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Do we miss commuting?

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?

Vaccine passports anyone?

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]

Post-typhoon BFCT and SM Marikina area

Still on the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) though this is already a late post about it, here are some photos at the river banks level on the side of SM Marikina and the vicinity of the transport terminal constructed and operated by the former MMDA Chair and Marikina Mayor’s company. The area is basically a flood plain and in other countries would not have been suitable for building. Rather, these are often used as open spaces like parks, football fields or baseball diamonds, among other possible uses.

There were garbage and mud everywhere. By the time I passed by, the mud had dried up and turned into fine dust that blanketed the area.

Trash were everywhere and you can see how deep the water was by the garbage still on the power line towers and the trees.

Underpass leading to SM Marikina – bulldozers and payloaders were busy moving mud and garbage to clear the roads. There were no signs of the work in progress so I ended up making a U-turn seeing the way to SM’s parking was blocked by mud and debris.

On the way back to Marcos Highway, you can see the large trees that were transferred to this area from Katipunan Avenue (when it was widened by way of removing the service road to give way to the MMDA’s U-turn scheme). It is heartening to know these survived the river’s onslaught.

The FVR Road and Bridge after Typhoon Ulysses

This is a continuation of the feature on the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco). I am posting this here as part of my archives on the floods in the Marikina Valley.

There’s a road branching off from Marcos Highway that links to a bridge crossing the Marikina River and connects with the FVR Road along the Marikina Riverbanks. The following photos speak for themselves in as far as the mud and garbage that was left after the floods subsided.

Descending from Marcos Highway, only one of two lanes are passable after heavy equipment moved tons of mud and garbage to the roadsides. The fences trapped a lot of garbage, too, as seen in the photo.

Piles of mud and garbage at the service road leading to the east bank of the Marikina River and the SM Marikina access road.

Under the Marcos Highway Bridge, garbage, mostly plastics, remain on the wire fences. This area was totally submerged during the height of the floods with water reaching the underside of the bridge. Fortunately, the bridge seems undamaged.

Even lamp posts and electric poles caught a lot of garbage.

The Olandes housing development was surely affected by the swelling of the river.

The FVR Road leading to C-5 is already clear for 2-lane traffic but you can see the mud and garbage all around. The dried mud has turned into dust (alikabok) that blows away as vehicles pass through the road. There is also mud on the plants in the median planters as this area was also submerged during the height of the typhoon.

Tumana during and after the flood

I was heading to the office the Monday after Typhoon Ulysses had devastated wide areas in Luzon. I was aware of the congestion along my usual routes so I used Waze to guide my trip. Waze took me to Tumana instead of Marcos Highway, which I assumed would have been less congested. I took the following photos in the Tumana area:

Congested main road due to heavy equipment like bulldozers, backhoes and dump trucks clearing the mud and trash in the area. There were also lots of parked vehicles along each side of the road including Marikina service and emergency vehicles.

There was trash all around that included what looked like the belongings of people residing in the area. Many people were busy clearing their homes of items destroyed or damaged by the floodwaters.

Despite being cleared for traffic, you can see the mud and water still in the area and signs of how deep the flood waters were by markings on the buildings.

At the foot of the bridge connecting to Quezon City, you can see that there is still so much mud in many areas especially those closest to the river. Sidestreets were so narrow that the heavy equipment cannot enter them and cleaning the mud had to be done entirely manually.

Here are what looks like the vehicles that survived the floods. I thought people must have rushed to get their vehicles on the best positions atop the bridge when they realized the waters were rising fast. It was likely few if anyone left their vehicles there during the height of the typhoon. That’s because the winds were so strong that perhaps people though it would be unsafe to leave their vehicles exposed to the winds.

The following photos from Facebook shows the extent of the flooding that reached the other side of the river – Loyola Grand Villas and another subdivision that’s directly along the banks of the Marikina River. The first photo shows the submerged end of the bridge from the LGV side in the foreground and Tumana in the background at the other end of the Tumana Bridge. The second photo is atop LGV and shows many submerged homes and cars.

Only the cars on the bridge likely survived the floods.

This was definitely at the level of the floods of Typhoon Andy (Ketsana) given the spread and depth of the floods.

One wonders what is now the return period for these typhoons. Ondoy was 11 years ago and the monsoon (Habagat) rains that also brought heavy rains and floods were in 2012 (8 years ago). Such floods cannot be solved by improving drainage systems alone but have to go to the root cause of flooding while also addressing how people could cope with these phenomena. Infrastructure alone cannot solve this and certainly will cost a lot for any initiative to provide some relief from such.

A bigger picture for the ‘new normal’

Here’s something different thought not totally unrelated to transportation. The article is about the emergence of super typhoons and their aftermaths:

Niiler, E. (November 4, 2020) What Is a Super Typhoon, and Why Are They So Dangerous? Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/what-is-a-super-typhoon-and-why-are-they-so-dangerous/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&mbid=CRMWIR092120&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_110420&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list2_p2

With the typical influx of typhoons (i.e., during the wet season there are months that can be referred to as ‘typhoon season’) and the prospects of super typhoons becoming more regular, there is now a need to review infrastructure, building guidelines and standards for cities and municipalities to become more resilient vs. these phenomena. Not long ago, disaster resilience became part of the agenda for infrastructure development; including maintenance and retrofitting vs. the anticipated calamities from typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruption that are experienced in many parts of the country. Perhaps the transportation system can be structured to be more disaster-resistant. And, if these phenomena happen, the transportation system can survive and serve for relief operations.

