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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.

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.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”

Some recommended references for sustainable transportation design

We conclude the month of October with the following recommended readings:

While these are guidelines and manuals developed and published in the United States, the principles and much of the content and context are very much applicable here.

As an additional reference, here is the latest version of functional classifications for streets that is supposed to be context-sensitive:

Local Public Transport Route Plan Manual – Philippines

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) recently shared the Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) Manual that was the product of the collaboration among government and the academe. While the date appearing on the cover is October 2017, this manual was actually completed in April 2017. [Click the image of the cover below for the link where you can download the manual.]

I don’t know exactly why the DOTr and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) were hesitant in releasing this manual. Perhaps they wanted to pilot test it first on a city? Yup, this manual has never been tested yet so we don’t really know whether it will work as a tool for planning public transportation.

With all the opposition to the government’s PUV Modernization Program, the DOTr and the LTFRB should be piloting the program first and show a proof of concept to dispel doubts about the program. The same essentially applies to this transport route plan manual. Only once these are piloted would we know first hand its flaws and allow us to revise or fine tune them. I would suggest that both the modernization program and the manual be piloted in cities that are perceived or claim to have strong local governance. Davao City comes to mind and perhaps Iloilo City. Can you think about other cities where the program and/or manual can be piloted?

On the Uber and Grab predicament

A lot has been said and written for or against Uber and Grab. Social media made sure the more popular but not necessarily the truthful ones are spread. One popular personality associated with motoring has even led an online petition against the rulings by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). An objective check of the facts reveal that LTFRB is not solely at fault here. Uber and Grab should not have promoted themselves and took in additional drivers (nagpaasa ng mga drivers) after the agency issued a moratorium last year. Estimates vary but it seems they have taken in tens of thousands of drivers (20.000? 30,000? 40,000?) and earned revenues along the way to what is now an historic penalty levied upon Uber and Grab by the LTFRB.

Perhaps the most level-headed article I’ve seen online is the following:

The thing about Grab, Uber and the LTFRB [by Vince Pornelos, July 18, 2017, https://www.autoindustriya.com/editors-note/the-thing-about-grab-uber-and-the-ltfrb.html]

It seems all is well, for now, as meetings were held between the DOTr, LTFRB and the concerned parties (Uber and Grab). In one of the meetings, a couple of Senators seem to have brokered a deal to resolve what appeared to be an impasse that a lot of people on social media reacted to. There are definitely a lot of vested (and veiled) interests involved here including those by various “operators” in the transport sector on both the sides of government and private sector. One takeaway though that I observed is that many appear to be against LTFRB even though the agency was truthful about their statements regarding the illegally operating transport vehicles. They seem to have made up their minds about the LTFRB and this is not surprising as transport problems have been festering for decades with little progress in terms of improving transport, conventional or innovative. Most people seem to have lost their patience about transport services and regulation, and perhaps this is a good thing if it translated to demanding for mass transit, too.

On distracted driving vs. other, more urgent, traffic issues

Much has been written and said about the new law against distracted driving. The people who crafted the law, Senators and Congressmen, are in agreement that their intention was mainly to address the rampant use of gadgets including cell phones by motorists. Yet, when the agencies in-charge of implementation drew up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), their interpretation was the subject of a lot of complaints. Many opined that the IRR didn’t take into consideration actual vehicle dashboard designs or that the definition of the term “line of sight” was open to interpretation. This necessitated another round of consultations with stakeholders leading to the infographic below:

Frankly, I am more concerned about speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving in traffic. These are equally if not more dangerous than many aspects of the distracted driving law. Quite serious would be the combination of distractions with any of the three behaviors mentioned. More disturbing would be the deliberate (definitely not distracted) or conscious acts of speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving that are often the cases if one observes the incidence of these three driving behavior. We can only wonder about the likelihood of crashes due to these behaviors.