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The Ortigas Center bike lanes, complete streets and road diets

The MMDA recently stated they were planning to apply the road diet concept to EDSA by narrowing the current lane widths in order to add one lane per direction. While the idea seems to of good intention, the mention and application of road diet is flawed. I have previously shared an article on social media showing the definition and examples of complete streets:

What are complete streets?

Clearly, complete streets are for the benefit of everyone (i.e., inclusive) and not biased for motor vehicles. Here is a photo of F. Ortigas Ave. at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City showing the correct application of the Complete Streets and Road Diet concepts to an urban street. Note the elements for cycling and walking that are very prominent in the re-design of the street.

Protected bike lanes at either side of F. Ortigas Ave. at the Ortigas Center

We hope to see more of these re-designs in many other cities and towns in the Philippines. It is not a really difficult concept to apply or adopt as technically these are not complicated. However, there needs to be a change in the mindset of planners and engineers when they do these exercises considering how car-oriented our designs are. It is easy to say we want more people-oriented transportation facilities until it dawns on us how dependent we are on cars and resist the efforts to realise more sustainable designs.

Article on the “Boring Company” and the reinvention of transportation

Here’s another quick post where I share this interesting article on Elon Musk’s Boring Company. Central to the article is the notion that certain things related to transportation needs to be reinvented. This was written in March last year. To quote from the article:

“The Boring Company is emblematic of the Silicon Valley conviction that everything must be reinvented, literally: Airbnb is building a hotel, Uber is moving closer to operating like a bus service, and Elon Musk is slowly inventing the subway all over again…”

Here’s the article:

Marx, P. (2018) Can we please let the Boring Company die already?,” http://www.medium.com , https://medium.com/radical-urbanist/can-we-please-let-the-boring-company-die-already-8562067adc1b [Last accessed: 01/11/2019]

Article on induced demand and why more roads mean more traffic

Here is a nice article about induced demand, which is simply the additional traffic you get on top of the current and estimated traffic from “normal” growth based on the current transportation system and infrastructure once you introduce additional services and/or infrastructure. That is, there is additional trips/traffic generated for when you widen roads or construct a new transit system.

VannPashak, J. (2018) “More roads, same congestion,” http://www.medium.com, https://medium.com/@jvannpashak/more-roads-same-congestion-b2b437ecaa94 [Last accessed: 11/22/2018]

I think the more interesting part of the article is its mention of the work of Redmond and Mokhtarian, which the author provides in a link. Clicking this link brings you to a wealth of articles attributed to the two that are definitely worth reading especially for people seeking understanding for issues related to commuting. Many of the researches and the methodologies in the articles may be replicated for application in the Philippines, and should be taken on as research topics in what can be inter-disciplinary programs or projects.

On good transit stop designs

We interrupt our regular programming to share this good reference for designing bus stops:

Transit Center (2018) From Sorry to Superb Everything You Need to Know about Great Bus Stops, transitcenter.org, http://transitcenter.org/publications/sorry-to-superb/#introduction [October 2018]

This is a new publication and though the focus is on bus stops, the principles and guides presented are very much adaptable and applicable to other public transport modes as well, particularly the road-based modes we have in the Philippines. The article contains a link for those who want to download the entire report.

On interviews and propaganda

A colleague once mentioned that he didn’t want to grant interviews to the media because of a then recent experience of one channel splicing up his interview and making it appear as if he were arguing with a government official. True enough, these productions can be made like that in order to generate more interest on the subject. People watching that channel’s programs on news are hooked to the latter because of their sensationalised style of reporting.

When I was Director of our transport center at the University of the Philippines, I maintained a generally media-friendly policy but was selective of those I would grant interviews to or whom I would refer to colleagues whom I had to assure about the interviews not becoming similar to those a former colleague referred to. After all, we knew which programs tended to be on the sensational side. For one, you can base the “media filter” on the personalities behind these programs. At the very least, you’ve done some damage control by pre-empting

Fast forward to the present and a close friend pointed to what first appeared as propaganda material made by online supporters of the current administration (i.e., the troll army). However, upon closer review we determined to be an official production of the government. It included a lengthy part of an interview one of our former directors granted to the government station a while back when the government was embarking on its “Build, Build, Build” program. To be fair, if taken without the tags and labels attached by what people would call fanatics or die-hard supporters of the current administration, then the production is simply a information material. Sure, it can be used as propaganda material but then taken as is, it is certainly not “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view” as the term “propaganda” is defined in dictionaries. In fact, a major part of the interview specifically mentioned failures of an authoritarian regime in building transport infrastructure that could have averted a lot of the problems we now experience. Context is very important and I thought that the labels attached to the video that made it look like it was something being peddled by the troll army definitely made it look bad.

I think this should be another lesson with our dealings with mainstream media and perhaps with social media, too. You cannot be too careful or meticulous about these interviews but then it is still a responsibility that should be taken on. Otherwise, we commit a sin of omission by not engaging in such activities. While we should not let our guard down in selecting which interviews to grant, there will be times when we just have to assume good faith and trust that the end product will not be fake news.

