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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):

Newman, P. and Kenworthy, J. (2021) Gasoline Consumption and Cities Revisited: What Have We Learnt?. Current Urban Studies, 9, 532-553. doi: 10.4236/cus.2021.93032.

On the key transformations needed to achieve sustainable, low carbon transport

Also related to COP26, I am sharing material from the Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLOCAT) partnership, of which our center is part of. SLOCAT recently released the 11 key transformations for sustainable low carbon land transport urgently needed to meet the climate targets. Here’s a link to their site:

SLOCAT also has the following Wheel of Transport and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) on the same site. The Wheel illustrates the four cross-cutting themes: equitable, healthy, resilient and green.

SLOCAT Wheel on Transport and the SDG’s – https://slocat.net/transport-sdgs/

In the SLOCAT site, they list the following to support the transformations:

Overarching approaches to apply across transport modes and sub-sectors overtime

  • Put people first, not vehicles and technology 
  • Co-create and communicate a compelling vision and targets 
  • Guide short- and medium-term action with clear, coherent political messages 
  • Combine push and pull measures: Regulate and incentivise 
  • Link policies within and beyond transport for synergies 
  • Prioritise resources by social and sustainable value for money 
  • Engage, empower and coordinate stakeholders across government levels and sectors 
  • Build capacity and improve data 
  • Implement pilots to learn and share, then roll out at scale

We need to do more to reduce transport emissions

I did some work on long term action plans on low carbon transport for the ASEAN region before. We were able identify many of interventions that were being implemented as well as those that can be done to reduce transport emissions. Such reductions for the region would ultimately contribute to alleviating global warming. Unfortunately, while ASEAN is a significant contributor to emissions, it pales in comparison to emissions by individual countries like China and the US. If these two and others in the industrialized world do not commit to reducing their emissions, all work will come to naught. Here is an article that serves as a pre-event write-up for COP26, a major climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in the coming days.

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 importance of trees along streets

I’ve written before about the importance of having parks around a city or town. Here’s an article I recently read about the positive impacts of trees along streets:

Stimpson, A. (March 12, 2021) “Green health: a tree-filled street can positively influence depression, study finds,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/12/baltimore-study-trees-mental-health-study [Last accessed: 3/29/2021]

Tree-lined street somewhere in Antipolo City, Rizal

We often refer to cities as the urban jungle. Why not really, literally make cities as urban jungles by planting more trees and other plants where its possible to grow and nurture them. Gardens may be grown not just for flowers or aesthetics but for food. Perhaps architecture should deliberately be oriented for greens? Orchard Road in Singapore is much admired for its trees. Surely, similar streets in our country can be landscaped accordingly.

On using a car for transport in the time of COVID-19

We start the month of February with a very informative articles from the New York Times about car use and the spread of Covid-19. There have been a lot of discussions or discourse, even arguments, about private car use or shared vehicles (e.g., Grab) as people have apparently chosen these over public transport in many parts of the Philippines. For one, there is still a limited supply of public transport as government tries to take advantage of the situation to implement their rationalization and modernization programs.

The following article is from the US but the principles presented particularly about air flow and the potential spread of the virus inside a car are factual and apply in a general manner to other situations including ours. It is important to have an appreciation of the science behind air circulation and how it relates to the potential infections.

Anthes, E. (January 16, 2021) “How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/16/health/coronavirus-transmission-cars.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2021]

The common misconception appears to be that using private vehicles automatically helps spread the coronavirus. The science tells us it is not as simple as that (i.e., using your own vehicle will lead to your and your family being infected). While private vehicles are not the proverbial suit of armor vs. Covid-19, their proper use might give better chances compared to crowded and/or poorly ventilated public utility vehicles. Walking and bicycles, of course, are most preferred but that’s a topic for another article. 

On the burdens of car dependence

Here is a quick share today. This is another excellent article from Todd Litman who makes a great argument for why planning should move away from its being car-centric and contribute towards a significant reduction in society’s dependence on cars.

Litman, T. (December 15, 2020) “Automobile Dependency: An Unequal Burden,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111535?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12212020&mc_cid=e746a044a3&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 .

Much have been said and written about this topic in many platforms including social media but in many of these, I noticed that the discussion often deteriorated into hating or shaming exercises rather than be convincing, constructive arguments for reforms in planning and behavior and preference changes in transport modes. Litman is always very fair and comprehensive and employs evidence or facts in his articles that should be clear for most people to understand. I say ‘most people’ here because there are still many who are among those considered as “fact-resistant”. Happy reading!

More parks and trees = longer lives

Here is an article about a topic that seems unrelated to transportation but is actually strongly related to it. We already know about the benefits of tree-lined boulevards and parks as lungs of a town or city. The following article discusses the benefits and advantages of having more parks and trees.

Yanez, E. (November 19, 2020) “More Parks, Longer Lives,” Parks and Recreation, https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2020/december/more-parks-longer-lives/

I suddenly recall what were tree-lined national highways across the country. Many of these trees were cut down to give way to road-widening projects of the national government through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)., Nevermind that the widening was not really required in many if not most cases, and that the trees were never replaced or was there ever an effort to do so. The results have been disastrous in terms of the environments along these roads. Transport systems can also be developed with parks and trees in mind; especially if active transport were the focus of the development. Surely parks and trees will enhance the environment and encourage more people to walk or cycle. This should translate into better overall health and wellness for people.

On pollution due to ride shares

We close February with another article I share about ride sharing and its environmental impacts:

Hawking, A.J. (2020) Uber and Lyft generate 70 percent more pollution than trips they displace: study, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/25/21152512/uber-lyft-climate-change-emissions-pollution-ucs-study [Last accessed 2/29/2020]

I guess, this sort of validates our suspicion of ridesharing becoming unsustainable. Again, we note its origins when it had the potential to reduce car ownership and car use. The original ride shares were closer to carpooling as well as took advantage of under-utilized vehicles while giving extra income to people who could share their vehicles on-demand. Eventually, the ride shares morphed into taxis with people purchasing cars to get into the business. Soon, a lot of them were roaming the streets as they awaited bookings and this type of operations generated a lot of emissions. They might not have required more parking spaces like the conventional car users but this benefit was eventually overcome by the pollution they produced.

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…