Caught (up) in traffic

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School is back and so are safety issues for schoolchildren

It’s school time once again in most parts of the Philippines. Public and private schools including most colleges and universities have resumed classes this month of June while others start this July and August. But with the resumption of classes, there is also the re-emergence of issues pertaining to the safety of these children. Students are exposed to the hazards of commuting. These include the likelihood of being injured or killed by vehicles running along the roads the students use to get to school.

The photo above is a typical scene in front and around many public schools in the country. Schools are located along national roads and often lack spaces for students and their guardians. Many end up occupying the roads and causing congestion. Of course, that congestion is secondary to the safety of these children. Nevertheless, such issues need to be addressed in a more holistic manner rather than attempt to solve one as if they could be isolated.

Most students of grade schools and high schools around the country either walk or take public transportation in their commutes. They are exposed almost daily to motor vehicle traffic along the roads and risk being sideswiped or run over by vehicles. In certain cases, small children walk significant distances thereby increasing the likelihood and risk of being harmed by traffic.

Traffic is particularly bad along most roads leading to schools mainly during the morning, mid-day and afternoon periods when students arrive or leave their schools. In Metro Manila, for example, the worst congestion are experienced along major roads like Katipunan Avenue (due to traffic generated by Ateneo, Miriam and UP) and Ortigas Avenue (due to La Salle Greenhills). That means a lot of time and fuel are wasted and more emissions are released into the air that we breathe. However, one can argue that in terms of road safety, this is better since gridlocks mean slow moving vehicles that make it safer for walking or cycling. This is not the same in the provinces or rural areas where there is less congestion and vehicles travel at faster speeds.

04.JPGChildren heading to school on a ‘skylab’ version of the motorcycle taxi

While there are initiatives pertaining to revisions in speed limits, such are limited (pun not intended) by how much action can be done in order to enforce these regulations. Add to this the requirement of having the instruments to measure and record speeds in aid of enforcement. This was what MMDA did along Commonwealth Ave. and Macapagal Blvd. with the acquisition of two speed guns. I don’t see them using these anymore and wonder if the instruments are still working. Meanwhile, expressway authorities are using these as they continue their enforcement of speed limits along tollways. [I am aware of NLEX and SCTEX enforcement units employing speed guns along those tollways.]

The DPWH is also doing its part by doing road safety audits and identifying measures to reduce the likelihood of crashes involving these students. Among these are rumbles strips and, in some cases, the construction of sidewalks but these are not enough. There were recommendations from an iRAP project many years ago but the agency was resistant to what they thought were new and innovative ideas that were actually already being implemented in other countries. Perhaps these recommendations and that iRAP study could be revisited and solutions drawn from there?

On the opposition to “complete streets”

I recently read an article about the opposition to road diets in California, USA:

Tinoco, M. (2018) “How to Kill a Bike Lane”, http://www.citylab.com, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/05/how-to-kill-a-bike-lane/559934/?utm_source=SFTwitter [Last accessed: 5/20/2018]

So far, we know that at least three cities are progressive enough to implement road diets including Marikina City, Pasig City and Quezon City. Iloilo doesn’t count yet since their bike lane was constructed along the very wide Diversion Road. Our recommendations for Tacloban, if implemented by the city, will probably result in the second most comprehensive application of road diets/complete streets in the Philippines after Marikina, which implemented their bikeways network almost 2 decades ago. There are sure to be many who would be opposed to such schemes as many still have the view that streets are for motor vehicles. This car-oriented thinking is something that will be a challenge to advocates of people-oriented transportation systems. Hopefully, many can learn from experiences here and abroad on how to reclaim space for people leading to safer and more inclusive transport for all.

On child-friendly cities

Here’s another article that I want to share. This time it is about child-friendly cities. Here is an article that present many good practice examples in other cities. Many are easily replicable in our towns and cities, and should be considered by local governments in order to enhance safety and health aspects in their jurisdictions.

Laker, L. (2018) “What would the ultimate child-friendly city look like?”, theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/28/child-friendly-city-indoors-playing-healthy-sociable-outdoors [Last accessed 3/9/2018]

On prioritising pedestrians and promoting walking

We begin March with an excellent article that came out from curbed.com:

Walker, A. (2018) The case against sidewalks and how cities can create new avenues for pedestrians, curbed.com, https://www.curbed.com/2018/2/7/16980682/city-sidewalk-repair-future-walking-neighborhood [Last accessed 2/23/2018].

How do we improve the environment (i.e., facilities) to encourage people to walk? Do we simply clear up sidewalks? Widen them? Build overpasses and underpasses? What should be the context for improving pedestrian facilities for our cities and municipalities? What are the implications to planning and design?

Another walkability tool: Pedestrians First

The ITDP recently came out with a new walkability tool called Pedestrians First. Here’s the link to their site where you can download the tool. The tool was released in the recently concluded World Urban Forum held in Malaysia.

https://www.itdp.org/publication/walkability-tool/

Of course, there are other tools out there including one developed by Clean Air Asia, material on which may be found through the following links:

http://cleanairasia.org/walkability-study-in-asian-cities-4/

Walkability Mobile App

Our technical staff and my students are currently using the methodology developed by Clean Air Asia and have covered several major thoroughfares in Metro Manila and a highly urbanized city in studies that have been undertaken in the last 6 years. I already asked them to take a look at the new tool and see how this compares with the ones we are using.

On riding bicycles slowly

I saw this interesting article on cycling/biking that I thought was quite relevant to the situation we have on campus. The University of the Philippines Diliman campus has a bike lane along the inner side of its Academic Oval that has been used by various cyclist types. There are those who use their bikes for commuting or going around campus (e.g., students traveling between buildings for their classes, messengers bringing documents, etc.). There are those biking in a more relaxed manner (i.e., for recreation). And then there are those who bike for fitness including those racing around the oval. It is from the latter that UP Diliman has received complaints about conflicts with joggers, motor vehicles and fellow cyclists. But then UP has maintained that the bike lane is not for racing or taking laps around the oval. It was created to have a segregated (and in the future maybe protected) lane to enhance mobility more than any other purpose.

Babin, T. (2018) “How to ride a bike slowly (and why you would want to),” Medium.com, https://medium.com/shifter/how-to-ride-a-bike-slowly-and-why-you-would-want-to-b544ec869846 [Last accessed: 2/4/2018].

UP Diliman’s Academic Oval now features a bike lane between a jogging/walking lane and the lanes assigned for motorised traffic. The ice cream vendor on a NMT 3-wheeler is running on the bike lane.

The need for speed (limits)?

My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.

While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.

I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns,  high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.