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On walkability and walkability scores

I’m sharing a couple of articles on walkability and walkability scores. The first one actually points to the second but provides brief insights about the concept of walkability while the second is a more detailed article on the findings of a study on walkability.

Ionesco, D. (May 4, 2022) “Walkability Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/05/117075-walkability-scores-dont-tell-whole-story?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05052022&mc_cid=c04e3e4dc0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“if cities truly want to be pedestrian-friendly, they need to think beyond the sidewalk…”

The second article is from late April:

Gwam, P., Noble, E. and Freemark, Y. (April 28, 2022) “Redefining Walkability,” urban.org, https://www.urban.org/features/redefining-walkability [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“To create a more comfortable walking experience, our research points to a few steps DC planners and policymakers can take to increase racially equitable walkability across the city:

  • expand tree cover in the densest parts of the city,

  • increase nonautomotive modes of transportation in central areas,

  • reduce noise pollution,

  • support more equitable access to key resources, and

  • prioritize road design that limits the need for police traffic enforcement.”

While the article puts emphasis on the topic of racial equity, such concept can easily be adapted and adopted for our purposes. For one, it could be interpreted as being inclusive if one is not comfortable with the term “race”.

Don’t miss downloading the technical appendix of their report. This will be very useful to researchers, practitioners and advocates of active transport.

Where do trucks fit in complete streets?

The complete streets concept usually involve transforming streets to favor active and public transport. The typical discussions and presentations on complete streets are often focused on taking away road space from cars to allocate to pedestrians (e.g., wider sidewalks), cyclists (e.g., bike lanes) and public transport (e.g., transit lanes). Seldom do we read about trucks, deliveries and related items even in guides and manuals and are often just implied to be addressed in street transformation examples.

Evans, T. (March 24, 2022) “”Complete Streets” and Goods Delivery: What are Streets For?” New Jersey Future, https://www.njfuture.org/2022/03/24/complete-streets-and-goods-delivery-what-is-a-street-for/ [Last accessed: 4/5/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Not every final destination for a package needs to be accessible to large trucks. Rather than proposing truck-focused modifications (wider lanes, bigger turning radii, etc.) to local streets in order to accommodate truck deliveries, transportation planners and logistics industry professionals should focus instead on matching the type of delivery vehicle to the environment in which the destination is located.”

I recall the mainly pedestrianized shopping streets (shotengai) in Japan when I try to make sense of how delivery vehicles can be included in the discussion. The Japanese use small trucks or vans for deliveries and mostly these are confined to the side streets. However, during certain times of the day, usually early mornings or after business hours, they are allowed inside the shopping street for quick deliveries or pick-ups. This show what kind of goods vehicles and operations may be permitted.

On asphalt overlays and opportunities to rationalize pavement markings

Entire road sections along my commuting routes have had recent asphalt overlays or are being prepared for it. This is part of the national government’s regular maintenance program for roads implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Newly asphalted pavement along the eastbound section of Ortigas Avenue Extension – can you guess how many lanes will fit here?

The previous photo was taken one week ago. This is what the section looks like after the contractor restored the pavement markings. I say restore because these are practically the same 3 lanes prior to the asphalt overlay to the rigid pavement structure.

Pavement marking delineating the traffic lanes, median and gutter

I wonder if the DPWH included bike lanes when they contacted the asphalt overlay and pavement markings for this road. There was none before and the new overlay presented a blank slate to which Class III bike lanes could at least have been provided. There is already an increasing number of bike-to-work traffic along Ortigas Ave. Ext. and the Manila East Road, which connects the large towns of Rizal and serves as one of the major arterials connecting the Province of Rizal to Metro Manila (the other being Marcos Highway).

Asphalt overlays like this provide opportunities to rationalize road space through adjustments to the pavement markings. Granted that there’s significant bus and truck traffic along this road, it is still possible to allocate or at least delineate 1.5m to 2m for cyclists. That should also help in making motorists aware of bike traffic and in the long run influence behavior towards safer travels for all road users.

