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On re-designing or re-imagining our transportation system for people

Here is another good read especially for those who advocate or even just beginning to appreciate the concept of people-oriented transportation:

VannPashak, J. (2018) “Design for humans as they are, not as you want them to be,” http://www.medium.com, https://medium.com/@jvannpashak/design-for-humans-as-they-are-not-as-you-want-them-to-be-ef95076c0988 [Last accessed: 11/23/2018].

In a recent symposium where I made a presentation about low carbon transport and visioning and re-imagining transport, I was asked how we can re-design our transportation to be more people-oriented than car-oriented. I replied that we have to do a lot of unlearning. That is, many planners and engineers would need to unlearn many things they’ve learned in school and those they got from their workplace. One convenient excuse for not coming up with a better design, for example, is that certain planners or engineers just followed what their offices or agencies have been doing. What if what their offices and agencies (and consequently their seniors at work) where wrong all these years and what was “ginagawa na” or “nakasanayan” have led to deficient outcomes? I even joked about whether these offices or agencies were “open minded” referring to a favourite by-line by networking companies. Being open-minded in the context of having people-oriented transport solutions would be difficult if everything was “nakakahon” because these were what you learned from school and/or the workplace. It is difficult to admit that something was and is wrong.

On the viability of bike lanes in the Philippines

I have been inserting topics on complete streets in the undergraduate and graduate courses I teach at university. Some students have also been researching on best practices and designs that they are supposed to apply to real world situations in Philippine cities. The results are still generally mixed but I like how my undergraduate students are able to grasp the concepts and apply them in the short time they have been ‘exposed’ to the concept. I thought my graduate students, most of them practicing engineers, found it more challenging to unlearn many of the things about street design they have learned from their schools including UP and DLSU, which I thought would have the more progressive programs in Civil Engineering.

Here are a couple of helpful articles that explain the business (economic) case for bike lanes. After all, the most persuasive arguments to convince LGUs to take on bike lanes will always be economics or business. That’s also how you can probably convince the business sector to pitch in and lobby for more active transport facilities especially in the downtown areas.

Jaffe, E. (2015) The Complete Business Case for Converting Street Parking Into Bike Lanes, http://www.citylab.com, https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2RDPGy52R27zmpOAFVbiEWGZtMSjyr1Z3Kf56oPVoPI6LUfdreDWpBM5E [Last accessed: 11/1/2018]

Flusche, D. (2012) Bicycling Means Business, The economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure, http://www.bikeleague.org, https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2RDPGy52R27zmpOAFVbiEWGZtMSjyr1Z3Kf56oPVoPI6LUfdreDWpBM5E [Last accessed: 11/2/2018]

One issue often brought up by opponents of bike lanes is that there are few references for bike lane design and operations in the country. Perhaps the only really comprehensive example is Marikina City though I know for a fact that the last three of their mayors (yes, including the incumbent) is not so keen about their bikeways. In fact, one mayor tried to dissolve the city’s bikeways office only to relent and allow it to exist but under one of its departments. Iloilo City is supposed to have some bike lanes but it is still more like a landscape architecture experiment than a fully functional system (sorry my katilingbans and panggas). And so we look to the more comprehensive experiences abroad for evidences of viability and success. The bottomline here is that I would rather ask how it can succeed here than state why it will not.

On hospital parking spaces

I had a nice view of the parking lot of the hospital where my mother-in-law was staying for a couple of days to recover from a bad case of dehydration. The doctors wouldn’t say it was severe but because Mama was 75 years old, they had to treat her condition. But that isn’t what I’d like to write about in this post. It’s really about parking.

I noticed from my times on hospital watch (relieving my wife who spent the couple of nights with her) that the parking lot didn’t get full during the day. The hospital was a good sized one and generated a lot of trips but mostly those taking public transport (mainly tricycles). But this was more a community hospital than one in the league of the St. Luke’s and Medical City, which generate much more private traffic and requires much more parking spaces.

