Caught (up) in traffic

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A vintage US Army Jeep – the ancestor of the jeepney

We were visiting the studio of a friend last weekend and learned that he was a history buff. He did historical reenactments as well as researched on militaria including the uniforms worn by combatants in World War II. The latter was part of his work towards more accurate uniforms being used for period films. A surprise for us was that he also collected vintage cars that included two US Army Jeeps and a truck that were parked in their garage.

A US Army Jeep greeted us as we entered their studio premises

The 4-cylinder engine of the Jeep

Another view of the engine. Notice, too, the front grill of the vehicle.

A second jeepney is parked behind the first. This second one had a canvass top on and a radio antenna that’s supposed to be original.

There’s the steering wheel and the machine gun mount. 

The wipers whose design was retained by the jeepneys

I had always wanted to see an intact specimen of this jeep. The surplus units eventually were modified or customized to become the first jeepneys that seated 4 to 6 passengers at the back (they were shorter back then. The designs were based on the auto calesa, which were cars that were modified to become public transport vehicles with bench seats at the back. The rest, as they say, is history and we now still have what are termed as conventional jeepneys that now seat 16 to 24 passengers at the back of the driver.

Top urban problems in Metro Manila

I was looking for material to include in my introductory lecture for a graduate class. I came upon this slide from the study “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas (Region III and Region IV-A)” that was conducted by JICA through a consulting firm and completed in 2014. The slide shows the top three urban problems identified in Metro Manila (or perhaps what we now refer to as Mega Manila or, as what was tagged as NCR plus during this pandemic).


Traffic congestion was identified as one of the top problems if not the top problem itself.  This is not independent of the other two (or other problems identified in the survey). All of them are intertwined somehow as illustrated in the simple Venn diagram in the slide. Affordable housing, for example, affects our transportation system and puts much pressure to transportation infrastructure development as well as to the provision of transport services. People continue to choose living in the periphery of Metro Manila or outside NCR because of the expensive residential choices particularly in the CBDs where most people have their workplaces and where many of the elite schools are also located. These people would have to commute long distances and experience longer travel times than what seems to be the reasonable. The result is loss in productivity and transport related costs that include fuel and maintenance costs.

What do you think about these urban problems? How can be address them in a comprehensive manner?

Some takeaways from a lecture

I lecture from time to time at the Philippine Public Safety College. This is the counterpart of the National Defense College. In the latter graduates are conferred a Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) while in the former, graduates are conferred a Masters in Public Safety Administration (MPSA). It is no wonder that many who take these courses are military or police officers seeking graduate degrees that may later be useful for them after their typically early retirement (military and police officers retire at 56 years old instead of the typical 65 years mandatory retirement for other government employees). There are many civilians who take these programs, too. The MNSA degree actually promotes a person to a high rank as a military reservist. I am not sure about the MPSA degree but graduate degrees like these are useful for promotions in their respective offices.

I lectured recently to a class consisting of two batches of their MPSA program. Each batch consists of uniformed (mostly senior police officers with a rank equivalent to at least a Lt. Col.) and non-uniformed personnel (from various offices and professions including public and private universities, private companies, etc.). I get a lot of questions and comments regarding transport and traffic during my lectures. Some can be out of context or perhaps posed in a smart-aleck fashion but most are well-intentioned. After all, who doesn’t want to “solve” traffic? Among the more notable comments during my recent lecture are as follows (not in any order):

  1. There is a need to have better urban planning for our cities;
  2. Investments for transportation infrastructure need to be shared by government and the private sector;
  3. A holistic approach is required and we cannot isolate transportation or traffic;
  4. There is a need to have a law restricting vehicle ownership (mostly related to parking);
  5. There is a need to invest or allocate more resources to develop other cities to help decongest the larger cities.

Based on my experience having lectured at the PPSC over 5 years, these two batches had more listeners and were more sensible when they posted their comments and opinions on the chatbox (the lecture was via Zoom). There were only a couple of comments with ideas I did not agree with:

  1. Transferring the capital to another location – this seems to be a trendy (read: “nakikiuso”) topic and a very tempting one for discussion but it is not a simple task and has had mixed results in other countries that tried it (e.g., Brazil, Pakistan and Malaysia). Is it worth exploring? Probably.
  2. Cable cars for Metro Manila – I explained that this is still band-aid solution that does not address the roots of the transport problems experienced by Metro Manila. It is not suitable as for one, it will not have the capacity required for regular commutes and, to me at least, it is more a novelty than a solution. Resources would be better allocated elsewhere such as active transport.

