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We need to do more to reduce transport emissions

I did some work on long term action plans on low carbon transport for the ASEAN region before. We were able identify many of interventions that were being implemented as well as those that can be done to reduce transport emissions. Such reductions for the region would ultimately contribute to alleviating global warming. Unfortunately, while ASEAN is a significant contributor to emissions, it pales in comparison to emissions by individual countries like China and the US. If these two and others in the industrialized world do not commit to reducing their emissions, all work will come to naught. Here is an article that serves as a pre-event write-up for COP26, a major climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in the coming days.

Transportation topics at the College of Engineering’s Professorial Chair Colloquiums

The College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman started holding its annual colloquiums (plural because each Institute and Department under the College are holding their colloquium mostly during this last quarter of the year).

The Department of Mechanical Engineering already held theirs last September. There were four topics on transportation: 1) Dr. Gerald Ko C. Denoga (Fernando N. Serina Mechanical Engineering Professorial Chair) presented on “Reduction of Light Rail Transport Energy Demand via Powertrain Modeling and Optimization of Operating Parameters”; 2) Dr. Juvy A. Balbarona (Renato M. Tanseco Professorial Chair) presented on “Timetable Optimization for Light Rail Transit (LRT 1)”; 3) Asst. Prof. Roderaid T. Ibanez (Team Energy Professorial Chair) presented on “Energy Demand Quantification and Conservation Strategies of Bus Transport Terminal Facilities along EDSA”; and 4) Dr. Edwin N. Quiros (Federico E. Puno Professorial Chair) presented on “Fuel Economy Results from Diesel engine Tuning for Steady Speed and Drive Cycle Operation”.

There is one transport related topic in the Department of Computer Science colloquium. On October 25, Dr. John Justine S. Villar (Dean Reynaldo Vea Professorial Chair) will be presenting on the “Efficiency Measurement of Domestic Ports in the Philippines Using Data Envelopment Analysis.”

The Institute of Civil Engineering will be holding its colloquium on October 28 – 29, 2021 with the following transport-related topics: 1) Asst. Prof. Rosabelle Louise A. Caram (DCCD Engineering Corporation Professorial Chair), “Utilization of Plastic Laminates in Asphalt Cement Mastic”; 2) Dr. Hilario Sean O. Palmiano (David M. Consunji Professorial Chair in Engineering), “Validation of a Customized Local Traffic Simulator (LocalSim)”; 3) Dr. Jose Regin F. Regidor (Ambrosio Magsaysay Professorial Chair in Engineering), “Pedestrian Safety Assessment Within Public Elementary School Zones in Quezon City using Star Rating for Schools”; 4) Dr. Ricardo DG. Sigua (Dr. Olegario G. Villoria, Jr. Professorial Chair in Transportation/Logistics), “Study of Motorcycle Rider Casualties at Signalized and Unsignalized Intersections”; 5) Dr. Karl B.N. Vergel (Quintin and Norma Calderon Professorial Chair), “Estimation of Transportation Energy Demand of the Philippines”.

Other departments have not posted yet about their schedules or topics yet. The Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (EEEI), for example, will have their colloquium this coming October 25 but have not posted a detailed schedule yet. They usually have several transport-related topics including those on traffic signals, vehicle detection, and bike share innovations.

More details and updates including registration to these colloquia may be found at the UP College of Engineering Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/updengg

Papers from the Philippines presented in the EASTS 2021 conference

Here’s a list of papers from the Philippines presented at the recent 14th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS). The local society, the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), is affiliated with EASTS being one of the founding societies for what is now the mother organization with members across Asia.

I thought the list would be helpful to those who come to this site to look for research topics. I guess it’s that time of the year for many university/college students who are looking for topics for their thesis or dissertation. There’s a nice mix of topics in the list and shows what are the current topics students and faculty from the different schools are engaged in. Many appear to be from research projects, which are a natural source for technical papers being submitted, presented and published in conferences or journals.

The TSSP is holding its own virtual conference in November 2021. I will also share about that and the papers to be presented in that conference in a future post. Currently, they have not finalized the program and papers submitted are still being reviewed.

EASTS 2021 Conference

I would have been in Hiroshima, Japan today if it weren’t for the pandemic. I would have been attending this conference from this weekend (September 12 to 14) where my colleagues and I will be presenting our papers at the respective sessions according to the topics of our work. This year, the conference is virtual and we submitted recorded presentations though presence during the sessions is still required to answer questions about the papers presented. A pre conference even was already held yesterday that attracted early career research in transportation. Here is the link to the conference hosted by Hiroshima University.

I have been to Hiroshima once but unfortunately it was a busy trip to the university and I could not go around. I had wanted to go the memorial to the atomic bomb attack on the city. The plan we had before the pandemic was to have a post conference trip to Kyoto and then proceed to Tokyo on what could have been another sentimental journey for me and close friends who have also studied in Japan. Perhaps there will be another opportunity soon and that we can already travel even with the restrictions or health protocols pertaining to Covid-19.

