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Revising the DPWH Design Manuals

A friend posted about the current initiatives in the US as they embark on revising their Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This manual along with AASHTO’s Geometric Design of Highways and Streets and their Highway Capacity Manual are something like the holy trinity for Highway and Traffic Engineers. These are also the main references for our DPWH for the manuals and guidelines we use in traffic and highways.

Here are a couple of articles calling for the revisions to reflect recent designs mainly from NACTO, which itself publishes guidelines for roads to be more inclusive rather than car-centric:

NACTO (May 2021) Modernizing Federal Standards: Making the MUTCD Work for Cities,

NACTO (May 11, 2021) A Blueprint to Update America’s Street Manual,

We don’t have to pattern revisions after the MUTCD but then that requires that the DPWH through its Bureau of Research and Standards (DPWH-BRS) do its part in compiling, reviewing, studying and adopting materials from various countries, and developing suitable standards and guidelines for roads in the Philippines. Do they have to reinvent the wheel? Not so and they can still refer to the US manuals as long as again these are localised for our conditions and situations.

Roadside scenes – the Kalayaan hydro power plant

Last weekend’s getaway allowed me to take a few quick photos of a familiar sight that is the Kalayaan hydro-electric power plant located in the town of Lumban, Laguna at its border with Kalayaan town in the same province. Built in 1982, it was the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and is the only pumped storage plant in the Philippines. Basically, what ‘pumped storage’ means is that it can reverse its turbine to suck water from the basin at the level of Laguna de Bai to charge what could be a depleted Caliraya reservoir. It can then draw water from the lake to generate power. If water levels at the reservoir are normal to high such as during the wet season, it can draw water more than it needs to pump back into the lake.

Approach to the viewing bridge
Approaching the floodgates
There’s a viewing bridge like the one in La Mesa Dam and Angat Dam but it is closed to the general public. The barangay welcome marker is also located here.
The viewing bridge as seen from the road. It is closed to the public but people still stopover to take photos. One can monitor the water level from the tower at the end of the bridge.
One landmark near to the penstock for the Kalayaan plant is the welcome sign for Kalayaan town along the national road.
One of the Kalayaan power plant’s penstocks, a gigantic pipe connecting the Caliraya Lake to the plant at the level of Laguna de Bai
Another photo of the penstock, which is 6m in diameter and 1,300m long. This feeds into two turbines that generate power as water passes through them.

There is another power plant in the area, the Caliraya Hydro Electric Power Plant. It is not located along the national highway but to the west of the northern tip of the lake and near Pagsanjan River. I will write about that in another article.

Are roads really designed just for cars?

The answer is no. Roads were and are built as basic infrastructure for transport no matter what the mode. However, the standards for dimensions (i.e., number of lanes, widths, etc.) are based on the motor vehicle capacity, and structural standards (i.e., thickness, strength, reinforcement, etc.) are based on the weights they are supposed to carry over their economic lives. The pavement load as it is referred to is usually based on the cumulative heavy vehicle traffic converted in terms of the equivalent standard or single axles or ESA. An ESA is 18,000 pounds or 18 kips in the English system of measurements or 8.2 metric tons in the Metric system.

A typical local road – is it really just for cars or is it also for walking and cycling? Or perhaps animal drawn transport? 

A colleague says many of the posts in social media pitting bicycles with cars are already quite OA (overacting). I tend to agree as I read how people generalize roads being car-centric. Roads have been built basically to serve a avenues for transportation. They were improved over time in order to have more efficient ways to travel by land. It didn’t hurt that vehicle technology also developed over time and bicycles somehow became less popular than the cars and motorcycles. The motorcycle itself evolved from bicycles so in a way, it is the evolved and mechanized form of the two-wheeler.

In a perfect world, people would be sharing the road space and it would be equitable among different users. In a perfect world perhaps, it won’t be car-centric as there would probably be better public transport options and transit will be efficient, reliable, comfortable and convenient to use.

The reality, however, is that we do not live in a perfect world and transformations like the ones being pitched on social media are nice but are also not as inclusive and equitable as their advocates claim them to be. I’ve always said and written that you cannot simply change transportation without also implementing changes in land use and housing in particular.

Why do we need wide roads connecting suburbs and urban areas? Why is there sprawl? Why do people live in the periphery of CBDs or the metropolis? It is not just about transport though it seems easier to focus on this. Even transportation in Japan, with Metropolitan Tokyo and its equivalent of NCR plus as a subject, needs to be properly contextualized for land use and transport interaction and development. It seems that even with a comprehensive and efficient railway network, there are still shortcomings here and there. We don’t have such a railway network (yet) so we need to find ways for easing the currently long and painful commutes many people experience on a daily basis. That means continued dependence on road-based transport and trying to implement programs and schemes to improve operations.