A view of the parking lot of Clinica Antipolo

Friends have always made the observation that parking is difficult in the major private (e.g., St. Luke’s, Medical City, Makati Med,etc.) and public hospitals (e.g., PGH, NKTI, Philippine Heart Center, etc.). I agree with these observations as we have our own experiences where it was difficult to get parking spaces for when we go to these hospitals for check-ups or to visit relatives or friends admitted there. For one, these hospitals are the “go to” places for specialists and modern medical equipment, never mind that these are also the most expensive in terms of medical and laboratory/test expenses. I guess that to be a doctor with their practices in these hospitals means a lot and ups the prices of their services? I say that based also on observations that standard tests (blood, urine, stool, etc.) are much cheaper in other hospitals or clinics. Doctor’s professional fees, too, tend to be less expensive for when you consult with them in the ‘minor’ hospitals.

Major hospitals can also be teaching hospitals and I’m not just referring to internships or residents but medical schools hosted by the hospitals. And many did not consider these schools when the hospital buildings were initially built so schools don’t have their own parking spaces and patients, doctors, hospital staff and students end up competing for parking spaces. Medical City, for example, even instituted some parking fee measures to deter long term parking or those who appeared to have attempted to park for free and therefore occupying slots that would have otherwise have been revenue-generating for the hospital.

Of course, there would be those who would be reacting to this situation and say that people going to the hospital should be taking public transportation. Perhaps this is easier said than done for many cases in Metro Manila? I’m not familiar with similar conditions in other cities like Cebu, Iloilo and Davao but perhaps it is not as severe as those in major hospitals in the capital region. Major hospitals in Metro Manila also attract a lot of people from surrounding provinces like Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite. Again, this is because of the reputations of these hospitals. Even the current President went to Cardinal Santos Medical Center for his recent check-up.

And so the parking problem will persist unless there are better options for public transportation. Incidentally, ridesharing may have helped ease the parking dilemma since TNVS provides a very good alternative to the private car for such hospital trips. I do know Grab, for example, has booking booths at Medical City, Cardinal Santos and St. Luke’s. I personally don’t think additional parking spaces (or buildings) are required. It would be more like a parking management challenge for these hospitals. And in any case, these parking spaces would be mostly empty and therefore idle at night time and Sundays.

On the need for more facilities for cycling and ensuring they will be used for cycling

I read and hear a lot of comments about two particular items: pedestrian overpasses and bike lanes. Most of the comments call for pedestrians and cyclists to have priority over cars and for the latter to give way to pedestrians and cyclists every time. The hardline stance for some is for the pedestrians to be allowed to cross anywhere and for cyclists to be able to bike on any lane they choose to. Of course, the concerns about these are quite obvious and safety still calls for people, no matter what mode they choose, to use the appropriate spaces. What few actually discuss and delve into are design solutions to these problems. Many cite good practices elsewhere but stop at sharing these and not really going into in-depth and constructive discussions on how to implement these good designs here. Most of the time its just “the government must do this” and “the government must do like what (insert city or country) is doing”. Worse are those who tend to simplify it as an “architect vs. civil engineer vs. planner” kind of conflict. Playing the blame game doesn’t get us anywhere if we wanted the planning and design of transportation infrastructure improved.

Cyclists use the overpasses to cross the wide Marcos Highway between Pasig and Marikina. There are only 2 ramps, one each on either side of the highway and it partly occupies the sidewalk beneath. Could there be a better design for such overpasses?

Motorcycles using the bike lanes along Ortigas Avenue. How do we make sure that spaces are utilised according to their intended users? How do we design these spaces to include elements that will deter such incursions?

There are many references out there showing us what good design should be from the technical and social perspectives. Surely these can be taken up not only at the workplace for architects, engineers and planners but in schools where such principles are supposed to be learned and inculcated into the minds of future architects, engineers and planners.

About the weather and other thoughts this weekend

We interrupt our regular posts with an article on the current state of the weather and some thoughts while a super typhoon (Mangkut) was devastating the northern and central Philippines. First the article from Wired:

Rogers, A. (2018) An Equator Full of Hurricanes Shows a Preview of End Times, http://www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/an-equator-full-of-hurricanes-shows-a-preview-of-end-times/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_091418_daily_list1_p4 [Last accessed: 9/15/2018]

I am not into doomsday articles and thinking but am always fascinated by it if has foundations in science and fact rather than of religion or the “prepper” type of thinking. This one is based on fact and should not be dismissed as “fake new” – an excuse many use if the information presented to them offers an inconvenient truth about our state of affairs or, in this case, state of the earth.