Undergraduate and graduate research topics, 2021

I noticed again that there seem to be a lot of ‘hits’ for articles I wrote years ago about research topics. Many appear to be looking for topics for their university/college/school research projects including those who might be looking for thesis or dissertation topics. Here are some of my past postings on research topics:

October 23, 2020: https://d0ctrine.com/2020/10/23/research-topics-in-the-time-of-covid-19-part-1/

August 11, 2017: https://d0ctrine.com/2017/08/11/topics-for-transportation-research/

September 28, 2016: https://d0ctrine.com/2016/09/28/research-topics-for-transportation-engineering-and-planning-for-2016-2017/

December 11, 2015: https://d0ctrine.com/2015/12/11/undergraduate-research-topics-for-academic-year-2015-2016/

July 4, 2015: https://d0ctrine.com/2015/07/04/research-topics-on-transport-and-traffic-in-the-philippines/

October 22, 2014: https://d0ctrine.com/2014/10/22/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-for-ay2014-2015/

August 27, 2013: https://d0ctrine.com/2013/08/27/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-at-up-diliman-2013/

October 17, 2012: https://d0ctrine.com/2012/10/17/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation/

October 12, 2011: https://d0ctrine.com/2011/10/12/undergraduate-research-topics-on-transportation-2011-2012/

It is from the July 4, 2015 article where I wrote something that is still very much applicable today or perhaps anytime someone asks about what topics should be pursued by undergraduate, graduate and even faculty research:

“Schools need to develop their own research agendas. That is so that students would be able to choose topics that their faculty can realistically and effectively guide their students instead of sending them out to become the burdens of others. These would include topics concerning local issues. Are there road safety issues at locations such as intersections near the school? Are the streets in the nearby CBD experiencing congestion? Is there an oversupply or lack of public transport services in the city or a nearby town? It seems awkward for a university in Pampanga, for example, to have students taking on a topic concerning EDSA-MRT or students of a university in Metro Manila taking on a topic on Mindanao railways, if their faculty have no relevant experiences or capabilities to properly guide the students.

I would encourage schools to identify topics concerning local issues first. As they say, charity begins at home, and working on solutions for local problems should be top of the agenda of any school. That includes us at UP and there are many topics that focus on issues in and around UP Diliman. If we can’t solve our own problems then how can we be believable in addressing those outside our direct influence area?”

I do encourage prospective student researchers to take on topics addressing local transportation issues. Some recommendations are as follows:

  • Active transport – topics on bike use, bike lanes planning and design, pedestrian or cycling facilities, safety, funding and investments, integration with public transport, end of trip facilities, IEC or C4D materials development and deployment, etc.;
  • Road/highways – topics on road safety, road capacity (e.g., assessing the necessity and/or effectiveness of road widening projects);
  • Public transportation – topics on rationalization, modernization, services in the time of Covid-19, business models including service contracting, motorcycles as public transport (i.e., motorcycle taxis);
  • Anything relating transport and the pandemic – topics about transport in the so-called new normal, impacts of Covid-19 on transport, traffic, commuting, etc. These topics can be framed a number of ways and can be very local (i.e., based on local experiences) and/or comparative.

There are obviously more including the “classic” ones on traffic engineering and management (e.g., traffic congestion, intersection analysis, development of micro-simulation models, etc.), transport planning (e.g., travel demand forecasting, transport model development, etc.), as well as those on the various modes of transport (air, maritime and rail come to mind). The objective is to be able to contextualize and address issues closer to your home rather than far from it. I think that’s how best you can contribute to addressing transport problems rather than be over-ambitious or messianic in your research topic(s).

On priority lanes for public transport

I am currently part of an International Research Group (IRG) involved in studies on bus priority. Yesterday, we had a meeting where one professor mentioned the importance of being able to clearly explain the advantages of having priority lanes for buses in order to improve their performance (i.e., number of passengers transported and improved travel times). There was a lively discussion about how the perception is for bike lanes while transit lanes have also been implemented for a long time now though with mixed results.

There are very familiar arguments vs. taking lanes away from cars or private motor vehicles and allocating them for exclusive use of public transport and bicycles. It may sound cliche but ‘moving people and not just cars’ is perhaps the simplest argument for priority lanes.

EDSA carousel buses lining up towards a station

Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue – is this a temporary thing? a fad because traffic is really not back to the old normal? Katipunan is infamous for being congested with cars generated by major trip generators in the area such as schools/universities and commercial establishments.

The bike lane along Commonwealth Avenue proves there’s just too much space for private motor vehicles. And with the Line 7 in the horizon, perhaps more lanes can be taken and made exclusive to road public transport. [Photo credit: Cenon Esguerra]

On quantifying the benefits of bike share

I’m sharing another article that presents a quantification of Such articles and studies are gaining interest as cycling or biking becomes a popular choice for many seeking an alternative to their usual or former modes of transport. It helps that there are many initiatives promoting active transport in general and cycling/biking in particular.