In defense of expressways

Expressways have been on the receiving end of criticisms and bad press lately mainly due to the recent much publicized proposal of a Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) by a private corporation. While I also do not agree with the alignment of this proposed tollway, I take exception to the generalization of expressways as sort of a manifestation of evil.

There seem to a lot of information being posted about and vs. expressways. However, it is important to sort through the hype as well as the misinformation that people tend to post about expressways. Yes, there are expressways being demolished or that have been demolished in other countries. These were probably so because they were ill-planned in the first place as are many other elevated pathways (e.g., poorly planned and designed footbridges), and many of the cities removing them have also developed their transport systems to be more efficient in terms of their people’s mobility. That is the case with Seoul and that certainly is the case for Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo had been moving their surface railways underground for the past decades. And now it seems they will be doing so for certain expressways. Does Tokyo have an efficient transport system? It does and perhaps is among the densest if not the most extensive rail and road system in the world.

It is important to have context to the matter. NLEX and SLEX, for example, were developed as relatively free-flowing, high capacity, high-speed roads that were the alternative to the national highways that directly connected many municipalities and cities. The latter had many intersections or junctions with other national roads as well as carry mainly local traffic including public transport such as tricycles and jeepneys. Expressways are built to be part of the primary arterial network and not as local roads. They are built for access rather than mobility.

From L-R: SLEX, Skyway, and the East Service Road. The Skyway connects the NAIA-X to the left and the NLEX connector section onwards through. SLEX eventually becomes the South Super Highway, which is an urban street.

So, are expressways anti-pedestrian? Basically, no. Though they clearly were not developed or constructed with walking in mind. In fact, expressways are generally built along secured right-of-way and are limited access facilities. In the Philippines, all expressways are tolled; meaning you have to pay to use them. Expressways are built more for long distance travel and not for the shorter ones where walking is most appropriate.

Are they car-centric? Not necessarily so because they provide a less congested alternative for long distance transport of people (buses and vans) and goods (trucks). Would you rather take the Manila North Road (McArthur Highway) to Baguio City and endure over 7 hours travel time? Or would you take the 4-hour trip via 3 expressways (NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX)?

Are expressways supposed to reduce traffic on local roads? Yes and no. Yes, because they actually do reduce traffic at the local level when you divert long distance travel to expressways. The math tells us there is subtraction there. However, it is a no in terms of local traffic increasing over time, which should not be charged to expressways, as they are a function of other elements coming into play including population increase and economic growth. This includes a contribution to induced traffic or new trips generated by the perception of infrastructure being adequate and having the capacity to cater to more trips that are not necessarily borne by cars.

Do we need more expressways? Probably, but not in the locations or alignments like the one proposed for PAREX. Incidentally, there is another expressway being planned that seems to have escaped the attention of those against PAREX. I am talking about the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway that will be a combination of at-grade (over reclaimed land) and elevated (viaduct over the Laguna de Bai) sections leading to heart of Laguna and towards Quezon province. But that’s another story…

On building the ideal city from a transportation perspective

There’s a not so old article that popped in my timeline of articles I’ve read the past years. I thought I would make a quick share of it here. It is a good read and something that will never be irrelevant for as long as we have not redeveloped our cities and municipalities for transport equity and sustainability. Here’s a takeaway from the article:

“The ideal city is a place where lots of different kinds of people with lots of different amounts of money can live and work. It has to be easy to get around without a car, even for people whose bodies can’t ride bikes or hop over potholes, and for people who have kids to drop off on the way to work and groceries to buy on the way home, and maybe flowers to buy next door to the dry cleaner’s. These are places where people want to live, because it’s nice there. The fact that those places also adapt to and mitigate climate change instead of causing it is a bonus.”

Here’s the article from last year:

Rogers, A. (April 1, 2020) “Build Cities for Bikes, Buses, and Feet—Not Cars,” Wired, [Last accessed: 4/30/2021]

On what local governments can do to improve road safety

Here is a very interesting article on how a small city in the US was able to reduce traffic deaths by investing in people-oriented transport programs and projects:

Kessler, E. (April 6, 2021) “EYES ON THE STREET: How Hoboken Has Eliminated Traffic Deaths,” StreetsBlog NYC, [Last accessed: 4/14/2021]

The article is pretty much self-explanatory. I won’t be commenting more about this except that many of the items mentioned can be taken on by many cities and municipalities in the Philippines. You don’t have to be a highly urbanized city with a big population and so much resources to come up with a plan and perhaps improvise in order to reduce costs of implementation. The most important thing is leadership since leaders like the mayor will be responsible for and making the critical decisions for the town. That is why he was elected in the first place, and the same goes for the other elected officials who are supposed to represent the interests of all their constituents and not just those who own cars.

If you build the bike lanes, will people use them?

