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On the need for more public spaces

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.

On R.A. 11229 and the requirement of Child Seats

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.]

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 airline travel in the time of Covid-19

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.

On planning our cities from a child’s perspective

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find how children would plan their cities? No, this is not the lego building kind of exercise but something closer to actual planning exercises where children not only act as planners but stakeholders themselves. We always say they are the future and that know that they will inherit whatever good or bad we are doing now, and yet they have little say in that future. Perhaps we should heed what they think our cities require?

Ergler, C. (January 4, 2021) “Young children are intuitive urban planners — we would all benefit from living in their ‘care-full’ cities”, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/young-children-are-intuitive-urban-planners-we-would-all-benefit-from-living-in-their-care-full-cities-151365 [Last accessed: 1/15/2021]

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 travel restraint and transport options in the time of COVID-19

Previous to the lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there were typically a lot of trips being made that many can regard as unnecessary. These are not the typical “to work” or “to school” trips that are being made on a regular basis (e.g., every week day). With the easing of the quarantine everywhere around the country, it seems a lot of people who felt they’ve been cooped indoors or have been limited in their activities have gone out. Many seem to have thrown caution to the wind, too, as evidenced from the many photos being shared showing people doing mass (bike or motorcycle) rides, shopping in crowded streets, etc. It becomes even more worrying now that Christmas is fast approaching when more people are going out to shop or visit relatives and friends. The following are quite basic while we are still experiencing the pandemic:

a. Required/imposed travel restraint – reimposition of the number coding scheme implemented by the MMDA with variations in certain LGUs such as Makati City (no mid-day coding windows) and those in the periphery (longer coding windows during mid-day), and limited implementation of the truck ban for certain roads (these of course will have certain exemptions for vital goods);

b. Increased number of public utility vehicles – the DOTr and LTFRB have been proceeding so slowly (but surely?) in re-establishing or resuming public transport services as they realized there will be no other opportunities like this to implement their rationalization and modernization plans simultaneously. However, the pandemic necessitates physical distancing and other measures to reduce if not eliminate the risks of infection

c. Making all modes available and viable as an option for commuters – Needless to say but all options must be provided for safe travel (esp. commuting). By ‘all’ I mean both motorized and non-motorized modes must be given as options to commuters, whichever they choose must be a safe option for them. That means providing the necessary facilities for walking and cycling, and, as mentioned, adding or augmenting public transport supply where necessary. By ‘commuters’ I mean those who really require traveling. These include our front liners and essential workers. Despite the push for local tourism, I personally believe this should be limited and LGUs need to discourage excursions that have the potential for spreading the virus.

d. Voluntary travel restraint – this is for everyone to consider rather than set aside. I guess given the easing of quarantine restrictions, many people have already had their fare share of going out including children and senior citizens who can now go out for some fresh air. Those opportunities should have already contributed to easing mental health issues, too. However, with the impending (if not yet here) increase in the infections once again, perhaps we should exercise self restraint during these holidays. This self-restraint can also be considered as sacrifices not just for one’s sake but for others especially loved ones we don’t want to get sick with COVID-19.

We still do not know who among us are or can be carriers and who can pick-up the virus and become very ill. As such, we should still be very careful, and adopt and practice measures to reduce infection risks. This goes very well with the spirit of the season. Let’s make the necessary sacrifices to beat this pandemic. Do not ‘gift’ your loved ones with Covid-19!

On transportation equity

Here’s another quick share of an article on transport equity:

McQuaid, H. (November 23, 2020) “Equitable Transportation Starts At Community Level,” CT News Junkie, https://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/20201123_equitable_transportation_starts_at_community_level/

How many times have I heard and read about people talking about the concept of “dignity of travel” or “dignity of transportation” referring to the quality of our commutes in terms of the quality of transport services available to us. The article also talks about societal exclusions and biases that sometimes we only attribute to America but in reality are also applicable here based on how we regard people from the rural areas or our being regionalistic.

Walk, walk, walk

When I was living in Japan in the late 1990s and again in the early 2000s, I recall walking a lot every day. I felt healthy then not just because I thought I ate well but I had a lot of exercise, too. I consciously walked and jogged in the mornings and/or afternoons depending on the weather. And my commute included walks between my train station and the university. The following article seems to support what should be a healthy lifestyle without gym time.

Okumura, K. (November 6, 2020) “How Japanese People Stay Fit for Life, Without Ever Visiting a Gym,” Medium.com, https://kokumura.medium.com/how-the-japanese-exercise-to-stay-youthful-be2d6105e6e6.

I tried to estimate the number of steps I took on average each day. It seems I could easily make more than 10,000 steps everyday as I usually walk more than 6,000 steps for my commute and the typical walks in and around campus (including lunch time strolls with friends). My morning and afternoon walks can match this 6,000 steps. These can even be more during weekends when I’m out in the city or in Tokyo to be with friends. These steps seem nothing then and I loved to walk around partly to keep my sanity while studying there.

When I was visiting researcher later at another university, my step count was about the same if not higher. The only difference perhaps between Yokohama and Saitama was that I had a bicycle when I was in Saitama. The bicycle increased my range and I took the bicycle lent to me by friends to dome groceries or explore the nearby wards. Those were the days, I guess, that I wished I still have now in terms of more active transportation.

On super-spreaders

This seems like a non-transport post but it is, actually. Since the start of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns have been the so-called super-spreaders. These are people who are usually asymptomatic of the COVID-19 virus and as such have been going around seemingly oblivious to their impacts on other people who may not be as resistant (somehow) as they are. These people might not be aware of their being carriers of COVID-19 and yet exercise little or no restraint or care in their movements.

Cox, C. [November 10, 2020] “The Vulnerable Can Wait. Vaccinate the Super-Spreaders First,” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-vaccine-super-spreaders/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_SPECIAL_EDITION_COVER_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_111020_Special_Cover&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=WIR_Daily_EXCLUDE_PaywallSubs

One wonders how many super-spreaders are there among us in the Philippines considering many people have practically disregarded other people’s safety vs. COVID-19 by moving about without necessity and application of best practices like distancing and the use of masks and shields.