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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.
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 addressing global warming
Here is another quick share of an article; this time on “warming”. The evidence for global warming is strong and we need to address this pressing issue if future generations are to survive a planet that is heating up fast.
Litman, T. (August 31, 2022) “Cool Planning for a Hotter Future,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/118535-cool-planning-hotter-future?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-09012022&mc_cid=ead7ee914a&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 9/5/2022]
“Many of these strategies provide significant co-benefits. For example, reducing road and parking supply with more efficient traffic and parking management helps reduce infrastructure costs and traffic problems, and by reducing impervious surface area it reduces stormwater management costs. Planting more urban shade trees helps create more attractive neighborhoods and increase wildlife habitat. Improving natural ventilation creates more comfortable and healthier buildings, as summarized below.”
I recall people calling for more trees to be planted along roads and how our city streets can become something like Orchard Road in Singapore. I agree with having more trees and other plants, landscaping, along our roads. I also lament the times (and it continues) when the DPWH chopped so many old trees along national roads for road widening projects that didn’t need to destroy so many that gave those roads shade as well as character. We need more change in mindsets particularly when we design highways and streets towards sustainability and yes- reducing heat.
On university-community collaborations
I’m not a stranger to university-community collaborations. In fact, I even helped draft a proposal for the World Bank to support such collaborations, which I believe would be sustainable and therefore worthwhile to be pursued by potential partner universities and local government units. There are actually many such collaborations but most of these are probably informal with certain faculty members of universities (usually state universities or colleges) being involved in committees or moonlighting in projects implemented or funded by LGUs. I say informal because technically, the school is not involved in the project and it is only incidental that the person or persons involved are affiliated with the university or college.
Here is an article showing an example of university-community collaborations:
National Institute for Transportation and Communities (2022) “Transportation recovery after disasters: A collaborative university/community model,” phys.org, https://phys.org/news/2022-08-recovery-disasters-collaborative-universitycommunity.html [Last accessed: 8/15/2022]
The authors wrote about actions that could be done “to build future economic resilience.” To quote from the article:
Increasing pre-disaster investment in resilient transportation infrastructure to reduce the cost of eventual recovery;
Improving business resilience practices for high-impact industrial sectors, through education and outreach;
Identifying structural barriers to adoption of resilient business practices, and promoting mitigation through recovery.
Mainstreaming disaster resilience into economic development by breaking the siloed approach to emergency management and economic development.
While these actions were framed for the community engaged by the University of Utah, they are general enough to be applicable to other communities as well.
I mentioned earlier about the need for formality. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) encourages and supports what are termed as Extension Works or Extension Projects by higher education institutions. These may be in various forms including committee work, advisory, capacity building/training, or even professional work/services provided to the province, city or municipality (even barangay). But there should be accountability here as well as the proper assignment or allocation of resources.
Just compensation is one of the more sensitive or tricky elements or items here as often, LGUs would like to get something for free or assume that certain services are free. They are not and time and effort should be compensated; just not the international rates you might expect for consulting work from the likes of World Bank or Asian Development Bank.
Here is where contracts (e.g., in the form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)) can be useful to establish the terms of engagement that includes budgets for Personnel Services (PS), Equipment Outlay (EO) and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). The latter categories should be familiar with LGUs because these are standard items under which details are provided for their programs and projects. State universities and colleges are also familiar with these as standard government terminologies for budgets. Of course, that goes without saying that in certain engagements, there may be third parties such as donor or funding institutions that will should all, most, or part of the costs for collaborative work.
On using advanced tools for infrastructure assessments
I came upon this article on how transportation departments in the US are using tools such as drones to assess critical infrastructure including roads and bridges. This is very relevant to us especially as many similar infra are aging and would need to be assessed to determine how to reinforce, retrofit or even rehabilitate certain infrastructure vs. naturally occurring phenomena like earthquakes and typhoons.
