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Category Archives: Traffic Congestion
A Serious Critique of Congestion Costs and Induced Vehicle Travel Impacts
Here is a quick share for today. This is an article by Todd Litman critiquing congestion costs and induced vehicle travel impacts:
Quoting from the article:
It is time for planners to rethink the way we evaluate congestion problems and solutions. Vehicle travel is not an end in itself; our ultimate goal is to improve accessibility. Traffic congestion is one constraint on accessibility, but others are more important. For example, the study, “Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed?” found that a given increase in urban density, and therefore proximity, has a far greater impact on overall accessibility than an increase in travel speed, and therefore congestion reductions. This is particularly true of disadvantaged groups who cannot drive or are financially burdened by vehicle expenses.
It is irresponsible for transportation agencies to expand highways in ways that contradict other community goals. If they do nothing, at worst, traffic congestion will maintain equilibrium; people will manage within its constraints. Even better, transportation agencies can invest in resource-efficient alternatives—better walking, bicycling, public transit, and telework opportunities—that improve accessibility, increasing transportation system efficiency.
If we truly want to truly optimize our transportation systems, we need a more comprehensive analysis of impacts and options, including the full costs of urban highway expansions and the full benefits of non-auto mode improvements and TDM incentives. Highway expansion should be a solution of last resort, only implemented when all other solutions have failed and users are willing to pay the full costs through tolls.
It’s time to stop obsessing about congestion and instead strive for efficient accessibility that serves everybody in the community.
Source: A Serious Critique of Congestion Costs and Induced Vehicle Travel Impacts
Traffic congestion at the UP Diliman campus
The University of the Philippines returned to face-to-face classes last week. That meant many students who have been admitted to the various programs of the university finally set foot on campus. Many, unsurprisingly, drove their own cars or were driven by their parents who themselves may probably were first-timers on campus, too. And given that many students come from middle to upper class families (they are the ones coming from the better schools and more likely to be admitted to UP), it is not surprising that many if not most have cars. The result is vehicles going around the campus even for short trips that could have been made by walking or cycling. Public transportation in the form of jeepneys were also affected as their routes were clogged by private cars. Jeepney users ended up similarly caught in traffic.
The same week, the UP Fair was also held. This was the first UP Fair in 2 years after the lockdowns. The trips generated by activities associated with the Fair contributed to the congestion along the main roads in the campus core. Note that much of the Academic Oval remained closed to traffic and these roads are the widest on campus. Still, portions were open to general traffic including sections to access the parking lot across from Palma Hall.
Will this congestion persist or will it go away eventually? Are a significant part of this actually through traffic? We’ll know very soon for sure once students settle down and realize going around on their cars are not the way to travel around the campus.
[Updates on this later]
Top urban problems in Metro Manila
I was looking for material to include in my introductory lecture for a graduate class. I came upon this slide from the study “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas (Region III and Region IV-A)” that was conducted by JICA through a consulting firm and completed in 2014. The slide shows the top three urban problems identified in Metro Manila (or perhaps what we now refer to as Mega Manila or, as what was tagged as NCR plus during this pandemic).
Traffic congestion was identified as one of the top problems if not the top problem itself. This is not independent of the other two (or other problems identified in the survey). All of them are intertwined somehow as illustrated in the simple Venn diagram in the slide. Affordable housing, for example, affects our transportation system and puts much pressure to transportation infrastructure development as well as to the provision of transport services. People continue to choose living in the periphery of Metro Manila or outside NCR because of the expensive residential choices particularly in the CBDs where most people have their workplaces and where many of the elite schools are also located. These people would have to commute long distances and experience longer travel times than what seems to be the reasonable. The result is loss in productivity and transport related costs that include fuel and maintenance costs.
What do you think about these urban problems? How can be address them in a comprehensive manner?
Why do we keep widening roads?
