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Why do we keep widening roads?

I’m just going to share this article here. The article from The NY Times asks a question that has been bugging planners and engineers, particularly those who are in government and perhaps under the agencies like the DPWH, DOTr and NEDA. This also applies to planners, engineers and those from other disciplines involved in transportation infrastructure development and particularly roads or highways.

 

Shared article: Active and Micro Mobility Modes Can Provide Cost-Effective Emission Reductions–If We Let Them

I’m sharing this article on active and micro mobility modes from Todd Litman, published in Planetizen.com:

Source: Active and Micro Mobility Modes Can Provide Cost-Effective Emission Reductions–If We Let Them

From the article:

“Common Active Transportation Leverage Effects:
Shorter trips. Shorter active trips often substitutes for longer motorized trips, such as when people choose a local store rather than driving to more distant shops.
Reduced chauffeuring. Better walking and bicycling conditions reduces the need to chauffeur non-drivers (special trips to transport a passenger). These often require empty backhauls (miles driven with no passenger). As a result, each mile of avoided chauffeuring often reduces two vehicle-miles.
-Increased public transit travel. Since most transit trips include walking and bicycling links, improving these modes supports public transit travel and transit-oriented development.
-Vehicle ownership reductions. Active mode improvements allow some households to reduce their vehicle ownership, which reduces vehicle trip generation, and therefore total vehicle-miles.
-Lower traffic speeds. Active travel improvements often involve traffic speed reductions. This makes non-auto travel more time-competitive with driving and reduces total automobile travel.
-More compact development. Walking and bicycling support more compact, multimodal communities by reducing the amount of land devoted to roadways and parking, and creating more attractive streets.
-Social norms. As active travel increases, these modes become more socially acceptable.

The article is a must read if we are to understand how important active transport and micro mobilities are in the context of today’s transport conundrum. Of course, part of the contextualization and perhaps ‘localization’ on these modes will be related to land use or development. The latter is a big challenge especially for the likes of Metro Manila and other rapidly developing cities in the Philippines where housing in the cities (related to compact development) has become quite expensive and has driven more and more people to live in the suburbs. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this has resulted in more pressure to develop transportation systems but infrastructure development cannot play the catch up game given the limited resources for their construction. Meanwhile, services are also behind in terms of quality and requires reforms and rationalizations.

On guerilla tactics in urbanism – guerilla crosswalks

I am sharing this article on guerilla crosswalks in the US. It is interesting as communities or groups concerned with road safety decided to put up interventions (in this case crosswalks) in order to address safety concerns pertaining to pedestrian ROW along roads. In most if not all countries, pedestrians are limited where they may cross and there are jaywalking laws and penalties that are now being regarded as car-centric policies that need to be revised to favor pedestrians more than motor vehicles.

Zipper, D. (December 1, 2022) “The Case for Guerrilla Crosswalks,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-12-01/when-crosswalks-go-rogue [Last accessed: 12/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

Such acts of unsanctioned “tactical urbanism” are of a kin to many other DIY street interventions, such as pop-up bike lanes. But they are not without risks. Affluent communities could have more residents willing to volunteer time and resources, for example, even though pedestrian deaths are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. “The locations identified by guerrilla crosswalk activists may or may not coincide with where the planners and engineers have identified as highest need,” said Sam Zimbabwe, the former director of Seattle DOT.

But in Los Angeles, the Crosswalk Collective spokesperson said that the group is “always mindful of who has access to safety installations and who doesn’t,” adding that all its crosswalks to date have been sited in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of Central and East Los Angeles.

Zimbabwe also noted the limited benefits of paint on faster roads (which the Federal Highway Administration has documented): “Particularly on multilane arterials, only marking a crosswalk without deploying other tools does not address the ‘multiple threat’ problem, where one driver stops but the driver in another lane does not.“ (The Crosswalk Collective spokesperson agreed, saying that the group rejects proposed locations due to safety concerns “all the time.”)

But in the right setting, unauthorized street infrastructure additions can lead to one of two outcomes — and both are constructive. One possibility is that the city removes it, in which case media attention and resident backlash put pressure on local officials to be more responsive to safety requests. (That coverage may also compel more residents to join street safety groups).

