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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

Safe streets for children

We have been working with UNICEF and several partner organizations on a project on Child Road Traffic Injury Prevention (CRTIP). The Final Reports for the two pilot cities, Valenzuela City and Zamboanga City, have been submitted and represents over 2 years work including during the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The latter part of project implementation indeed became a challenge as we couldn’t travel and engage face-to-face or conduct field surveys like how we did in the first part of the project. Still, I believe we were able to accomplish much and most of what we initially set out to do. Here are the covers of the Final Reports we submitted to UNICEF and we understand will be officially or formally transmitted to the two cities.

The reports narrate the surveys conducted for 25 schools in Zamboanga and 41 schools in Valenzuela. Each initially had selected 25 schools but Valenzuela pushed for an additional 16 schools midway into the project. The SR4S tool developed by iRAP was used for the assessments of critical areas around the schools. The initial assessments were used to identify interventions to improve safety in these areas and recommendations were submitted for consideration of the cities as well as the DPWH where applicable (i.e., the DPWH has jurisdiction over national roads and improvements proposed along these). While some interventions were implemented, others and many were delayed mainly due to Covid-19.

We also conducted a survey to determine the commuting characteristics of schoolchildren in both cities. Since most schools were public schools, it was no surprise that most children lived near the schools or within the school district (which is basically the catchment area for these schools). Thus, it also came as no surprise that most schoolchildren came by foot (walking), motorcycles (riding with a parent) or motor tricycle. There’s a lot of information and takeaways from the data but unfortunately, we could get the bigger, more complete picture of Valenzuela City because they selected only elementary schools covering students from Grades 1 to 6. Zamboanga had a more robust data set with both elementary and high schools, covering Grades 1 to 12. The information derived from these surveys were also analyzed and related to the SR4S assessments. The commuting survey results and SR4S assessment are subject of two technical papers presented in the recent EASTS 2021 conference hosted by Hiroshima University.

What’s next? We are now drafting a proposal for a Phase 2 of the project. We hope to continue and reinforce and follow-up on the recommended interventions from Phase 1. We also hope to be able to work on the CRTIP data hub that was only partly completed due to the many constraints faced by that part of the project. I will post here from time to time about some of the outcomes from the surveys and assessments.

On why people are afraid to bike

There is an interesting graphic shared by a friend on his social media account. I am also sharing it here. The source may be found at the bottom right of the graphic.

I think the graphic speaks for itself. How can we encourage people to bike whether for commuting or other utilitarian purpose if there are nuts behind the wheels of many motor vehicles? All the points raised in the graphic are true for the Philippines and are not limited to drivers of private vehicles. These are also the same for public transport drivers as well. And these cannot be solved or addressed overnight. You have to get to the roots of the problem, which are about the driver and rider education (i.e., training), and the licensing system of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

While there are driving and riding schools that have proliferated, many seem to just go through the motions of driver and rider education. Prospective motor vehicle drivers and riders often just learn enough to pass a flawed examination to get their licenses. Do they really learn about how to behave properly when driving or riding? It certainly does not show with how they deal with cyclists and pedestrians. As for enforcement, well that’s another topic to discuss in a separate post.

On riders’ perception of safety

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the US Department of Transportation released some infographics recently to highlight road safety. One very timely and relevant graphic image asks about which facilities make bicycle riders feel safer:

There were some initial reactions when I shared this on social media with one immediately criticizing share-use paths and citing the one along Marcos Highway (stretch under Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) as an example. I quickly explained that the graphic assumes good designs instead of the flawed one along Marcos Highway. In fact, the shared use path is also quite popular in Europe and particularly in the Netherlands where they have many examples of these paths stretching for kilometers that are exclusive to active transport (pedestrians and cyclists). The good designs need to be shared and circulated so people will know about what they look like and learn about their features. These can be adopted and adapted to local situations.

Did you notice the images of cyclists/riders at the top of the graphic? These are important, too, because they provide context in terms of the type of riders who are the targets for infrastructure and campaigns that support and promote cycling across different types of people. Cycling shouldn’t just be for the most fit or the weekend warriors but rather for everyone who could take it up and not just for recreation but for everyday, utilitarian use (e.g., commuting, shopping, etc.).

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.

On car ownership and car use vs. public transport use

Here is another quick share of an article regarding car ownership and car use vs. public transport use. It is written in the first person as a the author relates her experience and what contradictory feelings she’s had with the decision to acquire and use a car.

