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On changes in traffic patterns after the pandemic

We start April with a nice article from Cities of the Future. The article explains how traffic patterns will be changing due to Covid-19. They have already changed for most of us who have to deal with quarantines and lockdowns. And we should not expect things to go back to normal. “Normal” here, of course, is “Business As Usual” or was that. It is quite clear that we cannot and should not go back to BAU and it is probably going to be good for most of us. There will definitely be a lot of adjustments and sacrifices especially for commuters who have been dependent on cars for travel. The transport industry, too, will have to deal with the new supply and demand dynamics. And government should be up to the task of engaging and rethinking how policies and regulations should evolve to address issues coming out of the “new normal” in transportation.

Valerio, P. (2020) Traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different, says Micromobility expert , Cities of the Future, https://citiesofthefuture.eu/traffic-patterns-are-going-to-drastically-be-very-different/ [Last accessed: 4/3/2020]

SLEX congestion

En route to Batangas the other day, we had to endure severe traffic congestion along C5 and SLEX. C5 was at its worst as it took us about 2 hours from Blue Ridge until SLEX. Descending from the flyover to SLEX, we were greeted by crawling traffic along the tollway, which was to us a slight surprise for the southbound direction. Normally, traffic would already be lighter compared with the northbound side that carried peak hour travelers inbound for Metro Manila.

Much of the ‘additional’ congestion along SLEX is attributed to the ongoing construction of the Skyway extension. Traffic management is particularly criticized and congestion very atrocious at Alabang on ground level beneath the viaduct. Buses are prohibited from using the viaduct and the traffic schemes have contributed to severe congestion. Through traffic along both sides of the tollway have been affected, too, with queues reaching Laguna.

Preview: Passing the Alabang area, we observed that the queue from Alabang already stretched beyond what is visible to the eye.

No end in sight: this is what we usually describe as a traffic jam condition with the density reaching its maximum value and speed at its lowest. Volume approaches zero for this case.

Horizon: The queue that morning reached the Southwoods exit of the SLEX. Approaching northbound travelers would have to endure severe congestion until Alabang.

On hindsight, I thought that we should probably have opted to fly between Quezon City and Lipa City. My colleague said that the contact person offered that option to us but that he turned it down because he gets dizzy riding helicopters. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never ridden on one. However, we also thought it wouldn’t be prudent for us to ride a helicopter from the university. It would seem to be the transport of VIPs and easily attracts unwanted attention. Yet, it would have been the more practical and speedy if not the less expensive option for the trip that day.

The problem with public transport in the Philippines…

There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the

The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?

Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 1

I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.

· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?

Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.

· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?

As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.

· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?

I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.

· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?

I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.

Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.

More comments in the next year!

 

 

Traffic congestion due to Barkadahan Bridge rehab

Here are more photos of the situation in the vicinity of Barkadahan Bridge. Photos were taken on a late Sunday morning (around 11 AM). Photos show the traffic congestion particularly along the eastbound side of Ejercito Avenue and Barkadahan Bridge.

Even before completely crossing the bridge, one can see how long the queue from C-6 is. This is a photo of the queue just past the West Bank Road. The road here is names Ejercito Avenue after former Pres. Joseph Estrada whose real family name is Ejercito.

Truck occupying an entire lane and encroaching on one of the lanes to C-6. This is due to the bottleneck caused by the wall of a residential subdivision across from the Greenwoods gate. The wall actually only contains the subdivision name and yet DPWH has been unable to expropriate the land that includes part of that subdivision’s driveway.

Long queue extending towards Tapayan Bridge along Ejercito Avenue

Queue along Tapayan Bridge or bridges considering there are two – one for each direction of traffic.

Queue crossing the bridge and the bend towards C-6 and Lupang Arenda, which is a major relocation site for Metro Manila squatters during the time of then Pres. Joseph Estrada. Vehicles turn left towards C-6 while those going straight continue along Ejercito Avenue towards Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City.

The queue reaches C-6 on a Sunday morning. It is likely worse on weekdays.

Status of Barkadahan Bridge, Taytay, Rizal

I recently wrote about the Barkadahan Bridge and its current state and compared it to the Marcos Highway Bridge that is now completed and fully opened to travelers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have photos to share but only shared my observations based on what friends have told me and what I’ve read on social media (i.e., Rizal Provincial’s and Taytay’s official Facebook pages) about the situation there. I finally had the opportunity last Sunday when I went to fetch my family at the airport. Here are photos of the Barkadahan Bride and its environs. Note that Barkadahan is actually two bridges and not one. The new one is currently being used for two way traffic (one lane each) while the second one is under rehabilitation and retrofitting. The latter  had and will have 2 lanes, too.

Approach to the Barkadahan Bridge via Highway 2000 – notice the widening on the south side of the highway? That’s the ROW expropriated to align the bridge(s) with the highway. Ultimately, this should be of the same width as C-6. 