Wilson, K. (July 23, 2021) “Study: Bike Share Saves the U.S. $36 Million Public Health Dollars Every Year,” StreetsBlog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/07/23/study-bike-share-saves-the-u-s-36-million-public-health-dollars-every-year/ [Last accessed: 8/6/2021]

While the article is about bike share, the conclusions can be extended to cycling/biking in general. The article points to at least 3 major areas where benefits can be derived: safety, air pollution (reduction) and physical activity. To quote:

“I think the message to cities is that bike share — and biking in general, though that’s harder to quantify in the way we do in this study — can contribute a lot to their long term goals,… Most cities want to improve quality of life, the economy, the climate, and their public health outcomes. Bike share does all those things.”

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.

So what’s the role of academe in transport development again?

I was in a meeting that started off well enough but was accentuated and concluded on sour notes. It was where 2 governmentt officials basically berated and ridiculed us representing academe. Dinaan lang kunyari sa mapalamuting pananalita nila. Well, no matter how you twist your words, we could still decode their meaning. I guess that goes with years of experience listening to all kinds of talk from government officials, politicians, people in private sector, consultants, faculty members, researchers and yes, students. You know bullshit even if its hiding behind a bunch of flowers.

I think the idea of certain government officials about the role of academe in development is to essentially be rubber stamps of the administration. Those who offer criticisms or disagree with plans, policies or parts of these are often branded as “bad apples”. Bawal kumontra. I guess that comes from people who are basically insecure with their work or outputs? Or perhaps they are just worried about their standing and image considering the very political environment they are working in. I could not use the word ‘validate’ to describe the expectation from academe from the government officials in that meeting since the process of validation may end up either positive or negative (thereby invalidating something such as a plan or a policy).

There will always be newer tools and newer models. I remember the times when JICA STRADA was supposed to be the state-of-the-art travel demand forecasting software. It was easily overtaken by the like of CUBE and Vissum. Even its simulator was not at par with VISSIM, Dynasim and a host of other micro-simulation software packages that were more user friendly. Better tools allow for better models, but also only if you do your part in collecting the data required for calibration and validation and formulate sound assumptions. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. No matter how sophisticated your computer models seem to be, they are nothing if your assumptions and data are rubbish. As Howard Stark states in his recorded message to Tony, “I am limited by the technology of my time. But one day, you’ll figure this out.” And not only will there be newer tools and models, there will also be newer methods including those that allow for more sophisticated data collection.

Plan formulation and acceptance are not as simple as 1+1 as one official used as an example. It’s actually more complicated than that. Plans don’t and should not be described in absolutes but should be dynamic or evolving since the future is also uncertain and there are so many factors in play that cannot be all represented or modeled. And no, we’re not going to toe the line nor will we tell other academics to do so. In fact we will continue to be outspoken because that is part of how it is to be objective, and to be encouraging of critical thinking. It is the latter that needs to be instilled in many government agencies where people tend to forget about it likely for convenience as well as to conform with the political atmosphere.

The presence of respected Japanese professors in the meeting and their likely role in convincing JICA to convene an experts’ panel meeting. The meeting was with certain academics representing schools that were not initially engaged by government. JICA’s nod is recognition enough of the accomplishments and reputation of those of us who were invited to the meeting. Unfortunately, their expertise are not appreciated by their own government but that seems to be the consistent policy for the current administration that rewards those who toe the line while shunning those who are more objective and critical.

Culturally though, I am not surprised of the proceedings because we don’t have the same reverence for academe as they have in Japan or other countries where academics are regularly called upon to provide insights to address problems such as those pertaining to transportation. That is why they have strong advisory councils in those countries. And in the case of the US, for example, their National Academies have contributed much to transport development. I have experienced something similar from a top government official before regarding traffic management and policies in Metro Manila. Whether that set-up in the US and Japan can be realized here remains to be seen.

On predicting how new developments will affect pedestrians

I’ve been involved in a number of traffic or transport impact assessment (TIA) projects in the past. In these assessments, not much is usually written about the impacts to pedestrians though we make sure that there is a section discussing their needs (e.g., sidewalks, crossings, footbridges). Unfortunately, even with specific recommendations, there is no assurance that the proponent will revise their designs. The typical TIA in the Philippines is undertaken after there have been architectural plans already prepared if not completed. By completed here, I mean they are practically final from the perspective of the client or proponent. The exception it seems is a big mall chain that seems to constantly revise their plans and for which our recommendations are almost always considered and incorporated in design.

I am sharing this recent article on the development of a new traffic model to predict the impacts of new developments on walkers.

Wilson, K. (April 26, 2021) “New Traffic Model Predicts How New Developments Will Affect Walkers,” StreetsBlog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/04/26/new-traffic-model-predicts-how-changes-affect-walkers/ [Last accessed: 5/12/2021]

From the perspective of doing TIAs, I think that there should be a conscious effort of including the needs of pedestrians (walkers) and cyclists in impact assessments. Too often, (and I too am guilty here), there is but a minor mention of their needs and recommendations can be disregarded by both proponents (e.g., little or no change in designs to accommodate pedestrian requirements) and the local government (i.e., no push to make sure pedestrian needs are addressed).

On the tech side, there is a local development that can be used for counting pedestrians and cyclists. The TITAN project funded by the DOST-PCIEERD developed a tool that can count pedestrians and cyclists in aid of studies involving them. Such tools can be useful for data collection regardless of whether there is a new project or a TIA being undertaken.