Farewell to the arch?

Arches (arko) were a common sight along national roads across the country. I have written about these arkos in previous posts including those with old photos that I took while on field work:

With all the road widening projects ongoing along many national roads, many arches have been demolished while new ones apparently have not been constructed (whether really new ones or those replacing the old ones). I still think these are good landmarks and an opportunity to feature products, traditions or whatever may represent or identify the city or municipality.

Arch at the Lipa – Padre Garcia border in Batangas Province

On the STAR Tollway, some recent photos

A trip earlier this year allowed me to take a few photos of the STAR Tollway. STAR stands for Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, which was what the expressway was before it became a tollway. I have memories of this being a regular highway in the early 1990s. Then, it was still a two lane road and there were even animals walking around and at times crossing the highway. Later, even after it became an expressway, the ROW was still not secured (i.e., fenced) so motorists would regularly encounter animals creating unsafe situations to both.

Approaching the entrance to the STAR Tollway
Toll plaza at the entry
Speed limits – the maximum speed limit is 100 kph while the minimum speed limit is 60 kph. There is an interesting sign just before the speed limits. It states “No overtaking on impulse”.
Typical overpass for traffic crossing the tollway
Rest stop – there are only Petron stations along either direction of the tollway. San Miguel owns Petron and operates the tollway
A typical curve section
Sight distance requirements are satisfied for straight, level segments like this.
Typical off-ramp from the tollway

Noticeable in the photos are the wide medians. These are typically used for expansion (i.e., additional lanes) when the time comes that the capacity of the tollway is no longer enough to cater to the demand. Both the NLEX and SLEX used to have these wide medians that are now part of the motorway. Are there alternate uses or purposes for this median? Perhaps, and this has been done abroad, one could fit bicycle paths there? Or maybe install solar panels to generate power? Or maybe do both?

On defining the 15-minute city

I have shared articles and briefly written about the concept of the 15-minute city on this blog. Here is another discussing how a 15-minute city is defined:

(February 8, 2021) “Defining the 15-minute city,” Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2021/02/08/defining-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 8/10/2021]

Here is an image from the article:

Again, it is important to contextualize these concepts. I share these as references and topics for discussion. Of course, I have my own opinions about this and I have written about those in previous posts. I guess in the Philippine context, we can include the pedicab or non-motorized three-wheelers in the discussion. These are also very popular modes in many cities and municipalities despite their being also prohibited along national roads like their motorized counterparts. It would be nice to have more visuals in the form of maps that show travel times for essential destinations or places like hospitals, markets, grocery stores, workplaces and, of course, homes. I assume there is at least someone, somewhere who perhaps have made multi-layer maps of this sort and attempted to related them along the lines of this concept of a 15-minute city (or perhaps the even older “compact cities”).

On riders’ perception of safety

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the US Department of Transportation released some infographics recently to highlight road safety. One very timely and relevant graphic image asks about which facilities make bicycle riders feel safer:

There were some initial reactions when I shared this on social media with one immediately criticizing share-use paths and citing the one along Marcos Highway (stretch under Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) as an example. I quickly explained that the graphic assumes good designs instead of the flawed one along Marcos Highway. In fact, the shared use path is also quite popular in Europe and particularly in the Netherlands where they have many examples of these paths stretching for kilometers that are exclusive to active transport (pedestrians and cyclists). The good designs need to be shared and circulated so people will know about what they look like and learn about their features. These can be adopted and adapted to local situations.

Did you notice the images of cyclists/riders at the top of the graphic? These are important, too, because they provide context in terms of the type of riders who are the targets for infrastructure and campaigns that support and promote cycling across different types of people. Cycling shouldn’t just be for the most fit or the weekend warriors but rather for everyone who could take it up and not just for recreation but for everyday, utilitarian use (e.g., commuting, shopping, etc.).

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, https://nacto.org/program/modernizing-federal-standards/

NACTO (May 11, 2021) A Blueprint to Update America’s Street Manual, https://nacto.org/2021/05/11/a-blueprint-to-update-americas-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.