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Research topics in the time of Covid-19, Part 1

It’s that time of year again when I usually write about research topics. I am tempted to share the updated research agenda our group prepared for our students at UP but perhaps a quick list would do for now. I guess the most relevant topics are those related to the Covid-19 pandemic including those about transport during the lockdown and post-ECQ. Here are some initial ideas about such relevant topics to take on:

  • Public transport supply and demand, operations – there are many topics that can be developed under this including those relating supply and demand. For example, it would be interesting to have a research assessing the supply of public transport modes with respect to the demand from the lockdown (ECQ to MECQ) to its easing (GCQ to MGCQ). Included here would be topics tackling the attempts at rationalizing transport routes (e.g., the introduction of bus services where there was none before, the continuing restriction for conventional/traditional jeepneys, etc.). For those into transport economics and finance and even policy, perhaps the service contracting scheme can be studied further and its different aspects meticulously and objectively examined. What are its limitations? What are the critical assumptions that need to be realized for it to be most effective and not abused or mismanaged?
  • Traffic engineering and management – there were suddenly many issues pertaining to this during the lockdowns. Among these were traffic management in the vicinity of checkpoints where queuing theory among other principles could have been applied in order to reduce congestion.
  • Active transportation – the DPWH already came out with guidelines for bike lanes along national roads. These will surely be used as reference by local government units (LGU) as they are obliged by a DILG memo to develop facilities for active transportation. Active transport here refers mainly to walking and cycling but in other cases have come to include the use of personal mobility devices (PMD). Much research is to be done for designs, users’ preferences, behavior in traffic, safety and other topics such as those relating active transport with public transport (e.g., as a last mile/kilometer mode for most people).
  • Level of service (LOS) – I had a nice, brief exchange about LOS and the notion that it is outdated. I believe it is not and many who parrot the notion lacks a deeper understanding not just of LOS but the principles, assumptions and data that goes into transportation and traffic analysis. Perhaps a multi-modal LOS criteria can be developed for the Philippines? If so, what parameters or measures can be used to describe our own LOS? What modes and facilities will be evaluated according to this? And how can solutions be developed with respect to such.

Of course, there are just so many of the traditional topics to take on. There will always be a backlog regarding these topics. In the sequel to this article, I will try to identify other topics for transportation research that can be considered as well as recall “old” topics that are still necessary regardless of the pandemic.

Pedestrians first!

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) released a new tool for assessing walkability and presents good practice examples from many cities around the world. The tool can be used to assess and/or compare your city, a neighborhood or a street with others. Here is the link to the ITDP’s tool:

https://pedestriansfirst.itdp.org

There is an introductory article that came out recently from Planetizen about this tool:

Litman, T. (October 16, 2020) ‘Pedestrians First’ Measures Walkability for Babies, Toddlers, Caregivers, Everyone. Planetizen. https://www.planetizen.com/node/110876?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10192020&mc_cid=1736ec624f&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1

On sharrows

The term ‘sharrow’ basically short for shared right-of-way and refers to lanes or roads that are ‘designated’ for all modes of transport including and especially non-motorized ones such as bicycles. It also refers to the lane markings. There have been some mixed experiences and opinions about sharrows; particularly referring to whether they are effective. Here’s an article from the director of technology of Smart Design, which is a strategic design and innovation consulting firm in the US that gives another opinion (an evidence-based one) about sharrows:

Anderson, J. (September 30, 2020) “Safer with sharrows?”, World Highways, https://www.worldhighways.com/wh12/feature/safer-sharrows

I guess the experiences in different countries vary according to several factors. Perhaps these include cultural factors that also relate to human perceptions and behavior? Education is also definitely a factor here aside from awareness. And we have to work harder on these and together, rather than play the blame game on this matter that relates to safety. How many times has the observation that Filipinos tend to regard road signs and markings as merely suggestions rather than guides and regulations?

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.

On bicycles slowing down cars

There is a perception that cyclists tend to slow down other vehicles, mainly motorized, along roads. Again, such can be the experience of some that have been generalized and accepted as fact in most cases. However, if we look closely at the evidence, the perception may not be true for most cases after all. This article comes out of Portland State University:

Schaefer, J., Figliozzi, M. and Unnikrishnan, A. (2020) “Do bicycles slow down cars on low speed, low traffic roads? Latest research says ‘no’,” EurekAlert!, https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/psu-dbs072320.php [Last accessed: 8/1/2020]

 

Check out the wealth of information through the links found throughout the article that includes references to published material in reputable journals. EurekAlert! is from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

On making roads safer for students

Here is a nice article from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine about how transportation research makes roads safer for students as they go back to school:

Transportation research makes the road safer for students to get back to school

There is a wealth of information there, and one should browse and perhaps download resources shared that can be useful references not just for those in North America but elsewhere towards making journeys between homes and schools.

Scene near a public school in Zamboanga City [photo taken in June 2019]

We, too, have several initiatives towards making the journeys of children safer between their homes and schools. It is something that all of us find essential and worthwhile. Children, after all, represent our future and making their journeys safer gives them better chances to succeed in life. It also shows them examples that they can replicate for their own future children. I will write more about these as we obtain the data and perform our assessment.

On designing street for bicycles

There have been a lot of discussion both online and offline about coming up with bike lanes for Metro Manila. Already, there are examples of pop-up bike lanes in some cities while others have had bike lanes and bikeways constructed years ago (e.g., Marikina and Iloilo). While agencies like the DPWH and MMDA have formed technical working groups (TWG) for bike facilities, the perception is that these are moving too slowly (dragging?) and have not produced any gains in so far as design recommendations or guidelines are concerned. Just how important are such guidelines and perhaps at the beginning, context setting, to come up with suitable designs incorporating cycling (and walking) rather than the usual car-centric set-ups? Here’s another article I am sharing that argues for these street designs:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “The most important bike technology is…street design”, medium.com,¬†https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/the-most-important-bike-technology-is-street-design-401c94065b5c [Last accessed: 7/26/2020]

People biking to work along the Marcos Highway bridge’s painted bike lane

On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.

 

Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

On urban planning resources or references for the pandemic

I am posting for reference this article compiling helpful references for urban planning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the references listed are based on the US experience and I am sure there is already a wealth of information coming from other countries as well including those that have been successful in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Brasuell, J. (2020) “Urban Planning Resources for COVID-19”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/109238?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05142020&mc_cid=2e155996b6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/16/2020]

 

Reference on Bicycle Facility Preferences and Increasing Bicycle Trips

There are many references that are free for downloading. These include the latest publications from the National Academies Press that includes outputs from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. I am sharing here and posting also as a reference for me to return to a new publication from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program:

NCHRP Research Report 941: Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips by Watkins, Clark, Mokhtarian, Circella, Handy and Kendall.

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25792/bicyclist-facility-preferences-and-effects-on-increasing-bicycle-trips?utm_source=NASEM+News+and+Publications&utm_campaign=79720e1f2f-NAP_mail_new_2020_05_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&goal=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&mc_cid=79720e1f2f&mc_eid=ac92e6afc0

The research was supported by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).