Overall, I thought that this most recent lecture generated the best feedback so far from my students. I look forward to more lectures and interactions like this. And perhaps the next one will be face to face.

Who can design bikeways?

I have read many comments about how bike lanes and other bike facilities are sub-standard or unacceptable because they were designed by non-cyclists. From an academic perspective and perhaps also from a point of view of someone who values empathy, the planning and design of bicycle facilities should not be so limited. The objective of education, and particularly for schools whose graduates become professionals like engineers, architects and planners, should be to have the latter be able to plan and design the most suitable infrastructure and facilities for all users. Suitability here should include equity considering the many elements involved for people of different gender, physical ability or disability, age, health conditions, etc. That said, it is the responsibility of agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to revise and update their design manuals and guidelines to ensure that these are according to International standards and mindful of the best practices in various cities and countries that are now very well documented.

Bike lane in BGC,Taguig City

Bike lane and jogging/walking lane in UP Diliman

How my students see transport and traffic

With social media and the ascendance or popularity of influencers and the like, we have often encountered assessments or opinions about transportation and traffic. While there are those that make sense, there are more that are of the rant variety. The latter include the self-righteous who seem to relish bashing professionals and government officials while not being able to present much in terms of their own accomplishments. I am aware of my students (including research advisees) being aware of these people and I often see them posting their comments on topics, articles and opinions being shared on social media. For most, their comments and posts on social media show they’re being more informed than most, especially about the state of transportation in the country.

Here are some observations and comments from my students:

  1. One of my students asked me about my take on the public transport situation. I replied that it is unfortunate that public transportation has deteriorated the way it has for the past decades. The current state is not due to recent policies or regulations but a product of various policies, regulations and even trends over so many years. My student countered that perhaps the current officials must not make an excuse of the past in failing to act in the present.
  2. I always read about posts that anchor their arguments on the supposed low car ownership in Metro Manila. These are usually followed by calls for taking lanes away from car use for public transport and cycling. While I agree with the latter, I don’t with the former arguments. A student was curious about my statement in one lecture that we need to validate the numbers because what we see on the streets appears to be inconsistent with the notion of low car ownership. There are other ways, she said, to determine vehicle ownership other than the conventional HIS data. We could probably use the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) that is regularly conducted by the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA). This will show if people own motor vehicles as well as how much they spend for transportation.
  3. I asked my students to critique the plans and implementation of airports in the Greater Capital Region (GCR) also known as Mega Manila, and which is larger than the NCR Plus used to refer to Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite. I was not surprised about their assessments as all of them did their homework in the sense that they researched on information and data they could use for their critiques. Most were in favor of developing a new capital airport in Bulacan rather than in Cavite. And many favored the continued operation of NAIA but with reduced air traffic and a different role.

More on these opinions, observations and comments as I try to recall the more remarkable or notable ones.

Have a nice Sunday!

On university-community collaborations

I’m not a stranger to university-community collaborations. In fact, I even helped draft a proposal for the World Bank to support such collaborations, which I believe would be sustainable and therefore worthwhile to be pursued by potential partner universities and local government units. There are actually many such collaborations but most of these are probably informal with certain faculty members of universities (usually state universities or colleges) being involved in committees or moonlighting in projects implemented or funded by LGUs. I say informal because technically, the school is not involved in the project and it is only incidental that the person or persons involved are affiliated with the university or college.

Here is an article showing an example of university-community collaborations:

National Institute for Transportation and Communities (2022) “Transportation recovery after disasters: A collaborative university/community model,”, [Last accessed: 8/15/2022]

The authors wrote about actions that could be done “to build future economic resilience.” To quote from the article:

  • Increasing pre-disaster investment in resilient transportation infrastructure to reduce the cost of eventual recovery;

  • Improving business resilience practices for high-impact industrial sectors, through education and outreach;

  • Identifying structural barriers to adoption of resilient business practices, and promoting mitigation through recovery.

