity.
Source: Cities and Automobile Dependence: What Have We Learned?
The main article may be found here (in proper citation for academic/researchers reading this):
On parking minimums again
A recent development on parking minimums is about Toronto removing these for new residential developments:
Davis, E.N. (December 16, 2021) “Toronto Removes Parking Minimums for New Residential Developments,” Storeys, https://storeys.com/toronto-removes-parking-minimums-residential-developments/ [Last accessed: 12/23/2021]
Indeed, the building code and local government provisions for minimum numbers of parking spaces for various buildings translate into more expensive units for prospective residents or lessees. Perhaps someone should be collecting and analyzing the data on buildings such as high-rise residential and commercial developments? This is to have the numbers for an objective and factual discussion about parking minimums for these types of development. Here is an excerpt from the National Building Code showing examples of minimum parking requirements for residential buildings:
How many parking spaces are actually bought or leased/rented among the hundreds usually provided in buildings, to comply with building code and local government requirements? What is the ratio of parking slots per unit? Where are the trip-ends for these developments (especially for residential buildings)? The answers to these questions may help us understand the situation and formulate revisions to building code as well as local government requirements for the minimum number of parking spaces.
The case for bike lanes
There is a strong push for more bike lanes to be developed along both major and minor roads. Many pop-up bike lanes that were implemented and permanent bike lanes constructed in 2020, mostly during the lockdowns, to address the needs of ‘frontliners’ who opted to bike to work have been retained and even upgraded to adhere to guidelines issued by the DPWH. While these bike lanes are not yet as comprehensive as desired and most are not the protected types, recent developments have threatened their existence and consequently the safety of cyclists (especially bike-to-work) and the promotion of cycling as a primary mode of transport.
We need to transform our streets where it is possible in order to take advantage of the increasing popularity of cycling that has convinced some people to select cycling at least for their last mile trips and hopefully for the most part(s) of their commute. From a transport planning perspective, we should also determine if these mode shifts can be sustained and perhaps increased with proper integration of public transport and active transport thrusts.
The recent removal of protected bike lanes or barriers that serve to protect cyclists using the lanes in some cities are examples of regression rather than progression. These come as a surprise as these cities have made leaps and bounds so to speak in developing their bike lane networks. Where did the orders to do so originate and are staffs of these cities communicating, discussing and coordinating these actions? Apparently, there are internal conflicts and perhaps, I dare say here, politics involved. It is also possible that within LGUs, the concepts, visions and plans for transportation are not harmonized or understood making one project by one clique unacceptable to another or others. I know from personal experiences that LGU traffic engineering & management and operations staff are often not in synch with their planning counterparts. This is not and should not be a given since both need to collaborate in order to address transport and traffic issues that need more comprehensive and progressive approaches compared to what have been practiced before.
LGUs cannot rely on strategies and tactics that are along the lines of “ganito na ginagawa noon pa” or “ganito na inabutan ko”, which only proves these were ineffective (i.e., why not try other techniques, methods or strategies instead?). Transformations and paradigm changes to solve transport problems cannot be achieved by denying the change, innovation or new ideas required for emerging as well as persistent issues/problems.
Back to the old normal?
As traffic continues to worsen after, The MMDA has reinstated the number coding scheme albeit from 5:00 to 8:00 PM on weekdays for now. This is in recognition of the worsening traffic congestion brought about by people returning to their workplaces and the easing of travel restrictions across the entire population. People are now moving about as can be seen in transport terminals and commercial areas (e.g., shopping malls, markets, etc.). With the return of severe traffic congestion, it begs the question whether we are back to the ‘old normal’.
I thought the photo above pretty much describes how it was before Covid-19. The problem is that this photo was taken earlier today and we are still technically in a pandemic. Does the photo show the people’s renewed confidence in using public transportation? Or is it a matter of necessity (i.e., commuters having no choice but to risk it in order to get to their workplaces or home)? If they had motorcycles, these people would likely use them instead of taking the jeepney. I will also dare ask why don’t they bike instead? They seem able bodied enough to try cycling instead. Is it because their commuting distances are long? Or are there other reasons that evade us? If these are the same reasons and Covid-19 is not a major factor for their choice, then perhaps we are back to the ‘old normal’ and have not progressed significantly despite claims by various groups that we are experiencing a paradigm shift in favor of active transport. All the more that we need to urgently revisit and reassess how transport should be in order for us to transition to a more sustainable future.
On housing and urban planning
I’m sharing this article on housing in Montreal. The relevance is basically related to urban planning and its implications to transportation.
Polese, M. (Winter 2020) “How One City Makes Housing Affordable: The Montreal Example,” City Journal, https://www.city-journal.org/montreal-affordable-housing#.YbQ7E3HXwwU.facebook [Last accessed: 12/18/2021]
I’ve shared and posted a few articles on housing before. These include my own opinions about housing and its close links to transportation. Having lived in Japan and Singapore, I I saw first hand how concepts like transit oriented development (TOD) and socialized housing were implemented. I think there’s a lot we can learn but haven’t so far from these examples that will also address problems associated with sprawl including the lagging development of transportation systems to cover the increasing demand.
