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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 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.

Bike parking at SM Masinag

With the increasing popularity of cycling, particularly the utilitarian kind (i.e., bike-to-work, bike-to-school, bike-to-shop, etc.), there is also the increasing need to provide facilities for cycling. Aside from the obvious (i.e., bike lanes), there are also what are termed as end-of-trip facilities, the most basic of which are parking. These may be spaces or slots allotted at workplaces, schools, markets, malls, government buildings, churches, etc. for cyclists or bikers to secure their vehicles. Bicycles may also be used as ‘last mile’ modes of transport so bike parking are necessary at transit or train stations. It is heartening to see the big malls like SM and Robinsons provide parking facilities for bicycles. Here are some photos of the bike station at SM City Masinag in Antipolo City.

End of trip facilities in the Philippines is generally a work in progress. Hopefully, we get to benefit from their provision where they are needed – workplaces, schools, government buildings, commercial establishments, etc.

The bike station at SM Masinag includes this bike repair stand with the basic tools for bike repairs and tire inflation.

The bike station is just across from the Line 2 Antipolo Station (what was supposed to be called Masinag Station).

The central bike station also has benches for those who might want a rest and tables for those who want to “bike and dine”.

On bicycles vs. self driving cars

You’ve probably seen this graphic, the top part of which is attributed to the Cycling Promotion Fund. The last image is reproduced in the lower part of the image but labeled to emphasize what space is required to transport 48 people on electric cars and autonomous or self-driving cars.

 

It is quite obvious that even if the current fleets of cars are replaced by electric and self-driving models, they will practically be the same problem in terms of road space occupied and the resulting congestion. So perhaps e-cars or autonomous cars are not really the solution we are looking for.

There is this nice article where the author articulates the how bikes (and active transport in general) should be the a more essential part of future transport and society than the automobile:

Collignon, N. (September 9, 2022) “Bikes, not self driving cars, are the technological gateway to urban progress,” Next City, https://nextcity.org/urbanist-news/bikes-not-self-driving-cars-are-the-technological-gateway-to-progress [Last accessed: 9/16/2022]

There are two quotable quotes from the article that I want to highlight here:

“Today the potential benefits from cycling on health, congestion, pollution and CO2 emissions are crystal clear and increasingly quantifiable, but the benefits of self-driving vehicles remain hazy. When ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft promised lower congestion and reduced car ownership, they instead increased congestion and led to a decline in transit ridership.”

and

“The concept of “jaywalking,” for example, is integral to the “car technology” of today. The crime of crossing a street without respecting the dominance of cars was invented by the car industry in the 1920s, who pushed hard to define streets as a place for cars, not people. Our car technology today is also defined by the restriction of movement it imposes on people.

When we begin to see technology through the lens of systems, it becomes clear that genuine technology-led progress will focus on dealing with the accelerating complexity of today’s world, not increasing the complexity of our tools.”

On micro transit and transportation gaps

I’ve written and shared articles before on how Paratransit, bicycles and micro transit helps alleviate the transport demand problems we are experiencing especially in highly urbanized cities. I think we should have as many options as possible for transport while also working towards the reduction of dependence on cars. Here’s an article that relates about experiences in the US:

Zukowski, D. (September 13, 2022) “Cities turn to microtransit to fill gaps in public transportation,” Smart Cities Dive, https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/microtransit-public-transportation-gaps-jersey-city-via/631592/ [Last accessed: 9/15/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Microtransit options are also helping to reduce the reliance on personal cars. “We’ve received feedback from people who say that because of Via they are now more consistently leaving their personal vehicle at home and using Via instead to travel within the city, which is exactly the kind of thing we want to see happen,” said Jersey City’s Patel.”

This final statement or paragraph in the article sums it up very well. Of course, we have to note that the experience in Asia is quite different especially in Southeast Asia where motorcycles are very popular and still on the rise in terms of their mode shares. While these may be considered micromobilities in western countries, they are definitely motorized private vehicles that, depending on how they are used and how the rider behaves, may be beneficial but at the same time also very dangerous for people.

On electric vehicles and informal transport

I’ve been involved in studies on electric vehicles and their applications in the past. I continue to take part in studies about informal transport including continuing research on motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal” as they are called in the Philippines. The combination of the two is an interesting research area and there are many topics that can be developed as we determine the most appropriate applications for electric vehicles. Here is an interesting article on electrifying informal transport that sets the context for research:

Ribet, L. (August 30, 2022) “The role of data in electrifying informal transport,” Slocat partnership, https://slocat.net/the-role-of-data-in-electrifying-informal-transport/ [Last accessed: 9/9/2022]

To quote from the article:

“However, electric two-and-three wheeler startups, informal transport retrofitting pilots and e-bus initiatives cannot be the only answer to the mobility challenges facing developing cities. Phasing out oil-reliant public transportation is needed and investing in electric mobility solutions may well improve the overall picture quite substantially, but there is a far larger challenge that is omitted from these ambitions: addressing the complex operations of informal transport systems that characterise lower-income countries’ urban mobility. Electrifying minibus taxis is not synonymous with more reliable, affordable and convenient public transport, and we need to prioritise the understanding and improvement of overall informal transport systems data first.”