The other option is that city officials take the hint and accept what residents have built. Eight years ago, Seattle transportation planner Dongho Chang won the enduring appreciation of local cyclists when he responded to a pop-up bike lane first by thanking activists for their passion, and then by making the bike lane permanent. Now working with the Washington State Department of Transportation, Chang does not share Seattle DOT’s rigid opposition to guerrilla crosswalks. “It would be good to acknowledge the effort that was done by the residents,” he said. “If there is a way to keep the crosswalk, it would be ideal to try to do that.”

This is, of course, in the US where such tactical urbanism might be in vogue in certain cities and communities. Would such be allowed or encouraged in the Philippines? Actually, there are already many cases where tactical urbanism has been applied and usually at the community or barangay level. Prior to the DPWH putting in rumble strips at the approaches of schools, junctions and other locations perceived to be accident or crash prone, people have devised ways to slow down traffic in favor of pedestrian crossings. These include laying down old rubber tires cut and stretched to become humps. There are also barriers laid out to form something like an obstacle course; forcing vehicles to zig-zag instead of going straight along critical sections. These have allowed schoolchildren to cross safe in school zones and pedestrians crossing safely at intersections.

On emergency vehicles, speeds and road widths

I recall an online discussion about how roads need to be wide to accommodate emergency vehicles such as fire trucks/engines, ambulances and police vehicles. There are also videos shared on social media about how, with wide roads, motorists could move their vehicles to the sides to give way to emergency vehicles. These are used to support the argument that we need wide roads and that speeding for emergency vehicles is justified because of their purpose. The following article attempts to make a counter-argument:

Lewis, M. (November 21, 2022) “Ambulances vs. Pedestrians,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/119785-ambulances-vs-pedestrians [Last accessed: 11/24/2022]

To quote from the article:

“the “emergency response” argument in favor of wide streets only makes sense if the risk of death from a too-slow ambulance outweighs the risk of death from a speeding car.”

Certainly, the data on road crashes due to speeding should support the perception that there’s a higher risk of death from speeding vehicles compared to the risk of dying in relation to the emergency that’s supposedly being responded to. And in our country, perhaps this counter-argument is valid considering the “wang-wang” type of emergency vehicles moving about.

The return of carmaggedon and the illusion of low vehicle ownership

Traffic seems to be back to pre-pandemic levels in the Metro Manila and its adjacent provinces. You can experience this along major roads like Commonwealth Avenue, C-5 and yes, EDSA. The number of vehicles on the roads including motorcycles defy what is supposed to be low motor vehicle ownership in Metro Manila (as claimed by DOTr and JICA in the MUCEP report and echoed by groups who cite the report as if it is flawless).

Intense traffic congestion along C5/Katipunan Avenue. The photo shows traffic on the C5/Katipunan flyover’s northbound side and towards the direction of Ateneo, Miriam and UP Diliman.

The reality appears to be that more households actually own motor vehicles and the inefficiencies and unattractiveness of public transport continues to convince people to take private transportation, including motorcycles, over public transport options. The inconvenient truth according to one senior transport expert is that while cycling has gained ground, the numbers are minuscule compared with those taking either private or public motorized transport.  Yes, carmaggedon is back and looks here to stay for a while longer until the so-called game changers like the MM subway and Line 7 are operational. Will they change the commuting behavior or are these too late in as far as solutions are concerned?

On reducing driving and its inherent risks

Ever since the automobile was invented and eventually mass-produced, there has been an increasing risk associated with motor vehicle traffic. Laws, policies and regulations have also been influenced to favor the car rather than people. And so we now have what is termed as a car-oriented and dependent transportation system that seems so difficult to undo as most people appear to be enamored by the car. Owning a car (or even a motorcycle if you want to extend this idea of individual ownership) remains an aspiration to a lot of people.

Here is a link to the compact version of a comprehensive report by Todd Litman that presents and argues for a new paradigm where driving is considered a risk factor. There are data and a table comparing old and new traffic paradigms to help us understand the situation and what needs to be redefined or re-framed in order to achieve our safety targets or vision.

Litman, T. (October 20, 2022) “Driving as a Risk Factor: A New Paradigm,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/119287-driving-risk-factor-new-paradigm?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10202022&mc_cid=beacdc2a04&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 10/28/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Safer vehicles, roads, and driving may reduce crashes but achieve few other goals, and sometimes contradict them. Transportation demand management and smart growth policies increase safety in addition to helping to achieve other planning goals, and so can be considered win-win solutions.

More comprehensive safety analysis tends to support social equity goals. Many conventional safety strategies, such as larger vehicles with more passenger protection, and wider roads with fewer intersections, tend to increase walking and bicycling risks. In contrast, lower traffic speeds, TDM, and Smart Growth tend to improve safety, mobility, and accessibility for people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive.”

