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Flashback: Transport Infrastructure Framework Plan for the Philippines

I was reading an article yesterday about the outgoing NEDA Director General stating that Philippines needing a long term strategy for infrastructure development that will address the shortcomings or gaps due to unsolicited proposals. There was already something like this drafted almost a decade ago and under the auspices of the returning NEDA DG. Unfortunately, while NEDA accepted the Final Report of the study, they never adopted it as a policy that could also be imposed on agencies like the DOTr (still DOTC back then) and the DPWH. So for a sort of Throwback Thursday and on the last day of the Duterte Administration, I am sharing the promotional video produced for the framework plan that was supported by The World Bank.

The study was conducted by Cambridge Systematics (not related to Cambridge Analytics as far as I know) and was implemented at the same time as the JICA Dream Plan study for Mega Manila. I recall there is also a video on the latter and it listed all the infrastructure projects needed to address the transport problems of the Greater Capital Region. The Infra Framework Plan for the country mentions the various infrastructure projects ongoing and proposed for the Philippines but focuses on the soft side (i.e., strategies) including the reforms and institutional set-up that need to be in place for everything to come together and produce the desired outcomes in the long term. Sadly, strategies and plans are not well appreciated despite their being essential as foundations. While the Build, Build, Build mantra of the outgoing administration is worth praising for attempting to do the catch-up needed in as far as certain transport infrastructure is concerned, it falls short of what are necessary and to be prioritized. Instead, it ended up accommodating projects that are “nice to have” but should not be prioritized considering our limited resources and the undesirable foreign debt racked up by government. Hopefully, the returning NEDA DG and other officials will be able to steer the country clear of the current and future crises that may end up bringing more hardships on Filipinos.

On trucks and road safety again

The past days saw many trucks being involved in crashes along my commuting route. My social media feed also gives me updates on the traffic situation in my home city. And there are many reports of the same – trucks involved in road crashes or stalled due to a variety of reasons (engine problems, flat tires, etc.) . It is not an understatement to say that such incidents are a matter of concern especially since these may have been fatal (i.e., deaths due to road crashes). Here are a couple of photos we took as we passed a truck on its side along Ortigas Avenue Extension along one of my usual commuting routes.

It is fortunate that this did not result in any fatality but from the photos one can surmise the potential or likelihood of serious injuries if not death/s. Such underlines the importance of both proper maintenance and operations of these vehicles including how they are loaded. Shifting or unbalanced loads on moving trucks negotiating turns or maneuvering, for example, will result in loss of control and overturning that also leads to traffic congestion. Are the drivers competent, awake, alert? Or are they sleep or perhaps driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances?

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.

Safety remains a big issue in transportation

Even with the supposedly reduced traffic due to the pandemic, there has been a perceived increase in the road crashes. Many of these are speeding and reckless driving/riding related, and many involve pedestrians and cyclists who are most vulnerable considering the reckless behavior of drivers and riders. Following are photos taken in Antipolo along Ortigas Avenue Extension (the section leading up to the capitol):

Motorcycle spill after a UV Express van made a sudden (and illegal) U-turn along Ortigas Avenue Extension
Truck on its side after losing control, spilling its cargo on the road
The truck in the previous photo carried large cans of cooking oil. Many were compromised and required a clean-up to prevent further crashes from a slippery road.

Much has been said and written about Philippine roads not being up to par with international standards. I would agree with certain roads with designs encouraging speeding and other reckless behavior. However, there have been significant efforts to correct situations involving geometric design, signs and markings where applicable. These include engaging the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP). The road and engineering are just one part of the equation. Education and enforcement are the others that affect or influence the behavior of road users whether they be drivers, riders, cyclists or pedestrians. Even with the best road designs and their intended influence to driver and rider behavior, much is to be desired for driver/rider education and actual behavior on the road.

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”).

Another look at the ‘avoid, shift and improve’ framework

The transport and traffic situation during this pandemic has revealed a lot about what can be done and what needs to be done about transportation. Discussions about what and how people visualize their ideal or acceptable transportation system reminded me of the backcasting concepts and the tools. The following diagram is sourced from the SLoCaT homepage: https://tcc-gsr.com/global-overview/global-transport-and-climate-change/

Examples (i.e., non-exhaustive list) of avoid, shift and improve measures

Note the overlaps among the three? Do you think its possible to have a measure that’s avoid, shift and improve at the same time?

Note, too, that if we contextualize this according to the Covid-19 pandemic, these measures even make more sense rather than appear like typical, ordinary measures we have about transportation. The pandemic revealed many weaknesses or vulnerabilities of our transportation system. We are presented with the opportunity to address these and implement certain measures that would have met with a lot of opposition before but can probably be rolled out now such as public transport priority schemes and protected bike lanes. “Work from home” is not really new since the concept has been proposed and implemented before but not as widely as was required by the pandemic situation. So perhaps we should take advantage of this forced reboot of sorts for our transportation system to be able to implement this A-S-I framework.