I’m just going to share this article here. The article from The NY Times asks a question that has been bugging planners and engineers, particularly those who are in government and perhaps under the agencies like the DPWH, DOTr and NEDA. This also applies to planners, engineers and those from other disciplines involved in transportation infrastructure development and particularly roads or highways.
Traffic and air quality
Along one of my commuting routes, I couldn’t help but take a photo of what lied ahead as our vehicle was crawling along Marcos Highway in Antipolo. The following photo pretty much captures the relationship between transportation and the environment; the latter in terms of air quality and the former in the form of our congested roads.
Smoggy Metro Manila in the horizon as vehicles are crawl along Marcos Highway towards Masinag Junction
With traffic practically back or even worse than pre-pandemic levels, one cannot help but think about what could have been if government planned and executed during the time of the lockdowns in preparation for the eventual return to workplaces and schools by most people. The peak of the pandemic when total lockdowns were implemented was supposed to provide the opportunity to make the drastic changes required of transportation. You cannot find a better time for a reboot and yet here we are and again struggling with our daily commutes. We can just hope that other cities and municipalities will not go the way of Metro Manila.
The return of carmaggedon and the illusion of low vehicle ownership
Traffic seems to be back to pre-pandemic levels in the Metro Manila and its adjacent provinces. You can experience this along major roads like Commonwealth Avenue, C-5 and yes, EDSA. The number of vehicles on the roads including motorcycles defy what is supposed to be low motor vehicle ownership in Metro Manila (as claimed by DOTr and JICA in the MUCEP report and echoed by groups who cite the report as if it is flawless).
Intense traffic congestion along C5/Katipunan Avenue. The photo shows traffic on the C5/Katipunan flyover’s northbound side and towards the direction of Ateneo, Miriam and UP Diliman.
The reality appears to be that more households actually own motor vehicles and the inefficiencies and unattractiveness of public transport continues to convince people to take private transportation, including motorcycles, over public transport options. The inconvenient truth according to one senior transport expert is that while cycling has gained ground, the numbers are minuscule compared with those taking either private or public motorized transport. Yes, carmaggedon is back and looks here to stay for a while longer until the so-called game changers like the MM subway and Line 7 are operational. Will they change the commuting behavior or are these too late in as far as solutions are concerned?
On reducing driving and its inherent risks
Ever since the automobile was invented and eventually mass-produced, there has been an increasing risk associated with motor vehicle traffic. Laws, policies and regulations have also been influenced to favor the car rather than people. And so we now have what is termed as a car-oriented and dependent transportation system that seems so difficult to undo as most people appear to be enamored by the car. Owning a car (or even a motorcycle if you want to extend this idea of individual ownership) remains an aspiration to a lot of people.
Here is a link to the compact version of a comprehensive report by Todd Litman that presents and argues for a new paradigm where driving is considered a risk factor. There are data and a table comparing old and new traffic paradigms to help us understand the situation and what needs to be redefined or re-framed in order to achieve our safety targets or vision.
Litman, T. (October 20, 2022) “Driving as a Risk Factor: A New Paradigm,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/119287-driving-risk-factor-new-paradigm?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10202022&mc_cid=beacdc2a04&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 10/28/2022]
To quote from the article:
“Safer vehicles, roads, and driving may reduce crashes but achieve few other goals, and sometimes contradict them. Transportation demand management and smart growth policies increase safety in addition to helping to achieve other planning goals, and so can be considered win-win solutions.
More comprehensive safety analysis tends to support social equity goals. Many conventional safety strategies, such as larger vehicles with more passenger protection, and wider roads with fewer intersections, tend to increase walking and bicycling risks. In contrast, lower traffic speeds, TDM, and Smart Growth tend to improve safety, mobility, and accessibility for people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive.”
The key takeaway here should be that people should have the option of not driving at all in order to reduce the risks associated with driving as well as reduce congestion. A more comprehensive
On bicycles vs. self driving cars
You’ve probably seen this graphic, the top part of which is attributed to the Cycling Promotion Fund. The last image is reproduced in the lower part of the image but labeled to emphasize what space is required to transport 48 people on electric cars and autonomous or self-driving cars.
