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On solving the inequality problem in cities

Here is another quick share of an article that is timely and relevant not just now but for years (maybe decades?) to come:

Grossman, D. (2020) “New Study Proposes a Mathematical Solution to Big Cities’ Inequality Problem,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/science/a-new-study-shows-why-building-more-equal-cities-could-save-lives?link_uid=15&utm_campaign=inverse-daily-2020-09-14&utm_medium=inverse&utm_source=newsletter [Last accessed: 9/15/2020]

I will just leave it here for future reference but to summarize, the article explains how cities should be planned or replanned based on the distribution or redistribution of certain facilities like hospitals, banks, schools, supermarkets, and parks. It argues that there is an optimum location for these in relation to where people live and work. If properly planned, travel distances and times can be significantly reduced.

Some takeaways from a UNICEF webinar

The UN together with its partners recently launch a Second Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021-2030). I will share the statement in a subsequent post. For now, I will share some slides from the recent webinar organized by UNICEF that focuses on safe and healthy journeys for children. Those of us who are working directly with UN agencies have been working on safe journeys for children particularly as they travel between their homes and schools. The recent launch and pledges or commitments of support from partner organizations will surely reinforce efforts to ensure the safety of children whether or not they return to school.

Context setting or rationale for UNICEF’s initiatives

 

Key resources or references shared by the webinar host

 

The term ‘co-benefits’ reminded me of a past project I worked on that was about low carbon transport. We also did assessment using co-benefits of low carbon transport. Among these were road safety.

 

The slide and the table speaks for itself – examples of effective strategies

 

There were several presentations during the webinar. However, the most interesting and informative for me was this one about the guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school.

 

Ten (10) points to consider as guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school

 

Database initiative in support of the guidance (I will get the link to this and share it in a future post.)

 

An example from London’s experience

 

This is a slide on what cities can do to promote active transport among children.

 

The photo shows what is termed as a “bicycle school bus”. This and “walking school bus” are real options for children and their guardians when traveling between their homes and schools. Such underlines the option of not using motor vehicles (i.e., reduction in motor vehicle trips).

I will try to elaborate on these in future posts, particularly on the 10-point guidance.

Requiem for the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys?

From the time Metro Manila and Rizal transitioned to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), there have been limited public transport services connecting the two considering most Rizal towns are like bed towns to Metro Manila. The term “bed town” refers to towns, or municipalities, even cities, that are basically the place of residence of persons who during the day time usually travel out to workplaces or schools outside their areas of residence. Many who reside in Rizal province actually work or study in Metro Manila. Similar cases may also be found in the other provinces surrounding Metro Manila like Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite. These connections are made mainly by public transport, which for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas currently comprise about 70% of total trips. The rest is by private transport. [Note: Not counted are trips mainly by walking and cycling. While everyone walks, walking is usually at the ends of the commutes.]

Current public transport services now comprise of buses plying the Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore routes that were among the first operationalized under the rationalization program of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). For the Antipolo-Cubao route, several companies have shared the load with mostly aircon buses running between Quezon City and Antipolo City. I wrote recently that there are now non-aircon (referred to as ordinary) buses serving this route and that in addition to the main line (Aurora Blvd.-Marcos Highway-Masinag Junction-Sumulong Highway via) there was now a branch going through Cogeo and via Olalia Road.

Aircon bus approaching the Robinsons Antipolo terminal

Non-aircon (ordinary) bus plying the Antipolo-Cubao route along Sumulong Highway past the Masinag Junction

We got a comment about how perhaps DOTr and LTFRB plans to introduce variations to main routes including adding to the route number to distinguish one variation from another. While the original route signs look like the one on top of the windshield in the Aircon bus in the first photo with the white box on the left displaying the route number, the bus in the second photo shows two boxes. The second box to the right of the route name is blank. So perhaps there can be an ‘A’ to refer to the original Route 9 and ‘B’ can refer to the one via Cogeo. Does this mean there can also be a ‘C’ and that can be via the even older route via Felix Avenue, Cainta Junction and Ortigas Avenue. If this becomes a reality, then that probably puts the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys. Jeepneys would have been phased out for the route in favor of the higher capacity buses.

