Caught (up) in traffic

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Responding to the transport impacts of road crashes

Last March 9, traffic was terrible along Marcos Highway and roads connecting to it including Imelda Avenue and Sumulong Highway due to a truck that slammed into the scaffolding of the Line 2  Extension across the Sta. Lucia Mall, and barely missing the newly constructed column supporting the girders and elevated tracks of Line 2.

[Photo not mine but sent by an officemate who was glad to have taken his motorcycle that day instead of commuting by car.]

Following are comments I captured from Waze as I tried to get information about the traffic situation:

It is very clear from travelers’ comments that most were frustrated and many were angry about what seemed to be a very slow response from authorities in clearing the crash site and getting traffic to move faster. I myself wondered how a crash like this with its impacts manifesting in severe congestion along major roads was not dealt with as urgently as possible by so many entities that were not without capacity to act decisively. The front liner should have been the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and there were at least four local government units directly affected by the congestion: Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo. Surely, these LGUs could have done more if the MMDA couldn’t, in order to resolve the problem? If the availability of heavy equipment was an issue, weren’t there available equipment from Line 2 contractor, DMCI, or perhaps from the construction sites nearby (Ayala is constructing a huge mall near the area.)? Surely, they could lend a payloader or mobile crane that can remove the truck or at least help unblock the area?

I finally decided to turn back and work from home instead that day. Later, I learned that authorities had to stop traffic along Marcos Highway around 11:00 AM in order to tow the truck and clear the area for traffic to normalize. I hope this serves as a lesson in coordination among government entities and that future incidents like this will not results in a “carmaggedon” like Friday’s congestion. One thing that also became obvious is that travelers passing the area are all dependent on road-based transport and the primary reason why a lot of people were affected by the crash. The expanded operations of the Line 2, whenever that will be, will surely change transport in these areas and for the better.

MMDA statement on the odd-even scheme

The MMDA released a statement today about the much criticized Odd-Even scheme for EDSA that was floated on mainstream and social media. I will not comment on the statement but instead just reproduce  the post on Facebook here:

What do you think?

Crowdsourcing solutions to traffic problems?

Some government agencies seems to have resorted to crowdsourcing via social media to either find or assess solutions for the worsening transport and traffic problems in Philippine cities, more specifically Metro Manila. This includes posts by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) about various topics ranging from public transport reform to travel demand management (TDM) schemes. From one perspective, the approach can be seen as something like a participatory approach towards finding a solution that is acceptable to most. I say so since the proposals or ideas come from what are supposed to be official accounts of these agencies and thus can be claimed as something that aims to engage the public in discourse towards finding solutions.

Following are screenshots from a public social media account and examples of the responses/comments he got for the post:

What do you think? Did MMDA do its part in analyzing or evaluating their proposal? I suspect that they did not perform an in-depth analysis despite the resources available to them. They do have technical staff and tools to do the analysis. Note that the agency acquired simulation software during the time of Bayani Fernando that they used to justify projects like the elevated U-turns at Kalayaan and the widening of Commonwealth Avenue. Their technical staff have also been training locally and abroad on transportation planning. A crowdsourcing exercise such as this seems more like a “trial and error” approach where those monitoring the responses/comments may opt instead to summarize the responses for the analyses and then determine whether to refine, push through or withdraw the proposal that was floated. I think the MMDA should do its part first (i.e., evaluate the proposal at both macro and micro levels) and then present the pros and cons of their proposal in both quantitative (e.g., improvement in travel speeds and travel times) and qualitative terms (i.e., improved productivity or quality of life for commuters).

The Tagaytay transportation predicament

The title of this article is actually a bit tame and on the diplomatic side of trying to describe transportation and traffic in this city that was once relaxed a retreat for many. I had wanted to end February on a good note and so I decided to defer posting this until March.

We used to frequent Tagaytay and liked spending some rest and recreation time there to the tune of being there almost once a month at one time. Needless to say, at the time travel to Tagaytay from our home in Antipolo took us only about 2 to 2.5 hours excluding our usual stop at Paseo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. We liked the city so much that we even considered making it a second home; even inquiring and looking at properties there.

Fast forward to the present and it has become an excruciating travel with the highways leading to the city already congested. It didn’t help that when you got there, you also had to deal with serious traffic congestion. This started not a few years ago when the city approved developments by major players including Robinsons, SM and Ayala. The developments by SM and Ayala proved to be the backbreakers with Ayala coming up with the first mall in the city and SM operating an amusement park beside its prime acquisition that is the Taal Vista Hotel. Now, there is another mall under construction by Filinvest and right at the corner of the rotonda where the Aguinaldo Highway terminates.

img_4120Vehicles queue along the Tagaytay – Nasugbu Highway towards the Rotonda where Tagaytay traffic enforcers attempt to manage traffic but appear to create more congestion instead.