It is quite obvious that even if the current fleets of cars are replaced by electric and self-driving models, they will practically be the same problem in terms of road space occupied and the resulting congestion. So perhaps e-cars or autonomous cars are not really the solution we are looking for.
There is this nice article where the author articulates the how bikes (and active transport in general) should be the a more essential part of future transport and society than the automobile:
Collignon, N. (September 9, 2022) “Bikes, not self driving cars, are the technological gateway to urban progress,” Next City, https://nextcity.org/urbanist-news/bikes-not-self-driving-cars-are-the-technological-gateway-to-progress [Last accessed: 9/16/2022]
There are two quotable quotes from the article that I want to highlight here:
“Today the potential benefits from cycling on health, congestion, pollution and CO2 emissions are crystal clear and increasingly quantifiable, but the benefits of self-driving vehicles remain hazy. When ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft promised lower congestion and reduced car ownership, they instead increased congestion and led to a decline in transit ridership.”
“The concept of “jaywalking,” for example, is integral to the “car technology” of today. The crime of crossing a street without respecting the dominance of cars was invented by the car industry in the 1920s, who pushed hard to define streets as a place for cars, not people. Our car technology today is also defined by the restriction of movement it imposes on people.
When we begin to see technology through the lens of systems, it becomes clear that genuine technology-led progress will focus on dealing with the accelerating complexity of today’s world, not increasing the complexity of our tools.”
On floods, transport and traffic, again
It’s that time of year again when the heavy rains lead to flash floods along many roads. I took the following photo as we slowly progressed towards Cainta Junction early this week. The Felix Avenue approach was flooded after more than an hour of heavy rains fell upon Cainta and neighboring towns. We learned later that the rains fell on a larger area as EDSA and other major road in Metro Manila also experience flash floods. These cause traffic to slow down if not outright stoppage. Many commuters can get stranded when PUVs are not able to run due to the floods. Deeper waters mean light vehicles including motorcycles and bicycles cannot proceed along certain roads, further exacerbating the traffic situation.
Motorcyclists emerge from their shelters to travel along flooded roads. A common sight when there are downpours are motorcyclists huddling under overpasses, bridges, or whatever shelter may be available to them. Many bring rain gear but opt to just stop and wait it out until the rain stops.
A cyclist braves the floods – while pedestrians will likely stop and wait it out for the rains to stop or for the floods to subside, cyclist might just pedal on. They just have to be more careful as potholes and other dangers may be hidden by the floodwaters.
Cainta Junction has been submerged by so many floods over so many years. Even with the new drainage constructed under and along Ortigas Avenue Extension, Felix Avenue and Bonifacio Avenue, it seems their capacities are not enough to handle the rainwaters. That or perhaps their intakes need to be redesigned to more efficiently take on the heavy rains and the resulting runoff.
Suffering and salvation for transport and traffic
I shared the following photo on social media with the label “Kalbaryo at Kaligtasan”:
Cyclist pedaling ahead of cars queueing along the C5 ramp towards BGC
The label or title has double meaning. Conspicuous in the photo is the image of the Crucifixion atop what is a small shrine along Circumferential Road 5 across and facing SM Aura. The image appears to be a reminder or symbol of suffering but with the superimposed image of traffic congestion, alludes to the suffering endured by motorists on a daily basis. The “kaligtasan” or salvation part of the photo is in the form of the cyclist or the bicycle (I really have to explain that, right?) that offers an alternative or even hope for those who seek it. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that active transport in the form of walking or cycling is part of the solution to the transport problems we are experiencing. Public transport, of course, is touted as an ultimate solution but the reforms and infrastructure required are and will take time to implement, and these are already encountering problems leading to further delays or ineffectiveness.