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Smoggy Metro Manila and a look forward to improving transport and air quality in 2019

I took the photo as we were driving up to Antipolo one morning this month when the opportunity presented itself for a quick photo of Metro Manila:

This serves as a reminder for those working to improving air quality in Metro Manila and elsewhere. It has already been established that much of the air pollution in Metro Manila and its adjacent areas can be attributed to mobile sources (i.e., motorised transport). A reduction of motor vehicle use, particularly cars, combined with more efficient engines and cleaner fuels should be lead to significant air quality improvements and, ultimately, an improvement in the quality of life. Of course, there should be parallel efforts to improve facilities for walking and cycling, and implementing the mass transit projects that will carry most people between the origins and destinations regardless of the distances.

Here’s to the approaching 2019 and the optimism that comes with the New Year!

Manigong Bagong Taon sa lahat!

The Julia Vargas Avenue protected bike lane

I thought I already posted an update on the Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. It turned out I was only able to upload photos on my folder but wasn’t able to get to writing about the bike lane. And so we conclude the year 2018 with a positive post of something we would like to see more in 2019 and beyond. We are hopeful that the protected bike lanes along Julia Vargas Avenue, connecting C-5 with the Ortigas Center, will expand and that this example along those of its predecessor bikeways in Marikina and Iloilo would be replicated across the country particularly in highly urbanised cities.

A view of the westbound bike lane along Julia Vargas at the Ortigas Center. Note that the eastbound bike lane (visible in this photo) is not similarly protected vs. motor vehicle encroachments. It would be preferable for that lane to be protected, too. Parang bitin pa tuloy ang effort nila.

Another view of the protected bike lane along the westbound side of Julia Vargas Avenue in contrast with the obviously congested lanes available for motor vehicles.

The middle lanes of the carriageway are wide and can accommodate motorcycles though the latter always seem to prefer filtering or splitting the lanes. The median lanes are generally for low occupancy vehicles (less than 3 passengers) while the middle ones are for high occupancy vehicles (3 or more passengers) including UV Express vans and buses.

Happy New Year to all!

Katipunan bike lanes?

Here are photos of the bike lanes along Katipunan Avenue (Circumferential Road 5). The lanes are basically just marked with a solid green line but without any signs or pavement markings reinforcing this designation. The lanes are not protected ones like the example along the eastbound bike lane along Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. And so, as expected, there are many motor vehicles encroaching upon the Katipunan bike lane including parked or standing vehicles as shown in one of the photos below.

The bike lane is derived from the outermost lane of Katipunan

Here is the bike lane along the southbound side of Katipunan at the approach to Tuazon Avenue. That’s a pedicab on the bike lane so one can easily appreciate the dimensions particularly the width of the lane.

Bike lane along the northbound side of Katipunan approaching Ateneo’s Gate 2

The bike lane along with the designated truck lane and motorcycle lane.

Here are cyclists using the lane past Ateneo’s Gate 3 and approaching the main gate of Miriam College

I’ll try to sketch a few recommendations into the photos as I have done in a past article:

On the Pasig HOV lane experiment

This can also be used for exercises I assign to my graduate and undergraduate classes when we’re on the topic of complete streets.

About the habal-habal again

There’s a nice article written by the current City Administrator of Cebu City, Nigel Paul Villarete. Paul has a regular column in a major daily and one that is always a good read. The article is a consolidation of previous articles he has written about the habal-habal or motorcycle taxi.

Villarete, N.P. (2018) “Habal-habal: the Two-Wheeler “Public” Transport in the Philippines,” http://www.streetlife.com, http://streetlife.villarete.com/habal-habal-the-two-wheeler-public-transport-in-the-philippines/?fbclid=IwAR06y9lrH-j6YtXRLf6rDL_JssnewNhR0b49dJ4Muc2PKyCzxeK50X6Ul6Y [Last accessed: 12/21/2018].

The article is relevant and current in its take on the motorcycle taxi and why it is important to consider this mode of transport as a form of public transportation. For one, it obviously gives people another choice for travel that is supposed to be able to cut down travel times compared to when they use conventional public transport or private vehicles. The question and perhaps the challenge to those operating such services is to prove that they are a safe mode of transport. Also, not to forget, is the question of fares and how to set the proper structure in order to protect people against abusive or excessive fares charged by the service providers.

There is news recently that the DOTr is convening a technical working group (TWG) to look into what they perceive as an issue on habal-habal. I wish the TWG well and hope that this will lead to something constructive including regulations that everyone can agree to. That said, I also believe that service providers, especially transport network company (TNC) Angkas, should exert more effort to prove they are a safe mode of transport rather than resorting to what appears to be more a fallacy of appealing to the emotions of people while trying to evade the legal constraints imposed on them. There is definitely a difference in motorcycle taxi operations in rural areas compared to those in the urban setting including the fact that they would have to deal with more vehicular traffic along urban roads. This means more interactions with other vehicles that may lead to an increased likelihood of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis if the latter don’t exercise safe driving practices.

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.