Gloomy weather brought about by Typhoon Mangkut

I was thinking about the bad weather and what previous strong typhoons have brought about early this morning as I was awaken by the sound of the strong winds and the heavy rains that followed. I easily come awake and cannot sleep whenever we have inclement weather. Its been like this since my childhood as our home was in a flood prone area.

The last times there were typhoons comparable in perceived and actual physical impacts, the socio-political impacts also eventually manifested. Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in 2009 dumped record rainfall across a wide area that included Metro Manila, Central Luzon (Region 3) and Southern Luzon (Region 4A). The government’s response then and the issues that came about afterwards essentially contributed much to the doom for many of the administration’s candidates in the 2010 elections including its standard bearer who was Defense Secretary at the time. The follies of many politicians and government agencies were also exposed and most people judged them for that in the elections.

Come 2013, another typhoon, Haiyan (Yolanda), laid waste to much of the central Philippines. It was a super typhoon that again caught most, especially government, unprepared for the devastation that was its outcome. It spelled disaster, too, to many political aspirations with the then Interior Secretary becoming the poster boy somewhat for the government’s failures. Apparently, many of the lessons of Ondoy were not heeded despite gains here and there in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness. But then these were perceived to be more on the side of politicians. There were no lack in politicking, self promotion and grandstanding. And there was even more drama among rival sides in Philippine politics. There was enough material for fodder come 2016.

The current administration is much aware of the issues and the dangers of playing into the same script. After all, they created much of the political storm that led to an almost complete defeat of the previous admin’s ticket (the current VP survived that and hopefully gets to finish her term instead of being replaced by the ambitious son of a former dictator). But the present set of leaders and wannabees are not lacking for distasteful maneuvers as relief goods are being prepared by government agencies and local government units bearing the name (and sometimes even face) of aspirants for electoral posts in the 2019 elections. Among these are a Presidential “alalay” who is somewhat desperate for a senate post if only to protect himself from charges once his sponsor(s) bow down from power.

Will Mangkut/Ompong effect positive change in the country? Perhaps so and we can only hope it will be for the better. And that we, as a people, learn from mistakes we have made including electing certain people who are not fit or qualified to lead us.

On the need to increase NMT and public transport use

A recent report reinforces what many of us already probably know or are aware of – that we need to shift away from dependence on car use to more sustainable modes of transport in the form of non-motorised transport (NMT) and public transportation. Here is the article from the AASHTO Journal:

Global Climate Report Calls For Expansion Of ‘Non-Motorized’ Transport And Public Transit (2018)

There is a link to the report in the journal article. The report is conveniently available in PDF form and is very readable (i.e., not overly technical).

Incidentally, I was involved some time ago in a project led by the group Clean Air Asia (CAA), which involved several experts from across ASEAN as well as Japan that attempted to determine the necessary transport programs and projects in the region to stave off the projected increase in global temperatures. In all the scenarios evaluated, non-motorised transport (NMT) and a rationalised public transportation system By the term ‘rationalised’ I am referring to the use of higher capacity vehicles as against the taxis and tricycles that typically carry few if not one passenger. Here is a link to the final symposium for that study that has links to the materials presented:

The Final Symposium on the “Study on Long Term Transport Action Plan for ASEAN”

Here’s a slightly updated slide on the future image for a large city in the Philippines:

Article on housing and transportation

Here’s another excellent piece from Todd Litman about the dynamics of housing and transportation. This is a very relevant topic in many cities today and especially so for those like Metro Manila, which is struggling with issues pertaining to affordable housing and transportation infrastructure and services. Arguably, a lot of households are spending more than the 45% threshold of incomes mentioned in the article but people continue to get homes away from the city as these are relatively cheaper than those closer to their workplaces and schools. Unfortunately, transportation costs are on the rise and congestion and a lack of an efficient transport system are among the culprits for what many have already labelled as undignified and atrocious costs of commuting.

Litman, T. (2018) “Affordability Trade-Offs,” planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/99920?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-08092018&mc_cid=e2a69b6eb4&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/9/2018]

I envy the guy for being able to present these topics clearly. It is a complex subject and one that isn’t understood by many in government who are supposed to be responsible for crafting and implementing policies and programs to address issues pertaining to affordable housing and commutes. I wonder if Todd is coming over for the ADB Transport Forum. He’s make for a good resource person in some of the sessions there and perhaps can also be invited to speak about this and other relevant and urgent topics in a separate forum. Anyone out there care to sponsor him?