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Are roads really designed just for cars?

The answer is no. Roads were and are built as basic infrastructure for transport no matter what the mode. However, the standards for dimensions (i.e., number of lanes, widths, etc.) are based on the motor vehicle capacity, and structural standards (i.e., thickness, strength, reinforcement, etc.) are based on the weights they are supposed to carry over their economic lives. The pavement load as it is referred to is usually based on the cumulative heavy vehicle traffic converted in terms of the equivalent standard or single axles or ESA. An ESA is 18,000 pounds or 18 kips in the English system of measurements or 8.2 metric tons in the Metric system.

A typical local road – is it really just for cars or is it also for walking and cycling? Or perhaps animal drawn transport? 

A colleague says many of the posts in social media pitting bicycles with cars are already quite OA (overacting). I tend to agree as I read how people generalize roads being car-centric. Roads have been built basically to serve a avenues for transportation. They were improved over time in order to have more efficient ways to travel by land. It didn’t hurt that vehicle technology also developed over time and bicycles somehow became less popular than the cars and motorcycles. The motorcycle itself evolved from bicycles so in a way, it is the evolved and mechanized form of the two-wheeler.

In a perfect world, people would be sharing the road space and it would be equitable among different users. In a perfect world perhaps, it won’t be car-centric as there would probably be better public transport options and transit will be efficient, reliable, comfortable and convenient to use.

The reality, however, is that we do not live in a perfect world and transformations like the ones being pitched on social media are nice but are also not as inclusive and equitable as their advocates claim them to be. I’ve always said and written that you cannot simply change transportation without also implementing changes in land use and housing in particular.

Why do we need wide roads connecting suburbs and urban areas? Why is there sprawl? Why do people live in the periphery of CBDs or the metropolis? It is not just about transport though it seems easier to focus on this. Even transportation in Japan, with Metropolitan Tokyo and its equivalent of NCR plus as a subject, needs to be properly contextualized for land use and transport interaction and development. It seems that even with a comprehensive and efficient railway network, there are still shortcomings here and there. We don’t have such a railway network (yet) so we need to find ways for easing the currently long and painful commutes many people experience on a daily basis. That means continued dependence on road-based transport and trying to implement programs and schemes to improve operations.

On predicting how new developments will affect pedestrians

I’ve been involved in a number of traffic or transport impact assessment (TIA) projects in the past. In these assessments, not much is usually written about the impacts to pedestrians though we make sure that there is a section discussing their needs (e.g., sidewalks, crossings, footbridges). Unfortunately, even with specific recommendations, there is no assurance that the proponent will revise their designs. The typical TIA in the Philippines is undertaken after there have been architectural plans already prepared if not completed. By completed here, I mean they are practically final from the perspective of the client or proponent. The exception it seems is a big mall chain that seems to constantly revise their plans and for which our recommendations are almost always considered and incorporated in design.

I am sharing this recent article on the development of a new traffic model to predict the impacts of new developments on walkers.

Wilson, K. (April 26, 2021) “New Traffic Model Predicts How New Developments Will Affect Walkers,” StreetsBlog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/04/26/new-traffic-model-predicts-how-changes-affect-walkers/ [Last accessed: 5/12/2021]

From the perspective of doing TIAs, I think that there should be a conscious effort of including the needs of pedestrians (walkers) and cyclists in impact assessments. Too often, (and I too am guilty here), there is but a minor mention of their needs and recommendations can be disregarded by both proponents (e.g., little or no change in designs to accommodate pedestrian requirements) and the local government (i.e., no push to make sure pedestrian needs are addressed).

On the tech side, there is a local development that can be used for counting pedestrians and cyclists. The TITAN project funded by the DOST-PCIEERD developed a tool that can count pedestrians and cyclists in aid of studies involving them. Such tools can be useful for data collection regardless of whether there is a new project or a TIA being undertaken.

On building the ideal city from a transportation perspective

There’s a not so old article that popped in my timeline of articles I’ve read the past years. I thought I would make a quick share of it here. It is a good read and something that will never be irrelevant for as long as we have not redeveloped our cities and municipalities for transport equity and sustainability. Here’s a takeaway from the article:

“The ideal city is a place where lots of different kinds of people with lots of different amounts of money can live and work. It has to be easy to get around without a car, even for people whose bodies can’t ride bikes or hop over potholes, and for people who have kids to drop off on the way to work and groceries to buy on the way home, and maybe flowers to buy next door to the dry cleaner’s. These are places where people want to live, because it’s nice there. The fact that those places also adapt to and mitigate climate change instead of causing it is a bonus.”

Here’s the article from last year:

Rogers, A. (April 1, 2020) “Build Cities for Bikes, Buses, and Feet—Not Cars,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/cities-without-cars-san-francisco-jeff-tumlin/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_ENGAGEMENT_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Classics_042921&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=WIR_Daily_TopClickers [Last accessed: 4/30/2021]

On when to use masks when outdoors

Here is a useful graphic from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The graphic described situations for when masks are required. I don’t want to use preferred because it means people may opt out of using masks. It is a useful reference even for those in other countries that do not have enough clear information from their governments about wearing masks and how it helps protect vs. getting infected by Covid-19. It is applicable to people searching for a legit reference to mask-wearing in outdoor situations.