On electric vehicles not being the fix we need for transport
Much has been said and written about how electric vehicles could be the game changer for transport. Those include supportive material and also those that are more critical and provide different perspectives to EVs. Here is another article that discusses EVs in the context of the avoid, shift, improve framework:
O’Riordan, V. (November 30, 2021) “Electric vehicles aren’t a fix for carbon emissions. These 3 things need to change—fast,” Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/90700832/electric-vehicles-arent-a-fix-for-carbon-emissions-these-3-things-need-to-change-fast [Last accessed: 12/17/2021]
There’s a recent article about the environmental impacts of manufacturing EVs including the batteries used by these vehicles. I will share that in another post.
Lessons to be learned about e-scooters
I recently wrote about e-scooters and I am sharing this article on the experience of Chicago from their pilots of this emerging new mobility option.
I won’t be offering much in terms of opinions at this point as there really hasn’t been much about e-scooters at present in the country. You see them every now and again but not as frequently as motorcycles and bicycles. There seems to be something about them on social media but out on the road, they are not yet significant in terms of volume but are a concern regarding safety.
One of the so-called new mobility modes is the e-scooter. It is categorized as a micro mobility mode and in appearance is no different from a kick scooter with the difference lies in the former being motorized. Not all are powered by electric motors as I’ve seen ones that are gas-powered (small internal combustion engines). The latter are noisy and have emissions but seem to be more powerful especially when encountering inclined road sections (e.g., going up to Ortigas Center from C5, going up to Antipolo). Some seem to be customized for more power as I’ve seen motorcycle shops doing what looks like modifications and not just repairs.
I’m sharing an article below about e-scooters and their involvement in road crashes in Europe:
Meaker, M. (December 7, 2021) “E-scooters are everywhere in Europe. So are grisly accidents,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/escooters-accidents-europe/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_Daily_120721&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_120721&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P4 [Last accessed: 12/9/2021]
I think the proverbial jury is still out there in as far as these vehicles are concerned. Safety-wise, there should be concern if users speed up and zig-zag through traffic. These are the same concerns in the European cities mentioned in the article. Personally, I don’t see these vehicles gaining as much popularity for typical commutes compared to the bicycle, which has seen a surge in use during this pandemic and with bike lanes (pop-up and permanent) in place in many areas. These same bike lanes are now also being shared by these e-scooters. I think more people will opt for the motorcycle, which comes in different sizes and engines, and which provides more in terms of versatility of use. But again, there are risks involved here and perhaps some e-scooter users are mimicking the undesirable, risky motorcycle rider behavior. Are they e-scooter users to be regarded and treated as drivers or riders considering they are using motorized vehicles? Perhaps the government should be working on this and other relevant, current policy (if not regulations) to e-scooter use.
Safety remains a big issue in transportation
Even with the supposedly reduced traffic due to the pandemic, there has been a perceived increase in the road crashes. Many of these are speeding and reckless driving/riding related, and many involve pedestrians and cyclists who are most vulnerable considering the reckless behavior of drivers and riders. Following are photos taken in Antipolo along Ortigas Avenue Extension (the section leading up to the capitol):
Much has been said and written about Philippine roads not being up to par with international standards. I would agree with certain roads with designs encouraging speeding and other reckless behavior. However, there have been significant efforts to correct situations involving geometric design, signs and markings where applicable. These include engaging the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP). The road and engineering are just one part of the equation. Education and enforcement are the others that affect or influence the behavior of road users whether they be drivers, riders, cyclists or pedestrians. Even with the best road designs and their intended influence to driver and rider behavior, much is to be desired for driver/rider education and actual behavior on the road.
Bike lanes at BGC
We were at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) a couple of weeks ago after almost two years of not going there mainly due to the pandemic. We frequented BGC before especially since my wife’s office is there and, if it weren’t for the ‘old normal’ traffic, the place offered a lot in terms of restaurants and shops. When traffic wasn’t as bad, we even had our Saturdays there with our daughter as her Kindermusik sessions were originally there before we transferred to their branch at The Grove. It’s not yet post-pandemic but traffic is back to ‘old normal’ levels.
I was expecting to see the bike lanes along C5 and at BGC when we traveled there. I will post separately about the bike lanes along C5. I just wanted to share here a few photos the wife took of the bike lanes at BGC. It is truly a welcome development not just here but in many places across the country where cycling offers another option for trips of various purposes including commuting between homes and workplaces. The protected lanes along 9th Avenue are wide and can be replicated elsewhere in order to encourage more people to use bicycles. The connectivity of bike lanes, though, leaves much to be desired if one expects people to use bikes for longer trips.