New WHO publication on transport in the context of COVID-19

I’m just sharing the new publication from the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) – Supporting healthy urban transport and mobility in the context of COVID-19:

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240012554

The brief document contains recommendations for travelers and transport service providers. It is a compact, concise reference for everyone as we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID-19.

On the safety of transit use during the pandemic

Here is another quick share of an article that reports on a study showing that there is no direct correlation between COVID-19 and public transportation use:

editor@aashto.org (October 2, 2020) Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use. AASHTO Journal. https://aashtojournal.org/2020/10/02/study-no-direct-correlation-between-covid-19-transit-system-use/

Such articles and the study (there is a link in the article for the report) support the notion that public transportation can be made safe for use by commuters during the pandemic. The report is a compilation of best practices around the world that can be replicated here, for example, in order to assure the riding public that public transport (can be) is safe. Needless to say, car use is still less preferred and other findings have also supported active transport whenever applicable. This reference is both relevant and timely given the new pronouncement (or was it a proposal?) from the Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) to implement what they termed as “one seat apart” seating in public utility vehicles in order to increase the capacity of public transport in the country. The department has limited the number of road public transport vehicles and the current physical distancing requirements have reduced vehicle capacities to 20-30% of their seating capacities. It is worse for rail transit as designated spaces/seats in trains translated to capacities less than 10% of pre-lockdown numbers.

Do we still have to practice self restraint in travel?

I took this photo this morning as I was coming home from the market. Ever since Metro Manila, Antipolo and other areas around the NCR transitioned into General Community Quarantine (GCQ) and Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), a lot of people have been going out and taking group rides on motorcycles and bicycles as if there was no pandemic hanging around. I understand that a lot of people have been holed in their homes for quite some time now but these trips seem excessive considering many are cross-town or even inter-provincial trips that are long in terms of distance and times traveled.

Motorcycle group traveling along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

I posted the same photo on social media to solicit reactions or comments. I asked the question of whether these trips are necessary. So far, I only got a couple of sad face reactions and a couple of comments. The sad face reactions included one from a cycling advocate. I know the person to be very passionate about bicycle commuting but also advised vs. group rides during MECQ and GCQ. I guess the point here is that we seem to be lowering our guard against Covid-19 and to me these trips (i.e., long rides, group rides) are unnecessary trips. While there seems to be no spikes in infections due to these rides, we don’t know really as data is poorly collected and analyzed. For those who don’t give a damn, I give the analogy of road safety, many situations of reckless driving or riding do not necessarily lead to a crash but the high potential for one means it is something waiting to happen. The same applies to these rides where there might be one, just one, asymptomatic rider who can potentially spread Covid-19. Maybe those infected will be asymptomatic, too. However, others they are in contact with may not be and become seriously ill. So until we do have a vaccine vs. Covid-19 and many are vaccinated already, I would advise against these unnecessary trips.

 

Of inequitable allocations and accessibility

In the news recently were figures released supposedly by Philhealth showing the top hospitals receiving reimbursements from the agency for claims relating to COVID-19. Southern Philippines Medical Center, a hospital in Davao City received 326M pesos while UP-PGH got 263.3M pesos.  I was not surprised that my social media newsfeed included posts from both sides of the fence (The fence sitters among my friends on social media were not commenting about these anymore and seem content in just posting on food or whatever activity they were in.). Each were posting information divulged by the whistleblowers in the ongoing hearings on the issues pertaining to PhilHealth funds.

I will not go into the political aspect of this controversy but will just focus on the transportation aspects of the issue.  I will just compare the top two hospitals in the list to simplify the assessment while mentioning others in general.

The claim that the hospital in Davao was the equivalent of PGH in Mindanao doesn’t hold water as the hospital does not treat even 10% of the cases that PGH is handling and for a much smaller geographical area. While UP-PGH is accessible to a larger population and for less travel times, SPMC is not as accessible to say people coming from other major cities like Cagayan De Oro or Zamboanga City. Yes, there are other major cities on the same island that have sizable populations with ‘catchment’ or influence areas comparable to Davao City. They, too, probably need funds to be able to treat COVID-19 patients. It is true that there are many other hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) that have the facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. However, many of these are private hospitals that tend to incur more costs for the patient and are not generally accessible (read: affordable) to most people who are of middle and low incomes. Thus, UP-PGH can be regarded as the frontliner among frontline hospitals.

What? There are other public or government hospitals in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? True, but many of those have very limited capacities in terms of facilities and Human Resources. The same applies to Davao’s case as well because there are also medical centers and hospitals in surrounding provinces. And to round-out the resources available to these hospitals, local government units have also (over) extended their resources to hospitals. Perhaps the allocations and proportions can be explained in another way that is not the “apologist” but based on actual numbers pertaining to cases handled by the hospitals?