Closer to the bridge, you see more of the ROW acquired to improve the geometry for the area and the intersection with the East Bank Road. Highway 2000 is now aligned with the second (newer) bridge constructed that will eventually carry only the eastbound traffic. The older bridge currently being rehabilitated and retrofitted will carry the westbound traffic. 

Vehicles crowd on the two-lane bridge that is the new Barkadahan Bridge. The old one is currently being rehabbed. Notice the significant volume of trucks using the bridge? This is expected to increase due to the industrial developments in Rizal Province and along C-6, and the direct route this corridor provides towards the SLEX via Bicutan.

Big sign at the bridge – there are many of these scattered around Pasig and Rizal advising travelers against using the route and Barkadahan Bridge because for the construction work on the bridge. This ‘avoidance’ basically transferred (some say returned) much of the traffic to Ortigas Avenue Extension. Many if not most users of the bridge use this alternate route to travel from Rizal to BGC and Makati CBD.

A peek at the construction work on the old bridge – note that the contractor seems to have completed installing the steel reinforcement for the slabs for this section of the bridge. The next phase would be the concrete pouring.

Still another peek showing the extent of the work on the old bridge – my casual observation of the work areas was that there seems to be not so many workers. But then maybe it was a Sunday? Perhaps there should be more people working considering this is a very urgent project?

Tricycles, motorcycles and bicycles – there’s a lot of local traffic using the bridge and these are represented by mostly tricycles serving the residential and commercial areas along the East and West Bank Roads and the cyclists you most often see crossing the bridge. Most motorcycles are through traffic. On weekends one can observe more recreational cyclists as this route is a popular one to Rizal and particularly its mountainous areas that are popular to mountain and road cyclists.

Counterflow – many motorcyclists tend to counterflow and this adds to the friction and slows down traffic. Once the other bridge is completed and re-opened, these will likely be reduced to lane splitting or filtering as the opposite flows of traffic will be assigned to separate bridges. Counterflow traffic will then be very obvious and should be apprehended.

Here’s the resulting queue on the other side of the bridge. This is severe congestion that reaches C-6. Note that the photo was taken on a Sunday. Perhaps these travelers have no other option but to use this route so they are stuck in hellish traffic on a Sunday? I can only imagine how worse it is on weekdays.

As a parting shot, I think there are still a couple of things that need to be addressed once the bridges are both open to traffic:

  1. Optimizing traffic management at the intersections with the East Bank Road and West Bank Road of Manggahan Floodway – the (mis)management of traffic here also contributes to congestion in the area. Traffic enforcers on both ends of the bridge have basic knowledge of how traffic must be managed and end up with the “buhos” approach. They don’t seem to be coordinating with each other, too. Their approach also heavily favors the East and West Bank roads when traffic is heavier along the main corridor that is C-6/Highway 2000. There needs to be a more efficient way to manage traffic here and that may be in the form of a sophisticated traffic signal system at least for the two intersections. Settings need to be studied and signals have to be adaptive to the variation of traffic throughout the day.
  2. Resolve bottlenecks in the area including structures that tend to reduce capacities of the approaches to the bridge.

More on this topic soon!

On Tikling Junction traffic (mis)management

There was an uproar among commuters when Taytay installed traffic signals at the rotunda at Tikling Junction. The junction is the intersection of Ortigas Avenue Extension, which continues towards Antipolo, the Manila East Road, which connects many of Rizal Province’s towns, and Leonard Wood Road, which leads mainly to residential areas in Taytay. There is another road that is close to the junction, Cabrera Road, that qualifies the intersection to be an offset type. However, vehicle coming in and out of Cabrera Road mainly are with respect to the Manila East Road.

Traffic signals as seen from the Manila East Road approach to the rotunda

Traffic signals as seen from the Ortigas Ave. Ext. leg approach from Antipolo

The horrendous congestion last Thursday was due to the settings of the signals that forced most vehicles to stop even though there were movements that were not in direct conflict with others (e.g., through traffic along Ortigas Ave. Ext. from Antipolo towards the direction of Valley Golf/Cainta and right turning traffic from Ortigas Ave. Ext. to Manila East Road). The results were vehicles backed up all the way to Cainta Junction along Ortigas Avenue Extension and SM Taytay along the Manila East Road. We were able to experience the slight congestion the following day (Nov. 1) when we descended to Tikling from Antipolo. Congestion was slight probably because of the significantly reduced traffic due to the holidays.

I thought, based on experiences at this junction, that the traffic signal settings somewhat mimicked the style applied by Taytay traffic enforcers when they manually manage traffic at the intersection. Too often, they apply the “buhos” system where they try to let through all vehicles they see queued per approach. The outcome of this, of course, is longer stopped times to all other vehicles from the other legs resulting in longer and longer queues that become unmanageable especially during the peak hours (i.e., when vehicle arrivals are highest at the intersection). Basically, what happened last October 31 was that the “buhos” traffic enforcers were replaced by the machines (i.e., traffic signals) that employed the same system only this time there was no opportunity for some flexibility for movements that had none or the least conflicts at the intersection.