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So what’s the role of academe in transport development again?

I was in a meeting that started off well enough but was accentuated and concluded on sour notes. It was where 2 governmentt officials basically berated and ridiculed us representing academe. Dinaan lang kunyari sa mapalamuting pananalita nila. Well, no matter how you twist your words, we could still decode their meaning. I guess that goes with years of experience listening to all kinds of talk from government officials, politicians, people in private sector, consultants, faculty members, researchers and yes, students. You know bullshit even if its hiding behind a bunch of flowers.

I think the idea of certain government officials about the role of academe in development is to essentially be rubber stamps of the administration. Those who offer criticisms or disagree with plans, policies or parts of these are often branded as “bad apples”. Bawal kumontra. I guess that comes from people who are basically insecure with their work or outputs? Or perhaps they are just worried about their standing and image considering the very political environment they are working in. I could not use the word ‘validate’ to describe the expectation from academe from the government officials in that meeting since the process of validation may end up either positive or negative (thereby invalidating something such as a plan or a policy).

There will always be newer tools and newer models. I remember the times when JICA STRADA was supposed to be the state-of-the-art travel demand forecasting software. It was easily overtaken by the like of CUBE and Vissum. Even its simulator was not at par with VISSIM, Dynasim and a host of other micro-simulation software packages that were more user friendly. Better tools allow for better models, but also only if you do your part in collecting the data required for calibration and validation and formulate sound assumptions. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. No matter how sophisticated your computer models seem to be, they are nothing if your assumptions and data are rubbish. As Howard Stark states in his recorded message to Tony, “I am limited by the technology of my time. But one day, you’ll figure this out.” And not only will there be newer tools and models, there will also be newer methods including those that allow for more sophisticated data collection.

Plan formulation and acceptance are not as simple as 1+1 as one official used as an example. It’s actually more complicated than that. Plans don’t and should not be described in absolutes but should be dynamic or evolving since the future is also uncertain and there are so many factors in play that cannot be all represented or modeled. And no, we’re not going to toe the line nor will we tell other academics to do so. In fact we will continue to be outspoken because that is part of how it is to be objective, and to be encouraging of critical thinking. It is the latter that needs to be instilled in many government agencies where people tend to forget about it likely for convenience as well as to conform with the political atmosphere.

The presence of respected Japanese professors in the meeting and their likely role in convincing JICA to convene an experts’ panel meeting. The meeting was with certain academics representing schools that were not initially engaged by government. JICA’s nod is recognition enough of the accomplishments and reputation of those of us who were invited to the meeting. Unfortunately, their expertise are not appreciated by their own government but that seems to be the consistent policy for the current administration that rewards those who toe the line while shunning those who are more objective and critical.

Culturally though, I am not surprised of the proceedings because we don’t have the same reverence for academe as they have in Japan or other countries where academics are regularly called upon to provide insights to address problems such as those pertaining to transportation. That is why they have strong advisory councils in those countries. And in the case of the US, for example, their National Academies have contributed much to transport development. I have experienced something similar from a top government official before regarding traffic management and policies in Metro Manila. Whether that set-up in the US and Japan can be realized here remains to be seen.

Research topics in the time of Covid-19, Part 1

It’s that time of year again when I usually write about research topics. I am tempted to share the updated research agenda our group prepared for our students at UP but perhaps a quick list would do for now. I guess the most relevant topics are those related to the Covid-19 pandemic including those about transport during the lockdown and post-ECQ. Here are some initial ideas about such relevant topics to take on:

  • Public transport supply and demand, operations – there are many topics that can be developed under this including those relating supply and demand. For example, it would be interesting to have a research assessing the supply of public transport modes with respect to the demand from the lockdown (ECQ to MECQ) to its easing (GCQ to MGCQ). Included here would be topics tackling the attempts at rationalizing transport routes (e.g., the introduction of bus services where there was none before, the continuing restriction for conventional/traditional jeepneys, etc.). For those into transport economics and finance and even policy, perhaps the service contracting scheme can be studied further and its different aspects meticulously and objectively examined. What are its limitations? What are the critical assumptions that need to be realized for it to be most effective and not abused or mismanaged?
  • Traffic engineering and management – there were suddenly many issues pertaining to this during the lockdowns. Among these were traffic management in the vicinity of checkpoints where queuing theory among other principles could have been applied in order to reduce congestion.
  • Active transportation – the DPWH already came out with guidelines for bike lanes along national roads. These will surely be used as reference by local government units (LGU) as they are obliged by a DILG memo to develop facilities for active transportation. Active transport here refers mainly to walking and cycling but in other cases have come to include the use of personal mobility devices (PMD). Much research is to be done for designs, users’ preferences, behavior in traffic, safety and other topics such as those relating active transport with public transport (e.g., as a last mile/kilometer mode for most people).
  • Level of service (LOS) – I had a nice, brief exchange about LOS and the notion that it is outdated. I believe it is not and many who parrot the notion lacks a deeper understanding not just of LOS but the principles, assumptions and data that goes into transportation and traffic analysis. Perhaps a multi-modal LOS criteria can be developed for the Philippines? If so, what parameters or measures can be used to describe our own LOS? What modes and facilities will be evaluated according to this? And how can solutions be developed with respect to such.