Of inequitable allocations and accessibility

In the news recently were figures released supposedly by Philhealth showing the top hospitals receiving reimbursements from the agency for claims relating to COVID-19. Southern Philippines Medical Center, a hospital in Davao City received 326M pesos while UP-PGH got 263.3M pesos.  I was not surprised that my social media newsfeed included posts from both sides of the fence (The fence sitters among my friends on social media were not commenting about these anymore and seem content in just posting on food or whatever activity they were in.). Each were posting information divulged by the whistleblowers in the ongoing hearings on the issues pertaining to PhilHealth funds.

I will not go into the political aspect of this controversy but will just focus on the transportation aspects of the issue.  I will just compare the top two hospitals in the list to simplify the assessment while mentioning others in general.

The claim that the hospital in Davao was the equivalent of PGH in Mindanao doesn’t hold water as the hospital does not treat even 10% of the cases that PGH is handling and for a much smaller geographical area. While UP-PGH is accessible to a larger population and for less travel times, SPMC is not as accessible to say people coming from other major cities like Cagayan De Oro or Zamboanga City. Yes, there are other major cities on the same island that have sizable populations with ‘catchment’ or influence areas comparable to Davao City. They, too, probably need funds to be able to treat COVID-19 patients. It is true that there are many other hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) that have the facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. However, many of these are private hospitals that tend to incur more costs for the patient and are not generally accessible (read: affordable) to most people who are of middle and low incomes. Thus, UP-PGH can be regarded as the frontliner among frontline hospitals.

What? There are other public or government hospitals in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? True, but many of those have very limited capacities in terms of facilities and Human Resources. The same applies to Davao’s case as well because there are also medical centers and hospitals in surrounding provinces. And to round-out the resources available to these hospitals, local government units have also (over) extended their resources to hospitals. Perhaps the allocations and proportions can be explained in another way that is not the “apologist” but based on actual numbers pertaining to cases handled by the hospitals?

Painted lines are not enough for bike lanes

From the experiences of many biking or trying to bike in the Philippines, painted lines are not enough for bike lanes. Only recently, cyclists using bike lanes that did not have any physical barriers to deter motorists from encroaching have been involved in crashes, with at least a couple being reported as fatal for the cyclists. Here is an article on what cyclists need in order to ensure or at least improve the safety of their commutes.

UTC (2020) “White lines? Cyclists need more,” ITS International, https://www.itsinternational.com/its8/feature/white-lines-cyclists-need-more [Last accessed: 8/6/2020]

Commuters on bicycles along the Marcos Highway bridge bike lane

Are there differences regarding cycling in different countries? From a somewhat cultural-behavioral perspective, perhaps there are studies (though I am not aware of them yet) about how peoples from different countries or cities behave with respect to cyclists whether or not there are bike lanes designated for the latter’s use. I recall my experiences cycling in Japan and drivers are generally respectful of cyclists on the roads. Pedestrians, too, are very tolerant of cyclists on the sidewalks or designated areas for walking. Of course, the cyclist would have to do their share of respecting others’ spaces, too, and should behave and position themselves accordingly while traveling.

On the benefits of shared roads during the pandemic

There is evidence, and they are increasing, for the benefits of shared roads. Here is another quick share of an article supporting that:

Brown, M (2020) “Shared-use roads improve physical distancing, research shows,” Medical Xpress, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-shared-use-roads-physical-distancing.html%5BLast accessed: 7/30/2020]

With the situation in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila appearing to be worsening rather than improving, national and local governments should take heed of the evidence for shared-use roads and the importance of active transport to ensure people’s mobility will not be hampered. This is particularly important for our frontliners and other essential workers if we are to survive this pandemic.

The plight of commuters during GCQ

I write this on the eve of the imposition of Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). It is another unfinished article that was intended to be a quick post showing the typical conditions for commuters during the GCQ. Public transport supply was slow to return to adequate levels as the government took advantage of restrictions to impose route rationalization and modernization programs. The following scenes were common along my commuting routes:

Commuters waiting for a ride near the provincial capitol

The rains of the wet season added to the misery of the wait.

