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That’s the question asked in a recent article about commuting via public transport in the US. The pandemic has altered much of our lives including our typical daily travels between our homes and workplaces. Of course, the experiences vary in many countries and different towns and cities. However, we cannot deny that with the still developing information about the Covid-19 virus (i.e., how it is spread), many of us have had doubts about taking public transportation. For those who didn’t have much options for their commutes, they just had to do their part in observing health protocols and trust that the operators and drivers of public utility vehicles also do their part to sanitize vehicles.
Barry, D. (May 10, 2021) “No Scrum for Seats. No Quiet-Car Brawls. Is This Really My Commute?” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/nyregion/new-jersey-transit-commute.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 5/11/2021]
How did your commutes change from what it was before the pandemic? Are you back to using public transport? Have you shifted to active modes like bike commuting? Did you go back to driving a car? Or are you still basically working from home most of the time? And did you miss how you were commuting before?
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).
Here is a very interesting article on how a small city in the US was able to reduce traffic deaths by investing in people-oriented transport programs and projects:
Kessler, E. (April 6, 2021) “EYES ON THE STREET: How Hoboken Has Eliminated Traffic Deaths,” StreetsBlog NYC, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2021/04/06/eyes-on-the-street-how-hoboken-has-eliminated-traffic-deaths/ [Last accessed: 4/14/2021]
The article is pretty much self-explanatory. I won’t be commenting more about this except that many of the items mentioned can be taken on by many cities and municipalities in the Philippines. You don’t have to be a highly urbanized city with a big population and so much resources to come up with a plan and perhaps improvise in order to reduce costs of implementation. The most important thing is leadership since leaders like the mayor will be responsible for and making the critical decisions for the town. That is why he was elected in the first place, and the same goes for the other elected officials who are supposed to represent the interests of all their constituents and not just those who own cars.
The obvious answer to this question is yes. It is not so clear, however, how many will really be using these bike lanes over time. That needs data. That requires counting. And such data will be useful in order to understand, among other things, why people choose to bike or why they don’t. The latter is important to determine what factors are being considered by people who can switch to cycling particularly for commuting. Of course, there are many references for this from other cities and countries but these still need to be contextualized from our (Philippine) perspective. Case in point is Marikina, which has the most comprehensive network of bike lanes in the country. What are the numbers and what are the constraints and misconceptions? Did the city do its part to promote and sustain cycling?
Here is an article discussing the experience in the US:
Penney, V. (April 1, 2021) “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/climate/bikes-climate-change.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 4/9/2021]
Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue (C5) in Quezon City
Here is the link to the paper mentioned in the article:
As the Philippines, relaxes protocols to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it is interesting to note that other countries have not let down their guard. And the latter includes nations that have been quite successful in dealing with the pandemic. Many countries have also received the vaccines and have started inoculating their populations. These received the doses ahead of the Philippines and have now vaccinated a significant % of their population according to their respective prioritization schemes.
But even as countries have started vaccinations, the question remains whether a vaccinated individual can now move around or travel as if it were pre-pandemic conditions (the old normal). Here’s a nice article to read as the topic of unrestricted (or restricted, depending on your take) comes up in discussions including those leading to certain policies to be formulated by governments:
Fisher, M. (March 2, 2021) “Vaccine passports, Covid’s next political flashpoint,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/europe/passports-covid-vaccine.html [Last accessed: 3/4/2021]
Here’s a quick share of an article discussing the pandemic’s exposing the need for more public spaces:
Ionescu, D. (February 5, 2021) “The Pandemic Revealed Public Space as ‘Essential Infrastructure'”, Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112044?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02082021&mc_cid=4fac9821d0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/9/2021]
Quezon City is lucky to have the Quezon Memorial Circle, Parks and Wildlife and the University of the Philippines Diliman campus but it needs more public spaces given its size. UP should not technically be regarded as a public space as it is a school first and just happens to be blessed with a spacious campus. Pictured above is its academic oval with the Sunken Garden to the right.
Public spaces include parks and other open spaces that serve as breathing spaces or lungs for our cities and municipalities. A lot of people complained about being cramped up during the lockdowns and are now going out (others quite recklessly) even with the specter of Covid-19 still about us. In many old towns around the country, there are plazas and of course fields where people can go to while maintaining safe physical distancing. We certainly lack for these especially in highly urbanized cities. Rizal Park and its surrounding areas including Intramuros are not sufficient for dense Manila. In Taguig, you see a lot of people taking walks or exercising along the C5 service road. Its good that they actually have a linear park in Lower Bicutan and maybe parts of BGC where people can “decompress” from their cramped conditions where they reside but again, these may not be enough. Cities and municipalities need to allocate or build more public spaces. These should be deliberate developments to create such spaces (even small playgrounds scattered around a city would be a good start) for everyone’s well-being.
There seems to be a lot of feedback (mostly negative) on the new law and its implementing rules. RA 11229 is the “Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act” that requires the use of child car seats. There seems to be a confusion about who are supposed to be using child seats particularly about the age and height limits mentioned. In one “controversial” interview, a government transport official was recorded replying to a question about tall children that the parents would have to get a bigger vehicle. That was obviously uncalled for but also probably what can be considered as a “snappy answer to a stupid question[see note below]” type of situation. What is clear now is that a lot of people are not aware of the provisions and implications of the new law (for various reasons including their choosing to ignore it) and there needs to be a more comprehensive and effective info campaign on this topic. Not yet mentioned in discussions are the models of car seats that are approved or certified for use.
Screenshot of a graphic explaining who are required to use child car seats
Here are examples of the opinions and comments in one of the group discussions I am part of [I will just leave these without specific attribution or anonymous.]:
- “RA#11229 was badly written. Authored by Sen JV Ejercito, trying to copy laws in the USA. In California, the Child Safety Seat is only required for child 2 years old and below, 4 years old in NY, and 3 years old in Europe. Additional parameters: height limit of 40″ (101 cm) and weight limit of 40lbs. They differentiate rules for children up to 8 years in NY & CA.”
- “The Philippine version lumps all kids into one group below 12 years old, requiring child restraint system. Additional parameter is 150 cm height, none on weight. Two wrong premises of our law: 1) that Filipinos children are taller than Europeans and Americans of same age, and 2) Filipino children mature later at 12.”
- “They lumped it into one class because its the simplest and easiest thing to do, without going into a lot of uncertainty. Na controversial na nga yung 12 yr. old catch-all, ano pa kaya kung they broke it down into numerous classifications.”
[Note: To those who are not familiar with the term “snappy answers to stupid questions”, google it together with Mad Magazine.]
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.
I haven’t been on a plane since February 2020. That is almost one year next month. I have friends though who have traveled by air recently. They had to follow certain protocols before departing and upon arrival at their destination. These include testing for the virus and observing quarantine especially upon their return to Metro Manila and prior to returning to their respective homes. Fortunately, all have been testing negative for Covid-19 and were able to come home safely.
Here is an interesting article on air travel, particularly how airlines and airports are handling passengers during this time when processes need to consider the prospects of getting infected by Covid-19:
Marshall, A. (January 21, 2021) “The Art and Science of Boarding an Airplane in a Pandemic,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/art-science-boarding-airplane-pandemic/ [Last accessed: 1/26/2021]
I am anxious about being required to travel for a project we are currently doing for a major city in Mindanao. While our clients have been very understanding about our health concerns, it might be inevitable for some of us in the project team to travel by March 2021 to present the findings and recommendations of our study. I will continue to update myself about travel guidelines in preparation for that likely travel.