Reed, J. (August 2, 2022) “How Transportation Departments Are Using Advanced Drone Technology for Infrastructure Assessments,” Aviation Today, https://www.aviationtoday.com/2022/08/02/transportation-departments-using-advanced-drone-technology-infrastructure-inspections/ [Last accessed: 8/4/2022]
To quote from the article:
“The WVDOT may expand its drone programs to perform road safety assessments and to assist in designing new road routes by providing topographical maps.”
I recall that there have been road-based surveys involving Lidar to map the road and adjacent land surfaces about a decade ago (maybe less). This was a nationwide project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of Geodetic Engineering. I’m not sure where that data is stored or hosted but the DGE should have a back-up somewhere that can be used or further processed for road safety assessment applications. This could be an interesting and fruitful research area that can involve people from various disciplines.
Articles on railway safety
I shared a link to a Medium writer who specialized on articles about air crashes. These were investigative articles that provide details about air crashes especially since these are all tragedies and include those that have remained mysteries like Malaysian Airline Flight 370.
I am sharing today another collection of articles pertaining to transport safety. This time they are about railway or rail safety. Here is the link to the collection of articles from Max Shroeder:
And here is an example of what he writes:
Again, there is much to be learned about these incidents. The circumstances, factors and experiences need to be examined in order to draw lessons from these incidents and reduce the likelihood of them happening again. In the case of the Philippines, this is especially applicable as the country rebuilds its long distance railways infrastructure with a line connecting Manila and Clark, Pampanga along what used to be called the Main Line North (MLN) of the Philippine National Railways (PNR), and another currently being rehabbed and for upgrading to the south in what was called the Main Line South (MLS). Other rail projects are also underway like the Metro Manila Subway and the MRT Line 7. All pass through populous areas, and railway crashes may not just lead to passenger and crew fatalities and injuries but also the same for those residing or working along these rail lines.
Articles on air crash incidents
I posted earlier this month about references online on railway crash incidents. This time, I am sharing a site where you can find articles about air crash incidents. There are many interesting articles here including some of the most well-known incidents that involved pilot error, weather-related crashes and those involving aircraft defects or issues. There are also articles here about terror attacks that led to air crashes.
I have shared a few of his articles before including one on the Concorde crash and another about the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. I have found these articles to be very interesting as the manner of writing is investigative and evidence-based. I have myself been in several near incidents, which I have related in this blog.
On the increase of road crash fatalities during the pandemic
The general observation has been that roads have become less safe as drivers and riders have tended to speed up their vehicles during this pandemic. Speeding up apparently is just part of a bigger picture and even bigger concern considering what is perhaps also an issue related to mental health. We’ve read, heard or watched something about people’s transformation once they are behind the wheel or riding their motorcycles. I remember a Disney cartoon showing how Goofy transforms from being mild-mannered to somewhat demonic once behind the wheel of the car. The article below reinforces that and relates this behavior with the pandemic.
To quote from the article:
Art Markman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said that such emotions partly reflected “two years of having to stop ourselves from doing things that we’d like to do.”
“We’re all a bit at the end of our rope on things,” Dr. Markman said. “When you get angry in the car, it generates energy — and how do you dissipate that energy? Well, one way is to put your foot down a little bit more on the accelerator.”
UPSE Discussion Paper on Martial Law and the Philippine Economy
To those who were looking for references on the Philippine economy during the Martial Law years, look no further than a recent discussion paper from the UP School of Economics (UPSE). To quote from their social media post:
UPSE Discussion Paper No. 2021-07 (November 2021)
📌Title: Martial law and the Philippine economy
🖊Authors: Emmanuel S. de Dios, Maria Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Jan Carlo Punongbayan
📄Abstract: Part of a proposed anthology, this article provides a concise review of the economic performance during the period of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1985) from a comparative historical perspective. We examine the external events and internal policy responses that made possible the high growth in the early years of martial law and show that these are integral to explaining the decline and ultimate collapse of the economy in 1984-1985. The macroeconomic, trade, and debt policies pursued by the Marcos regime—particularly its failure to shift the country onto a sustainable growth path—are explained in the context of the regime’s larger political-economic programme of holding on to power and seeking rents.