 

 

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]

To quote:

“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 the impacts of bicycle use

I’ve probably read a lot of posts on social media advocating for bicycle use. Here is another article that provides us with evidence about the impacts of cycling on travel, emissions and health:

Timmer, J. (August 20, 2022) “Here’s What Happens When Countries Use Bikes to Fight Emissions,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/bike-more-curb-global-emissions/ [Last accessed: 8/24/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Globally, adopting a Danish level of bicycle use would reduce annual emissions of CO2 by 414 million metric tons, approximately equivalent to the UK’s emissions in 2015. Boosting that to a Dutch level would eliminate nearly 700 million metric tons, or most of the emissions from Germany in that year.

The researchers also noted that countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have much lower rates of obesity than their peer countries. Based on the known health risks there, they estimate that, globally, we’re already avoiding 170,000 deaths annually due to cycling. Expanding this globally, they found that Denmark-equivalent bicycle use would prevent 430,000 deaths per year. Dutch levels of cycling would prevent 780,000 deaths.

That said, the vulnerability of cyclists to cars poses its own lethal risks. But these aren’t anywhere close to outweighing the benefits from exercise and lower obesity. (They’d add about 90,000 and 160,000 additional deaths per year for the two levels of use.) And if fewer drivers are using cars, there’s a chance that those numbers would come in even lower.

It’s worth noting that these numbers almost certainly underestimate the benefits of shifting to bikes. Bicycles use far fewer resources to produce, and they last longer than most cars. Maintenance is likely to be far less resource-intensive as well. So simply focusing on the use of the bike omits a lot of things that would show up in a detailed life-cycle analysis.

The researchers are certainly correct that there are a lot of locations where weather makes cycling a less-than-ideal option—and the range of places where heat makes it a positively dangerous option is expanding in our changing climate.

But some of the other issues are less severe than they might appear at first. For example, the advent of bicycles with electric assist means that hilly locales aren’t necessarily the barrier they might have been a decade ago. And while a number of countries have large open spaces where cars will remain a necessity, the trend toward urbanization means that most people in those countries will live in places where cycling can be made an option.

So, the biggest barrier is likely to remain the social will to rethink transportation.”

Indeed, social will (as well as political will) is perhaps the biggest barrier in our country. Many people may not agree but the evidence for this is so clear and obvious  that one has to be naive or oblivious to not see it. How else will one explain people sticking to their cars and more readily shifting to motorcycles rather than the bicycle. Of course, there are other factors to be considered and the article actually cites wealth and geography as strong prerequisites in developing a cycling culture. We need to do much more to determine where interventions are needed including land use planning and land development as well as the provision of affordable housing closer to workplaces, schools, shops and other places of interest (Hello 10- or 15-minute cities!).

 

Free public transportation services?

We start August with an article share. Much has been said and written about public transportation being a basic right for people. And the experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic have shown us just how efficient and adequate public transportation can help make our lives better in terms of addressing our commuting or travel needs. Here is a very informative article that should make sense from the perspective of the general commuting public:

Konbie, N. (July 29, 2022) “The Case for Making Public Transit Free Everywhere,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/free-public-transit/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P7 [Last accessed: 8/1/2022]

To quote:

“Free fares might not get everyone out of cars, but will convert some journeys, which benefits everyone in terms of carbon reduction and improving local air quality—and even helps drivers by calming traffic. Free fares won’t pull low-income people out of poverty, but will keep money in their pockets and ensure everyone can travel when they need to. Ditching fares comes at a cost, but there are savings to be had by not investing in expensive ticketing systems and wider logistical and societal benefits…
Public transport should be considered a human right, alongside access to health and education.”

Of course, service quality is a major concern here in the Philippines but isn’t it everywhere else? The question of sustainability should be a rather complex one considering we haven’t truly understood and translated the benefits that can be obtained from providing high quality public transport services vs. being car-oriented. Congestion pricing, for example, could very well provide the funds to improve, upgrade and maintain desirable public transport services (i.e., desirable from the perspective of most commuters and not just the lower and middle income people who more regularly or likely to take public transport than other modes of transport).

What do you think?

Bike lanes at the UP Diliman campus – Part 2

The bike lanes in UP Diliman are not limited to the Academic Oval. There are now also bike lanes along other major roads including Magsaysay Avenue, which is road immediately after the portal at the Asian Center and allowing direct entrance and exit via Katipunan Avenue (C-5). The bike lanes are along either side of Magsaysay Avenue and are of Class II – Type B (separated bike lanes) but there are no  LED markers that are ideally placed along the delineation for the bike lanes.

Painted bike lanes along Magsaysay Avenue, which is the road behind Malcolm and Melchor Halls. To the left is the Department of Mechanical Engineering Building and the Computer Center. To the right is the Resilience Institute.

To the right is what used to be the Chemical Engineering Lab behind Melchor Hall. To the right is the Ipil and Yakal Dormitories.