The obvious answer to this question is yes. It is not so clear, however, how many will really be using these bike lanes over time. That needs data. That requires counting. And such data will be useful in order to understand, among other things, why people choose to bike or why they don’t. The latter is important to determine what factors are being considered by people who can switch to cycling particularly for commuting. Of course, there are many references for this from other cities and countries but these still need to be contextualized from our (Philippine) perspective. Case in point is Marikina, which has the most comprehensive network of bike lanes in the country. What are the numbers and what are the constraints and misconceptions? Did the city do its part to promote and sustain cycling?

Here is an article discussing the experience in the US:

Penney, V. (April 1, 2021) “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic,” The New York Times, [Last accessed: 4/9/2021]

Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue (C5) in Quezon City

Here is the link to the paper mentioned in the article:

On arches as border references or landmarks

Many people take it for granted when you talk about locations or places and the cities or towns where they are located. When ask where a certain place is, people may reply in the general though sometimes in the specific. When you ask where Robinsons Galeria is, the usual reply may be Ortigas Center or, more specifically, “sa kanto ng EDSA at Ortigas Ave.” The mall is actually 

Where does Antipolo start and Taytay end? To many, the Tikling Junction might be the easy reference or landmark for this. It is usually assumed that you’re already in Antipolo as you start climbing from Tikling. The stretch from Tikling to the boundary with Antipolo is actually still part of Bgy. Dolores, Taytay. Here is Antipolo’s welcome arch along Ortigas Avenue Extension:


“Tayo na sa Antipolo” is the city’s old tagline that you can find in a song relating its attractions

It may be somewhat unimportant or trivial for many but political delineations are subjects of many disputes among local government units. Cainta, Taytay and Pasig, for example, continue to dispute areas along the Manggahan floodway. Pasig, Marikina and Cainta are also wrestling about areas along Marcos Highway (e.g., Robinsons Metro East is Pasig but Sta. Lucia Mall is Cainta. Across from the two is Marikina territory. And the three lobbied to get the Line 2 Station to be associated with either of them (as of this writing, it seems Marikina’s got it and the station may have the alternate name “Marikina Station” to the original “Emerald Station”). The Feliz Mall is technically in Pasig though people seem to associate it with Marikina.  Line 2 Santolan Station is Pasig’s. And do you know that along Sumulong Highway, Antipolo and Marikina are split by a barangay of Cainta? There are many other cases across the country that have these issues that have not been resolved or needs to be resolved especially as there are implications to elections in those areas, particularly at the local level.

Infanta, Quezon Arch

I was just writing about the arches you typically came across as you traveled by road around the Philippines. A former student of mine posted a photo of the arch welcoming travelers to Infanta, Quezon from Rizal province, and I asked to have a copy of the photo. He is an avid cyclist who goes on long rides. The arch bears the seal of the town but few other symbols (that I am familiar with) that could have represented the municipality. Here is a typical low-traffic highway with two lanes and dirt shoulders along either side of the road leading to something mysterious (see that fog/mist at the end of the road?).

Road to Infanta, Quezon [Photo credit: Dexter Cuizon]

On the road again

A couple of weekends ago, I found myself doing my first long drive in months. I wasn’t a passenger but the driver when the wife and I went on an excursion with neighbors-friends, one of whom arranged for our lunch at Ugu Bigyan’s Potter’s Garden in Tiaong, Quezon. We had two options to get there – one via the scenic route through Rizal’s backdoor that takes one to Teresa, Tanay, Baras and Pililla in Rizal, Pakil, Pangil, Paete, Lumban, Pagsanjan, Sta. Cruz and San Pablo in Laguna, the other via C-6, SLEX and STAR Tollways taking us through southern Metro Manila, Laguna, and Batangas. We took the latter route as it was faster (shorter travel time by an hour) and it allowed us to test our newly installed Autosweep RFID’s for the two tollways we used along the way.

The photo below was taken by the wife upon my prodding. I had not seen an arch as we traversed Sto. Tomas (Batangas), and Alaminos and San Pablo (Laguna). These were all along Asian Highway 26 (AH 26) or the Pan Philippine Highway system. The arch marks entry/exit to/from (boundary) the Province of Quezon from the Province of Laguna. Laguna doesn’t have its own arch.

Arches like the one in the photo used to be the landmarks between towns and provinces. I wrote about these many years ago:

I have other photos somewhere but have not scanned/digitized them. Others I think that I left at my parents’ home perished with the floods of Ondoy.

With DPWH’s road widening program, many of these arches around the country may have been demolished. Those that remain tend to constrict traffic as they have space for two lanes and perhaps narrow shoulders at either side like what is shown in the photo. Perhaps others will be reconstructed and even enhanced to reflect a town’s or province’s attractions or attributes?