📖 Read the full paper here: https://econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/dp/article/view/1543/1027
Why is this relevant to transportation in the country? Economic performance and policies during that period strongly influenced if not practically dictated infrastructure development during the period. Add politics to the mix and you get what ultimately affected future administrations in terms of debt servicing and other financial or fiscal issues that needed to be addressed due to the debt incurred during that period.
We should learn from this and hopefully not repeat it. Unfortunately, the fiscal discipline and reforms during the previous administration appear to have been abandoned and the current spending and borrowing spree will likely handicap future administrations. Are there bad debts around? Probably! And so there will likely be a need to do some due diligence during the transition to a new administration after the elections this year.
No vax, no ride – some insights and opinions
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) recently issued a memo stating unvaccinated people may not use public transportation in Metro Manila. People will have to show proof of vaccination (i.e., vaccination card) before he/she is allowed to board the bus, jeepney, van or train, which are all under the jurisdiction of the DOTr. I assume tricycles are not included here since these are under the local government units.
Certain groups quickly slammed the memo as being “anti-poor”. Note though that vaccinations are covered by government funds and are free. You only have to register and show-up for your shots. Given the period when vaccinations started, there should be few or no excuses for not being vaccinated at this time for most people (children under 11 years old are not yet being vaccinated as of this writing). In fact, many vaccination centers have already been giving booster shots from November 2021 and many have reportedly had fewer people getting vaccinated or boosters by December 2021. That changed when the current surge attributed mainly to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to a sudden influx of people at vaccination centers. Workplaces requiring their employees to be vaccinated also probably contributed to people being convinced they needed to get vaccinated. Otherwise, they could not earn a living.
A colleague explained that the modality of vaccinations requiring registrations online meant those without smart phones could only do walk-ins. While certain LGUs such as Cainta automatically registered their constituents, and particularly senior citizens, and posted vaccination schedules that covered everyone registered as their constituents, others especially larger LGUs might not have the capacity to do this simplification. Non-vaxxed people will also have to take some form of transport and not everyone will opt to bike or would have their own private vehicle.
Perhaps we should again look to science for an answer to the question whether this policy is good or bad. Ventilation or air circulation-wise, open air vehicles and without those plastic barriers present a better situation for lesser likelihoods of virus transmission among passengers. Many public transport vehicles though are closed, air-conditioned types. People are also obliged to wear masks (shields have been proved as ineffective and unnecessary) so everyone wearing masks should reduce the risk of transmission even with unvaccinated people (remember there was a time everybody when everybody was unvaccinated). Again the key word here is “reduce”. There is no guarantee that one will not get Covid even with excellent ventilation and mask use.
Implementation-wise, there are many challenges here including the additional delays to travel brought about by the vaccination card checks. If there are to be checkpoints, that’s another source of delay (and we already know how checkpoints can result in carmaggedon-level congestion). The even more recent DOTr pronouncement is their intention to deploy what they call “mystery passengers” seems amusing and inspired by similar people mingling in public to tell on people violating this and that law.
Meanwhile, here’s a question that’s easily answerable by “yes” or “no” but would likely elicit explanations or arguments for or against the idea: “Would you, assuming you’re vaccinated, be willing to take public transportation knowing that you will be riding a vehicle together with unvaccinated people?” I think the most common answer would be a “No”. Exceptional would be the “yes” reply if you consider the potential for spreading Covid-19 post-commute (by both the vaccinated and unvaccinated who are either asymptomatic or symptomatic).
As a parting note, a former student puts it quite bluntly in a social media post – “Smoking in public is banned precisely based on the science. Is smoking then anti-poor? And would you ride in public transport with people who are smoking while in the vehicles?” I think we also know the answer to this question without elaborating on the situation.