On the need for more facilities for cycling and ensuring they will be used for cycling

I read and hear a lot of comments about two particular items: pedestrian overpasses and bike lanes. Most of the comments call for pedestrians and cyclists to have priority over cars and for the latter to give way to pedestrians and cyclists every time. The hardline stance for some is for the pedestrians to be allowed to cross anywhere and for cyclists to be able to bike on any lane they choose to. Of course, the concerns about these are quite obvious and safety still calls for people, no matter what mode they choose, to use the appropriate spaces. What few actually discuss and delve into are design solutions to these problems. Many cite good practices elsewhere but stop at sharing these and not really going into in-depth and constructive discussions on how to implement these good designs here. Most of the time its just “the government must do this” and “the government must do like what (insert city or country) is doing”. Worse are those who tend to simplify it as an “architect vs. civil engineer vs. planner” kind of conflict. Playing the blame game doesn’t get us anywhere if we wanted the planning and design of transportation infrastructure improved.

Cyclists use the overpasses to cross the wide Marcos Highway between Pasig and Marikina. There are only 2 ramps, one each on either side of the highway and it partly occupies the sidewalk beneath. Could there be a better design for such overpasses?

Motorcycles using the bike lanes along Ortigas Avenue. How do we make sure that spaces are utilised according to their intended users? How do we design these spaces to include elements that will deter such incursions?

There are many references out there showing us what good design should be from the technical and social perspectives. Surely these can be taken up not only at the workplace for architects, engineers and planners but in schools where such principles are supposed to be learned and inculcated into the minds of future architects, engineers and planners.

On EDSA transport and traffic, again

There’s a recent decision by the Metro Manila Council (MMC) comprised of the mayors of the cities and municipality of Metro Manila and chaired by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair that vehicles bearing only one passenger (the driver) will be banned from travelling along EDSA. The problem with this is that by banning cars with one passenger from EDSA, you only succeed in making other roads like C5 more congested. It’s a simple case of transferring traffic and worsening it elsewhere since you’re not doing anything to alleviate congestion along those roads. Did MMDA run this and other scenarios using analytical or simulation tools at their disposal? If so, can these be shown and used to explain the soundness of this policy approved by the MMC? I suspect they didn’t and likely depended more on gut feel based on the data they have including what is often reported as 70% of vehicles traveling along EDSA having only one passenger. Meanwhile, the state of mass transit along EDSA still sucks.

IMG_3028A very crowded Boni Avenue Station platform (photo courtesy of Mr. Raul Vibal)

Of course, the pronouncement from the MMDA launched quite a lot of memes on social media. Some people shared the typical quotes on planning (you know, like the ones about planning for people vs. planning for cars). Some offered their own ideas about how to “solve” traffic along EDSA. And so on…that only succeeded in showing how everyone had an opinion about transport and traffic. Everyone is an expert, so it seems.

Some thoughts and not in any order:

  • The government can initially dedicate a lane each for express buses (a la Bus Rapid Transit or BRT). This idea has been circulating for quite some time now and has a good chance of succeeding. The DOTr is already deploying buses that they say are supplementing the MRT 3 trains (i.e., there aren’t enough trains running so passengers have the option of taking a bus instead). Running along the inner lanes of EDSA would mean, however, that they would have to find a way for passengers to cross the road and one idea would be for the stations to be retrofitted for this purpose.
  • Those cars along EDSA are not necessarily for short trips so walking and cycling while needing space may have less impact in the immediate term for such a corridor. In the meantime, serious consideration should be made for bike lanes whether on the ground or elevated and improvements to walking spaces.
  • But these efforts to improve passenger (and freight) flows should be a network-wide thing and not just along EDSA.
  • It’s time to have serious discussions and perhaps simulations (even a dry run) of congestion pricing in Metro Manila. Congestion pricing for all major roads and not just one or two. Funds collected goes to mass transit, walkways and bikeways development. DOTr was supposed to have already discussed an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system like Singapore’s with the company and people behind the same in the city-state. That doesn’t seem to be moving along.
  • Working and studying from home might work in terms of reducing vehicular traffic but then we generally have lousy internet services so that’s a barrier that needs to be broken down.
  • How about legalizing, once and for all, motorcycle taxis? Many are opposed to this citing safety concerns but then we are running out of options outside the usual motherhood statements pertaining to building transport infrastructure. Think about it. Give it a chance. These motorcycles might just surprise us in a nice way; that is, helping alleviate congestion.
  • Carpooling and lanes dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) would be good but the LTFRB made a pronouncement about these being illegal as they would be considered ‘colorum’. Such statements do not make the situation any easier and sends mixed signals as to the government’s being serious in considering all possible angles to improve transport and traffic particularly for commuting.

Do you have other ideas to share?