This information becomes more relevant as people start getting vaccinated and at the same time look forward to getting together with family and friends in social events such as eating out or having picnics. Of course, this also applies to exercise as well as commuting via active transport modes (i.e., walking or cycling).

On a different view of the ’15-minute city’ concept

Here is an article discussing the downside(s) of the 15-minute city; particularly its adoption without understanding first and setting the context for the concept:

O’Sullivan, F. (March 3, 2021) “The Downside of a 15-Minute City,” Bloomber CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/the-downsides-of-a-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 3/20/21]

Some people are pushing very much the same concept for quick adoption in the Philippines without again contextualizing it. I feel these people are detached or choose to be so perhaps as they seek shortcuts to achieve what they believe should be the way cities and municipalities are laid out in the country. But wait…don’t we already have 15-minute cities in the Philippines? I will be writing about that soon…

 

Infanta, Quezon Arch

I was just writing about the arches you typically came across as you traveled by road around the Philippines. A former student of mine posted a photo of the arch welcoming travelers to Infanta, Quezon from Rizal province, and I asked to have a copy of the photo. He is an avid cyclist who goes on long rides. The arch bears the seal of the town but few other symbols (that I am familiar with) that could have represented the municipality. Here is a typical low-traffic highway with two lanes and dirt shoulders along either side of the road leading to something mysterious (see that fog/mist at the end of the road?).

Road to Infanta, Quezon [Photo credit: Dexter Cuizon]

On housing and transport

I am always amused about discussions and posts about transport and traffic where people appear to isolate the traffic as what needs to be solved, and where people criticize the latter and state that it is a transport and not a traffic problem. Both do not have the complete picture if that is what we want to start with. Land use, land development and the choices people make based on various other factors (including preferences) are among the other ingredients of the proverbial soup or dish that need to be included in the discussion. Remember land use and transport interaction? That’s very essential in understanding the big picture (macro) before even going into the details at the micro level. Why are there many car users or those who prefer to use private modes over public transport modes? Why do people prefer motorized over non-motorized modes? Maybe because people live far from their workplaces and schools? Why is that? Maybe because of housing affordability and other factors influencing choices or preferences?

Here’s a nice recent article on housing and transportation to enrich the discourse on this topic:

Litman, T. [January 7, 2021] “Housing First; Cars Last”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111790?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-01112021&mc_cid=2985a82f48&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [last accessed: 1/13/2021]

On hover chairs

Here’s a quick share of an article presenting Segway’s attempt to become relevant:

So, A. (January 3, 2020) “Segway Is Bringing the Hoverchairs From WALL-E to Life,” Wired.

I still have to check though if this was the correct year for the article, which appeared in my recent Wired subscription considering it is already 2021. We now know that people have taken to active transport, particularly cycling or biking, during the pandemic. I place emphasis here on ‘active’ because anyone who’s watched Wall-e surely knows what humans there looked like. Active transport and not such hover chairs will likely be the mode of the future. Of course, there are suitable applications for these including perhaps a replacement for wheelchairs or enhanced transport for seniors and whoever may require such. But in general, perhaps we shouldn’t be dependent on these to move about.

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

On cycling fatalities and the way forward

I’ve read a few articles and social media posts about how its become more dangerous or risky for cyclists during the pandemic. The statistics and observations show that there is an increase in the number of cyclists. I am not even considering here the recreational ones (and I have observed that there are a lot more of them). I focus rather on those who use bicycles to commute between their homes and workplaces; or those who cycle to market or do their groceries. The danger lies mainly from motorists who have little or no regard for cyclists and pedestrians; choosing to hog the roads for themselves. And there seem to be more of these motorists these days, too, as people owning cars have opted to use these instead of taking public transportation.

Here’s a recent article about safety in the US. Those stats and assessments can be replicated here given the availability of data on kilometers traveled and crashes that are usually employed for risk assessments.

Marquis, E. (December 22, 2020) “Cars have killed almost 700 cyclists in 2020,” Jalopnik.com, https://jalopnik.com/cars-have-killed-almost-700-bicyclists-in-2020-1845934793

The only solution for our case really is to put up protected bike lanes. Local standards or guidelines need to evolve and the people behind these should be of progressive thinking rather than relying on “what has been done” or “what they have been doing”. That attitude will only give us poorly planned and designed infrastructure for cycling and walking. The coming year offers some opportunities for active transportation as the DOTr and the DPWH (plus the MMDA in the case of Metro Manila, and perhaps the LGUs where applicable) are supposed to implement major projects intending to produce the bike lanes and walkways for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao. The budget is in the billions of pesos so much is expected about these projects. Will they become models for other Philippine cities and municipalities to follow? Or will these be like going through the motions just to appease those calling for active transport facilities?