  • Mainstreaming disaster resilience into economic development by breaking the siloed approach to emergency management and economic development.

While these actions were framed for the community engaged by the University of Utah, they are general enough to be applicable to other communities as well.

I mentioned earlier about the need for formality. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) encourages and supports what are termed as Extension Works or Extension Projects by higher education institutions. These may be in various forms including committee work, advisory, capacity building/training, or even professional work/services provided to the province, city or municipality (even barangay). But there should be accountability here as well as the proper assignment or allocation of resources.

Just compensation is one of the more sensitive or tricky elements or items here as often, LGUs would like to get something for free or assume that certain services are free. They are not and time and effort should be compensated; just not the international rates you might expect for consulting work from the likes of World Bank or Asian Development Bank.

Here is where contracts (e.g., in the form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)) can be useful to establish the terms of engagement that includes budgets for Personnel Services (PS), Equipment Outlay (EO) and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). The latter categories should be familiar with LGUs because these are standard items under which details are provided for their programs and projects. State universities and colleges are also familiar with these as standard government terminologies for budgets. Of course, that goes without saying that in certain engagements, there may be third parties such as donor or funding institutions that will should all, most, or part of the costs for collaborative work.

Opinions on the current transportation situation?

Some people were asking me about what I thought about certain issues and reports on transportation. To be honest, while I am involved in some projects including one on road safety, I have been busy (or swamped is probably a more suitable term) with administrative duties at the university. While I take a peek from time to time, as is my habit, to see what’s happening, I have much less time to really engage or get involved in discussions. Whereas before, I easily get myself into typing comments and engaging in some discussions about transport issues particularly in social media, I now quite easily turn away and let it be. There are, after all, a lot of people experts, pundits, advocates, even trolls who are “slugging it out” with their opinions on just about anything on transport.

While I am amused at many discussions or posts, I now find myself not at all wanting to get involved unlike before. I think perhaps I have done my part and continue to do so in ways and avenues where I am more effective and where my time and effort is not wasted and more appreciated. I have never been the loud person in a room and have always tried to have my work speak for myself.

The indifference is the product of many factors and circumstances including becoming tired of doing interviews with conventional media. Nowadays especially, when media seems engrossed on having content by the minute; never mind the substance. Basta may ma-report or ma-post (As long as their is something to report or post).

Well, here’s a few thoughts about what seem to be trending these days:

  1. There is still a lack of public transportation supply considering the increasing demand (more people are back to their workplaces and schools are already reopening!). Government agencies still seem to be clueless or perhaps just want to push the original rationalization and modernization programs despite the pandemic changing the game for commuting demand. Due to the lack of public transport, more people are taking to private vehicles but certain observers apparently see only cars (which they automatically equate to ‘private vehicles’). Motorcycles are also increasing in numbers and allowing motorcycle taxis will mean people will turn to these for commuting/transport needs.
  2. Cable cars won’t solve Metro Manila transport or traffic woes. Even if one will consider where they will fit or may be suitable, this is still a band aid solution considering all the solutions including the ones that are obvious or staring us in our faces (yes, allow the conventional jeepneys and buses back for now) that are available but government stubbornly rejects. As for the senator who broached the idea, I think he did so mainly for media mileage (and the mainstream media quickly snapped it up!) – para mapag-usapan. As they say – it’s so showbiz!
  3. I still believe that the experiences from the pandemic strongly provide us with the evidence to support a continuation and sustaining work-from-home or remote work set-ups. This actually ‘solved’ traffic during the heights of the pandemic and yet we choose to revert to the old normal set-up. People are languishing, suffering as they spend long travel times in their commutes. These are unproductive time that people could have spent more efficiently and productively (not to mention more meaningful) at home.
  4. I support children going back to school but not for 100% of their times. We definitely know that a 100% study-at-home set-up is not for everyone and the last two years have affected our children including their need for face-to-face interaction with other children (classmates) and adults (teachers). Still, we can have a blended set-up where perhaps we can have children come to school 2 to 3 days in a week rather than the old normal of 5 to 6 (even 7 in some schools) days. Other tasks and learning activities can be done effectively at home. This also could help ease traffic and travel demand especially in urbanized areas.