Article on the new mobilities

Here’s a quick share of an article on what is described as the new mobilities:

Litman, T. [June 30, 2021] “Planning for New Mobilities: Preparing for Innovative Transportation Technologies and Services,” Planetizen.com, https://bit.ly/2U99Hlw [Last accessed: 7/3/2021]

What exactly are these new mobilities? To quote from the article:

“New Mobilities

  1. Active Travel and Micromobilities. Walking, bicycling, and variations, including small, lower-speed motorized vehicles such as electric scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes.
  2. Vehicle Sharing. Convenient and affordable bicycle, scooter, and automobile rental services.
  3. Ridehailing and Microtransit. Mobility services that transport individuals and small groups.
  4. Electric Vehicles. Battery-powered scooters, bikes, cars, trucks, and buses.
  5. Autonomous Vehicles. Vehicles that can operate without a human driver.
  6. Public Transport Innovations. Innovations that improve transit travel convenience, comfort, safety, and speed.
  7. Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Navigation and transport payment apps that integrate multiple modes.
  8. Telework. Telecommunications that substitutes for physical travel.
  9. Tunnel Roads and Pneumatic Tube Transport. New high-speed transport networks.
  10. Aviation Innovation. Air taxis, drones, and supersonic jets.
  11. Mobility Prioritization. Pricing systems and incentives that favor higher-value trips and more efficient modes.
  12. Logistics Management. Integrated freight delivery services.”
Cyclist along Circumferential Road 6 carrying a washing machine

Non-motorized logistics

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns led to people rediscovering what is now termed as active transport modes – walking and cycling. Not that these modes were not being used for travel as usually they, especially walking, represent the last mile/kilometer mode for most people. With the absence or lack of public transportation or service vehicles (e.g., free shuttles for frontliners, office service vehicles, etc.), many people turned to cycling. Perhaps one area outside of commuting where bicycles have plenty of potential (and I use the word ‘potential’ here because it is not yet as widespread as motorcycle use) is for delivery services. It is the general perception that there has been a surge in deliveries for various items especially food from restaurants. Why not employ bicycles either to supplement or augment the usual motorcycles used for such purposes? I took the following photos showing an example of deliveries using bicycles.

Jollibee delivery rider on a fat bike

The bicycle rider compared to a motorcycle rider – the bike is just about the same size as the motorcycle, only higher/taller due to the large wheels on the bicycle. The carrier or box is also larger than the typical carrier as it is for transporting food that can be of a large quantity or even multiple orders if these are in close proximity to one another.

Fast-food delivery via bicycle along Felix Avenue in Cainta, Rizal

On public transport services during the pandemic

I’ve read a lot of discussions and recommendations pertaining to public transportation services (mainly its lack thereof) during the Enhanced Community Quarantine aka lockdown in most parts of the Philippines. Problem is, a lot of people had their mobility curtailed as most people did not have their own private vehicles (cars or motorcycles) to do essential trips (i.e., for groceries, market, drugstores, hospitals, etc.). These include so-called frontline workers, most especially those working in hospitals or clinics. Even the use of tricycles on a limited basis while adhering to physical distancing guideline was not allowed in many cities and municipalities. What do we really need to do now and in transition to address the lack of public transport services?

Here is a concise yet very informative article on transit:

Walker, J. (2020) “Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?”, Human Transit,¬†https://humantransit.org/2020/04/cutting-transit-service-during-the-pandemic-why-how-and-whats-next.html¬†[Last accessed: 4/23/2020]

Most of the points discussed and recommendations presented are applicable to our case in the Philippines. We should also accept the fact that we cannot go back to the situation prior to the ECQ, and that the new normal calls for a reduction in car use. Meanwhile, we still have to address the pressing issues and come up with a plan or maybe strategies for public transport that involved not just buses and trains but other modes as well like the jeepneys, vans and tricycles.

Pavement distress along C-5 due to the truck lane policy

I frequently use Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), which is known by many names according to the MMDA, the DPWH and the LGUs it passes through. One thing I always notice is the deteriorating or deteriorated pavement, particularly along the lane designated for use by trucks. The MMDA had instituted and implements a policy requiring large trucks to use one lane of C-5 during times when the truck ban is lifted (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM). Smaller trucks are allowed to use other lanes.

The result has been a long platoon of large trucks along the designated lane of C-5 and this concentration of load on the highway has caused faster pavement deterioration for that lane. This is especially evident when the pavement surface is of asphalt concrete. Flexible as it is, the concentration of load has led to obvious pavement deformation as shown in the following photo.

For Portland cement Concrete pavement (PCCP) cases, I would presume that there is also significant damage and the distresses (e.g., cracks) can be linked to this concentration of load. This situation and the conditions for loading likely have detrimental implications on maintenance costs for C-5 and is probably an unintended consequence of the MMDA’s policy. It would be interesting to quantify the impacts of this truck lane policy, whether it has contributed to improve traffic flow along the major thoroughfare, and whether the maintenance costs have risen (and by how much) from the time the policy was implemented.