Noor, D (June 21, 2021) “Buying a Car Improved My Life. It Shouldn’t Have.” Gizmodo, https://gizmodo.com/buying-a-car-improved-my-life-it-shouldnt-have-1847106068 [Last accessed: 7/10/2021]

I think many people in the Philippines (not just Metro Manila or other highly urbanized cities in the country) have similar experiences. They really don’t want to get a car or a motorcycle but their circumstances and the conveniences have outweighed their initial stand. Why do we need to have our own private vehicle anyway? Is it because its difficult to get a ride using public transport? Is it because of the quality of the ride? Is it due to health or safety-related reasons? In that last question, perhaps the fears of getting infected by Covid-19 present a overwhelming justification for car use and not just car ownership.

We also have to distinguish between vehicle ownership, car ownership and car use. ‘Vehicle ownership’ is a more general term that should include both motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Thus, if you have don’t have a car but instead have a bicycle, you are still a vehicle owner. Of course the term is more widely applied to motor vehicle owners but we need to expand this and distinguish between motor and non-motor vehicle ownership. Otherwise, let’s just be specific about the vehicle. ‘Car ownership’ is not equal to or does not correspond with car use. It is possible that one owns one or more cars or vehicles but does not use them at least for his/her regular commute. People in Singapore, for example, have cars. The same for people in Japan. However, most of these car owners choose to take public transportation most days. In their case, owning a car may not have improved their lives considering the excellent public transport services they have and requirements for people wanting to own cars in those places. Elsewhere, such as the Philippines, owning and using a car may provide better transport options depending not the circumstances of the person(s), even considering the costs of ownership and operations.

On how animals can safely cross highways

Here is a quick share of an article regarding animal crossings and roads/highways:

I thought the article was interesting not just because it featured animal crossings but because the very same ideas and design interventions may be adopted for humans as well. Indeed, there will be cost implications but that is only because we have been accustomed to designs that favor car use more than the movement of people. Perhaps we should rethink how we design infrastructure such as our roadways for them to be favoring active transport and employing more nature or environment-friendly features.

Revising the DPWH Design Manuals

A friend posted about the current initiatives in the US as they embark on revising their Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This manual along with AASHTO’s Geometric Design of Highways and Streets and their Highway Capacity Manual are something like the holy trinity for Highway and Traffic Engineers. These are also the main references for our DPWH for the manuals and guidelines we use in traffic and highways.

Here are a couple of articles calling for the revisions to reflect recent designs mainly from NACTO, which itself publishes guidelines for roads to be more inclusive rather than car-centric:

NACTO (May 2021) Modernizing Federal Standards: Making the MUTCD Work for Cities, https://nacto.org/program/modernizing-federal-standards/

NACTO (May 11, 2021) A Blueprint to Update America’s Street Manual, https://nacto.org/2021/05/11/a-blueprint-to-update-americas-street-manual/

We don’t have to pattern revisions after the MUTCD but then that requires that the DPWH through its Bureau of Research and Standards (DPWH-BRS) do its part in compiling, reviewing, studying and adopting materials from various countries, and developing suitable standards and guidelines for roads in the Philippines. Do they have to reinvent the wheel? Not so and they can still refer to the US manuals as long as again these are localised for our conditions and situations.

On the “safe system” approach in road safety

We kick-off the UN Global Road Safety Week with a road safety feature. Here is an excellent read from Johns Hopkins University’s Hub:

(May 13, 2021) “Safe system” approach could dramatically reduce road deaths while improving equity, Hub, https://hub.jhu.edu/2021/05/13/safe-system-roads-could-reduce-road-accidents-deaths/ [Last accessed: 5/14/2021]

To quote from the article:

“The Safe System approach engineers road systems so that they are safe when used intuitively, the way people tend to use them. A Safe System minimizes the chances for mistakes by drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and reduces the intensity of crashes when they do occur.”

There are so many situations and locations around the country that could be improved using this approach. The safe system approach is actually embedded in the country’s current Road Safety Action Plan (RSAP).

Road and traffic environment in front of the main gate of a high school in Zamboanga City

On what local governments can do to improve road safety

Here is a very interesting article on how a small city in the US was able to reduce traffic deaths by investing in people-oriented transport programs and projects:

Kessler, E. (April 6, 2021) “EYES ON THE STREET: How Hoboken Has Eliminated Traffic Deaths,” StreetsBlog NYC, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2021/04/06/eyes-on-the-street-how-hoboken-has-eliminated-traffic-deaths/ [Last accessed: 4/14/2021]

The article is pretty much self-explanatory. I won’t be commenting more about this except that many of the items mentioned can be taken on by many cities and municipalities in the Philippines. You don’t have to be a highly urbanized city with a big population and so much resources to come up with a plan and perhaps improvise in order to reduce costs of implementation. The most important thing is leadership since leaders like the mayor will be responsible for and making the critical decisions for the town. That is why he was elected in the first place, and the same goes for the other elected officials who are supposed to represent the interests of all their constituents and not just those who own cars.