The key takeaway here should be that people should have the option of not driving at all in order to reduce the risks associated with driving as well as reduce congestion. A more comprehensive

On modified, fossil fuel kick scooters

You’ve probably seen one of these micromobility modes but take a closer look and you will notice a more spruced-up version of what you thought was an electric kick scooter (EKS). No, this one in the photos is not electric-powered but running on an internal combustion engine. It is a modified, fossil fuel-powered scooter.

You can see the modifications on the scooter – the engine and the gas tank.

These can be hard to detect for drivers or riders and can be risky at night time when visibility is a major factor for those using these vehicles.

I’ve seen these modified scooters along my typical commuting routes. They seem to be faster than the regular EKS. They also appear to have more power for uphill or climbing as I’ve seen these having no trouble ascending to Antipolo via Sumulong Highway or Ortigas Avenue Extension. As for maneuverability, I cannot really make an assessment except for what I’ve observed. But what worries me is that there are also reckless riders of these vehicles who tend to weave in traffic whether its congested or free flowing. If it’s difficult to anticipate the movement of motorcycles and bicycles along highways and streets, it’s even more with these scooters. But before you react and say that drivers and riders need to be slowing down (and all that jazz), remember that it takes two to tango. Even if you do slow down or practice safe driving or riding, if that other person will be reckless then there will be an increased likelihood for a crash to happen.

Children’s companions to and from school

In the recent 15th National Convention on Statistics, an interesting information is about the companions of school children when going to school and coming home from school. Note the change in companions from elementary school to high school.

 

 

The data above is from Zamboanga City. Is it the same or different in other Philippine cities or municipalities?

On making streets safer through woonerfs

One of the new things I learned when I was taking up transportation planning as an undergraduate student in the 1990s was about the woonerf. Our teacher then was a Visiting Professor from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He introduced to us many concepts in that elective course that paved the way to a number of us proceeding to specialize in transportation. What is a woonerf? Well, here’s a nice article defining the woonerf and providing some examples:

Ionescu, D. (October 6, 2022) “What is a Woonerf?” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/definition/woonerf?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10062022&mc_cid=9d60b3d668&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 10/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Translated as “living street,” a woonerf employs strategies like traffic calming devices and low speed limits to force drivers to slow down and safely share street space with pedestrians, cylists, and others, often without raised curbs separating cars and pedestrians. In the Netherlands, where the woonerf originated in the 1960s, motorized traffic within woonerf zones is limited to walking speed…

…A woonerf is not a pedestrianized street, but rather one where multiple users and vehicles co-exist. However, a woonerf can be converted to car-free uses using bollards or other barriers. The woonerf maintains utilitarian uses like loading docks and parking while making the roadway safer and more accessible to non-drivers.”

There should be many applications to the woonerf in the Philippines especially in areas where the dominant land use is residential and through traffic should be discouraged. This is goes well with the complete streets concept that is now being promoted and in fact pre-dates the concept and was well ahead of its time.

On animal – vehicle collissions

We feature a different type of road crash today – one involving wildlife and vehicles. This is not something new as I am sure you’ve seen all those road kills (usually cats or dogs) along many of our streets and highways. These don’t even include the frogs, birds and other animals that are killed by motor vehicle traffic. Here is an informative article on such crashes or collisions and what can be done to address them.

Skroch, M. (October 4, 2022) “The dreadful toll of wildlife – vehicle collisions – and what we can do about it,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/now/the-dreadful-toll-of-wildlife-vehicle-collisions-and-what-we-can-do-about-it [Last accessed: 10/10/2020]

To quote from the article:

“Advances in research technology over the past decade have revolutionized experts’ understanding of how wildlife move across landscapes and are now helping to resolve wildlife-vehicle conflicts that are rising due to increased development. One example is GPS collars that are affixed to big game, as well as other mammals and birds, and transmit electronic signals via satellite from some of the most remote regions in the U.S. to researchers throughout the country. This data captures exactly where and when animals move within large landscapes, enabling scientists and engineers to pinpoint where the construction of wildlife crossings — mostly overpasses and underpasses that help animals traverse highways — can most effectively improve motorist safety and facilitate animal migrations. Studies show that a well-placed underpass or overpass can reduce wildlife-vehicle accidents by over 90 percent, providing a high rate of return on federal and state investments in such structures.”