Long queue at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Antipolo, which is the terminus for buses connecting Antipolo with Cubao and Ortigas Center.

The queue reaches beyond the shaded areas of the terminal.

I think national government should be the one to provide for the public transport needs of frontliners (i.e., health care workers including doctor, nurses, medical technologists, pharmacists, etc.) and other essential workers. My definition of the latter are those required for logistics to function as well as those to ensure the required production or manufacturing for the rest of us who need to stay at home. Not everyone has the same, fair circumstances as there are those who can afford to stay at home and those who need to work for them to live, often on a day-to-day basis.

The pandemic has taken a toll not only on the physical but the mental health of many of us. Government rants and retorts are unnecessary and uncalled for given its dismal performance. I dare say dismal as the evidence shows certain local government units and the Office of the Vice President doing much, much more despite their limited resources. We are not in this quandary because government performed well and to the best of their people’s abilities. If that was their best then they have no business staying in their positions. If our health care system fails, then there is nothing to stop this pandemic from claiming much more than lives.

On bike shares and the pandemic

We begin August 2020 with another article I want to share. Here is another article on cycling, this time on bike share:

Kanik, A. (2020) “The decisions cities made about coronavirus had a big impact on bikeshare ridership,” citymetric.com, https://www.citymetric.com/transport/decisions-cities-made-about-coronavirus-had-big-impact-bike-share-ridership-5218[Last accessed: 7/29/2020]

Our university’s bike share program currently dedicated their bikes for the use of frontliners. Outside UP Diliman, only the City of Pasig has a bike share program. Is it somewhat surprising that these are the only bike shares we know in the country? It should be, considering the potential of bike shares and cycling as a mode of transport for mobility. In fact, two cities, Marikina and Iloilo, which pride themselves having formal bikeways (Marikina even has an extensive bikeway network that began 20 years ago.) have no bike share programs. Is the concept or perhaps the lack of facilities to encourage people to bike safely that is absent and therefore need to be provided?  With the surge of bike users post-lockdown, there should be evidence that bike shares can work but only if cities work on it, too.

 

File photo of Iloilo City’s bikeway along the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave. (formerly Diversion Road) taken in 2015.

On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On tricycle capacity in the time of COVID-19

With the current rationalization and modernization of public transport vehicles and services being implemented by the national government, many jeepneys, mostly the conventional or traditional ones, have been unable to ply their routes again. Along some routes, buses have taken over but have been limited in the number of passengers they could carry due to physical distancing restrictions. But these are mostly for routes and roads that carry people between their residences and workplaces that typically are longer distance trips (e.g., more than 4 kilometers one way). For shorter distance trips, the more relevant mode of motorized transport is the tricycle. The conventional trike in the Philippines is one involving a motorcycle with a side car. Side car designs vary around the country with some seating 4 people (e.g., back to back with 2 facing backward) but usually with only two seats inside the cab. one or two passengers can be accommodated behind the driver on the motorcycle.

New model trikes include the models endorsed by the Asian Development Bank for the e-trike project that is laid out like a small jitney with benches seating 3 to 4 people on one side (total 6 to 8 passengers) and the popular tuktuk designs that seat 3 people at the back. With the quarantine restrictions in place, conventional trikes can only take one passenger inside the sidecar and none behind the driver. Tuktuks can seat 2 behind the driver but with a barrier (usually a plastic curtain) between the passengers.

 

Conventional or traditional trike with plastic sheet between the driver and the passenger (in the side car).

Tuktuk-type trike with plastic sheet between the driver (in front seat) and passengers in back seat. The back seat allows for 3 people seated together but due to distancing requirement

I have been informed by a former student that certain e-trike models (e.g., BEMAC model e-trikes) are allowed to carry 4 passengers, 2 each on the benches behind the driver who is on the front seat. That still means less passengers than they could usually carry. This would seem to be part of the new normal and will be the set-up for the foreseeable future until perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and people get vaccinated. Then, health protocols may be eased to allow for the full seating capacities of public transport vehicles.