More opinions in future posts!


On phasing out cars in cities

I’m sharing another article on reducing car dependence. The article was referred to by the previous series that I shared recently.

Nicholas, K. (April 14, 2022) “12 best ways to get cars out of cities – ranked by new research,” The Conversation, [Last accessed: 5/20/2022]

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

“Question: what do the following statistics have in common?

The second-largest (and growing) source of climate pollution in Europe.
The leading killer of children in both the US and Europe.
A principal cause of stress-inducing noise pollution and life-shortening air pollution in European cities.
A leading driver of the widening gap between rich and poor urban residents.

Answer: the vehicles on our streets, primarily the not-so-humble passenger car.”

also this:

“The research is clear: to improve health outcomes, meet climate targets and create more liveable cities, reducing car use should be an urgent priority.”

and this:

“To meet the planet’s health and climate goals, city governments need to make the necessary transitions for sustainable mobility by, first, avoiding the need for mobility (see Paris’s 15-minute city); second, shifting remaining mobility needs from cars to active and public transport wherever possible; and finally, improving the cars that remain to be zero-emission.”

You can also listen instead of reading it as it is a narrated article.

Articles on examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion

Planetizen recently published a three-part series of articles examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion:

Part 1: Brasuell, J. (April 13, 2022) “Planning and the Complicated Causes and Effects of Congestion,” Planetizen, [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 2: Brasuell, J. (April 20, 2022) “How Planning Fails to Solve Congestion,” Planetizen, accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 3: Brasuell, J. (May 12, 2022) “Planning for Congestion Relief,” Planetizen, [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

I think these articles are a must read especially for students (and not just practitioners or professionals) and is sort of a crash course on transportation engineering and planning. It covers many concepts and learnings from so many decades and touches on certain programs that are most effective in reducing car trips. To quote from the article, the top 12 programs based on case studies in Europe are:

  1. Congestion Pricing (12-33% reduction in city-center cars)
  2. Parking and Traffic Controls (11-19% reduction in city-center cars)
  3. Limited Traffic Zones (10-20% reduction in city-center cars)
  4. Workplace Mobility Services (37% drop in car commuters)
  5. Workplace Parking Charges (8-25% reduction in car commuters)
  6. Workplace Travel Planning (3-18% drop in car use by commuters)
  7. University Travel Planning (7-27% reduction in car use by university commuters)
  8. University Mobility Services (24% drop in students commuting by car)
  9. Car Sharing (12-15 private cars replaced by each shared car)
  10. School Travel Planning (5-11% reduction in car use for school trips)
  11. Personalized Travel Planning (6-12% drop in car use share among residents)
  12. App-Based Incentives (73% – proportion of app users declaring reduced car use)

Are we ready to confront congestion and at the least start discussing these car trip reduction programs? Or are we content with the current discourse, which remains car-centric?

Some old drawing tools for clothoids

I took some photos of old (vintage if you prefer) drawing tools that I have at our laboratory at the university. We found this in the storage many years ago and people seem to have forgotten about them. Instead of heading for storage or being forgotten or worse, thrown away, we decided to keep them at our laboratory mainly to show our students how certain highway or street curves were drawn in the ‘old days’. I am currently the custodian of this and another set that I have kept at my other office at the civil engineering building.

The wooden box is at my office at UP Diliman

The sign basically translates to clothoid drawing tools made by a company based in Setagaya in Tokyo. There are 14 instruments in the box for clothoid parameter values of A = 20m to 350m.

Opening the box shows slots holding instruments for drawing clothoids or spiral curves

Some of the instruments from the case – the large one on top is for A = 300m and 350m (scale 1:1000)

Comparison of size of instruments for (top) A = 60m and 65m, and (bottom) A = 30m and 35m (scale 1:1000)

Instrument for A = 30m and 35m (Scale 1:1000)

A protractor came along with the set but I assume other instruments such as a compass were used in drawing/drafting the curves.

I shall take photos of the other set when I get to visit the other office. These will be for records purposes as well as for posterity. These are practically museum pieces that are now perhaps rarely if even used.