Of course, there are just so many of the traditional topics to take on. There will always be a backlog regarding these topics. In the sequel to this article, I will try to identify other topics for transportation research that can be considered as well as recall “old” topics that are still necessary regardless of the pandemic.

References for improvements for active transportation

Here’s a nice link to a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine pointing to the wealth of researches supporting improvements for active transportation:

Paths to Biking, Walking Improvements Supported by Wealth of Research

Link: https://www.nationalacademies.org/trb/blog/paths-for-walking-and-biking

The references listed should aid researchers, practitioners, advocates and policymakers in their work towards realizing a people-oriented vs car-centric transportation.

On bicycles slowing down cars

There is a perception that cyclists tend to slow down other vehicles, mainly motorized, along roads. Again, such can be the experience of some that have been generalized and accepted as fact in most cases. However, if we look closely at the evidence, the perception may not be true for most cases after all. This article comes out of Portland State University:

Schaefer, J., Figliozzi, M. and Unnikrishnan, A. (2020) “Do bicycles slow down cars on low speed, low traffic roads? Latest research says ‘no’,” EurekAlert!, https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/psu-dbs072320.php [Last accessed: 8/1/2020]

 

Check out the wealth of information through the links found throughout the article that includes references to published material in reputable journals. EurekAlert! is from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

On making roads safer for students

Here is a nice article from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine about how transportation research makes roads safer for students as they go back to school:

Transportation research makes the road safer for students to get back to school

There is a wealth of information there, and one should browse and perhaps download resources shared that can be useful references not just for those in North America but elsewhere towards making journeys between homes and schools.

Scene near a public school in Zamboanga City [photo taken in June 2019]

We, too, have several initiatives towards making the journeys of children safer between their homes and schools. It is something that all of us find essential and worthwhile. Children, after all, represent our future and making their journeys safer gives them better chances to succeed in life. It also shows them examples that they can replicate for their own future children. I will write more about these as we obtain the data and perform our assessment.

Reference on Bicycle Facility Preferences and Increasing Bicycle Trips

There are many references that are free for downloading. These include the latest publications from the National Academies Press that includes outputs from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. I am sharing here and posting also as a reference for me to return to a new publication from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program:

NCHRP Research Report 941: Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips by Watkins, Clark, Mokhtarian, Circella, Handy and Kendall.

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25792/bicyclist-facility-preferences-and-effects-on-increasing-bicycle-trips?utm_source=NASEM+News+and+Publications&utm_campaign=79720e1f2f-NAP_mail_new_2020_05_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&goal=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&mc_cid=79720e1f2f&mc_eid=ac92e6afc0

The research was supported by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Public Transport Recommendations of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team

Here are the recommendations of UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team: “Effective Reactivation of Public Transport Operations for the New Normal through an Information Exchange Platform for Collaborative Governance”

Is traffic congestion like a virus?

An article came up where the author explains the similarities of the coronavirus spread to the spread of traffic congestion. It is basically about modeling (and simulating) the spread while considering factors like the characteristics of the virus that are similar to traffic. I’m posting/sharing it here for future reference/reading:

Simon, M. (2020) “Turns Out, Traffic Spreads Like the Coronavirus”, wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/traffic-spreads-like-disease/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_040720&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list1_p2 %5BLast accessed: 4/8/2020]

 

Planning for the new normal – post Covid-19

There have been many discussions lately about urban planning and transport planning in relation to the pandemic currently gripping the world. There are opinions and assessments about topics such as population density, employment, public transportation, physical or social distance, as well as the prospects for reducing car dependence.

Here is a nice article that compiles some of the better articles on planning related to the current Covid-19 pandemic that’s affecting our planet:

Brasuell, J. (2020) Debating the Future of Cities, and Urban Densities, After the Pandemic, planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/108814?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03232020&mc_cid=a891454817&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed 3/24/2020].

The world will never be the same after what everyone has gone through during this pandemic. Let us not wish we could go back to normal because, as the saying goes, that “normal” was what got us here in the first place.

Keep safe everyone!

NCR checkpoint map

I just wanted to share the checkpoint map developed by a good friend from UP. Here is the text and link provided by UP Resilience Institute head Mahar Lagmay on his FB page:

Metro Manila quarrantine checkpoint map now available. It is already linked with the Google Traffic Map. Sana makatulong. You can check the traffic status if you zoom in on the interactive map.

Many thanks to Prof. Noriel Christopher Tiglao of UP NCPAG. He is a civil engineer by profession and has conducted research on transportation management and policy with the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS).

Copy paste to your web browser this URL http://35.185.190.69/
and continue to accept. Walang pong virus iyan.

I hope this is good info to many!