More on Tagaytay soon…

Article on housing affordability and sprawl

There is a new article from Todd Litman that discusses the state of housing in the context of affordability and sprawl. While this is mainly based on the experiences in the US and Canada, there are many other cities from other countries involved. I noticed an interesting comment on his Facebook post about the elephant in the room being culture. I would tend to agree with this view and in the case of the Philippines is perhaps also heavily influenced by our being under a repressive Spanish regime that was succeeded by an American-style. I say repressive because although there was a semblance of planning during the Spanish period, the urban form revolved around the plaza where church, government, market and schools were located. Social class defined residential ‘development’ also followed this with the wealthier families having homes closer to the center while those in the lower income classes where farther and perhaps even beyond the reach of the sound of church bells. The Americans changed much of that and introduced a larger middle class and the incentive of becoming home and land owners, which during the Spanish period was practically non-existent except perhaps to the buena familias and ilustrados. Fast forward to the present, being a land owner is still very much a status symbol along with being a car owner. Homes in the urban centers (e.g., Makati CBD, Ortigas CBD, BGC, etc.) are very expensive and people would rather reside in the periphery (thus the sprawl) and do their long commutes.

Here is a  link to the article:

Unaffordability is a Problem but Sprawl is a Terrible Solution

[Litman, T. (2017) Unaffordability is a problem but sprawl is a terrible solution, Planetizen, Retrieved from http://www.planetizen.com, February 17.]

What do you think?

Hazardous worksites along Sumulong Highway

There are hazardous worksites along Sumulong Highway. These are related to current drainage works and construction of pedestrian facilities (sidewalks) along the highway. Travelers can see the steel reinforcing bars (rebars) sticking out and posing risks to road users. Following are some photos we took as we traversed the stretch near La Montana, Palos Verdes and Cavaliers Village.

img_3872Highway drainage works along Sumulong Highway

img_3873Steel reinforcing bars sticking out of the drainage works along the Masinag-bound side of Sumulong Highway.

img_3878More hazardous worksites

img_3879Unmanned and unfinished worksite along Sumulong Highway. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists seem unfazed by the hazard posed by the rebars.

These pose dangers to most road users and especially motorcyclists and cyclists who may experience a spill that can lead to riders being impaled by the rebars. The contractor definitely is violating safety codes in as far as construction sites are concerned and these are in plain view of the public. The DPWH as well as the local government of Antipolo City should act immediately and decisively in order to prevent untoward incidents concerning such worksites. There should be measures such as physical barriers that would protect road users against such hazards. There are currently none.

Some relief due to the number coding adjustments?

A friend asked me about my commute after the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had implemented a tweak in the number coding scheme. To those not familiar with the recent adjustments to the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or more popularly known as the number coding scheme, the MMDA has recently eliminated the window that was applied to many roads. The 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM window is no more and the MMDA also extended the coding period to 8:00 PM from the old 7:00 PM lifting.

My observation from my personal experience commuting in the mornings between Antipolo and Quezon City is that my travel times have somewhat improved. After Undas, I have enjoyed travel times of 45 minutes to 1 hour during the same morning periods when I choose to travel. This has improved significantly from the 1.5 hours I had spent prior to the adjustment. My usual route was mainly through Marcos Highway so perhaps its not just the coding aspect but also the fact that much of the construction work for the LRT Line 2 Extension have been completed and there have been less obstructions due to this project between Masinag and Santolan. My homebound trips seem to have improved too for the same reasons although not as significant as my morning commute. Another friend has similar observations and is very happy about the big improvements he says he now enjoys considering he has even longer commutes between Antipolo and Manila (Intramuros) or Makati (Gil Puyat).

But generally speaking, is it possible that there are significant positive impacts of the tweak in the number coding scheme? My assessment is that it is very possible and very likely especially if we see it from the perspective of vehicle trip reduction due to the adjustments made in the restraint policy. The number coding scheme is a travel demand management (TDM) measure designed to reduce vehicle traffic through vehicle use restraint. By introducing the coding window many years ago, the restrictions to vehicle travel were in effect relaxed and that encourage more people to use their cars.

The elimination of the coding window means people could not move their times of commute to later than 7:00 AM or earlier than 3:00 PM. It meant people whose vehicles were “coding” had to leave (forced?) early and go home late. Extending the coding period to 8:00 PM probably was probably a back-breaker to many people. And then the difference now compared to the 1990s and decade after that is the availability of the more reliable Uber and Grab vehicles that many car-owners had no option to use before. I’m not a psychologist but perhaps such factors have led to an improvement in traffic conditions. How long this would last shouldn’t be so difficult to tell given the experiences in the past and the fact that population and vehicle ownership continues to rise. Perhaps a year or two if no significant improvements in transport (e.g., mass transit projects) happen.

Starting November 14, the MMDA is also supposed to be clamping down (read: stricter implementation) on the motorcycle lane policy along EDSA, C5, Commonwealth and Macapagal Blvd. I’m not so sure how they will be doing this as enforcement along the stretches will require a lot of manpower.