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On the importance of trees in the urban setting

Having lived in two other countries and traveled in many others, I have seen and experienced for myself examples of tree lined avenues and streets in the urban setting. And I am not talking about small cities but big ones like Tokyo and Singapore. I have gone to many of the big cities in Japan to be able to say that trees should have their place in the so-called urban jungle and the benefits of having them are tremendous. Here is a nice article recently published in The Guardian that explains the advantages of green streets:

Balch, O. (2019) “Green streets: which city has the most streets?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/nov/05/green-streets-which-city-has-the-most-trees [Last accessed: 11/08/2019]

Philippine cities should heed the advice from the author and city and municipal planners should make sure that plans incorporate trees and other flora. Obviously, they are not just ornamental but rather should be indispensable components of our towns whether it is highly urbanized or not. I guess the same concepts apply also to the roadsides of our national highways. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) clearly had little or no regard for greenery; chopping down even the elder trees along the way of their road widening programs. As such, they have contributed to blight along these roads and it would take some time and effort to bring back what used to be tree-lined, canopied roads in many provinces.

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…

Bike patrol

Wouldn’t it be healthier and more effective for law enforcers to have bike patrols? Many of them seem to be detached from the communities they’re supposed to serve when they aren’t on foot or pedals but instead go around on motor vehicles. It also seems a waste that the motor vehicles assigned to these people are being used to train them for driving. Thus, you often see patrol cars (even motorcycles) that are supposed to be recent model vehicles but seem so battered already. Do they really use these for chases? Or are they damaged due to their being used as “training” vehicles?

 

PNP officers on bike patrol along the beaches in Baler, Aurora

To be more effective, police officers should probably be roaming on foot or bicycles. They can be more in touch with the communities as there will be opportunities to mingle compared to if they were on cars or motorcycles. In one thread on social media, for example, there was a call for our local police to adopt the “Koban” style of the Japanese police where officers roam the communities mainly on foot and where many are recruited from the community for the latter and former to have some familiarity with the people and areas they are assigned to. Going around on foot or bicycle would also be a healthier option as surely they will be able to go more than the 10,000 steps (or equivalent) necessary to be classified as active.

Article on sustainable transport’s role in “saving the world”

Here is another quick post on another article I am sharing showing the importance of sustainable transport:

Milner, D. (2019) How sustainable transport can save the world, medium.com, https://medium.com/@djjmilner/how-sustainable-transport-can-save-the-world-f2f64517dc52 [Last accessed: 4/9/2019]

It goes without saying that sustainable transport has a lot of potential for helping mitigate climate change and other issues but much is expected of our leaders for policies and program & project development & implementation towards achieving sustainable transport in our cities and municipalities.

References linking transportation and health

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) features several resources discussing the linkage between transportation and health. Here is the link to the page where they list references like reports from various sources as well as tools.

https://www.ite.org/technical-resources/topics/transportation-and-health/?fbclid=IwAR0ngmqtkbdJjaLJJoP1psCwk3W0VdhGFjS03WGEYDuo53teCMCFIfvSwAc

This is definitely a topic that needs more attention and studies in the Philippines in order to have local evidence (there are already strong evidence abroad) supporting active transportation and how it helps make citizens healthier. Of course, that goes without saying that active transport should be integrated with an efficient public transport system. That is so that the increasing share of private transport can be checked (no thanks to Grab and Uber) and we can either retain or increase public and active transport shares.

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 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: