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On Visita Iglesia and Quiapo transport and traffic

As it is already the Holy Week, I thought it would be good to write about transport and traffic around one of the busiest churches in the Philippines – Quiapo Church. This is surely a popular stop for the Visita Iglesia, which is a tradition for many during the Holy Week. People visit as many churches (usually the target is seven) as they can where they are supposed to pray the novena appropriate for the season.

A side view of the church from Quezon Boulevard, which is the main access road for the church. Most public transport pass along this boulevard that connects to other major roads. It’s a good thing that the City of Manila has been stricter in enforcing against on-street parking here.

In front of the church is Plaza Miranda, where many political rallies are held including one fateful rally in the early 1970s that eventually led to the declaration of martial law, is a bustling area with many vendors selling all kinds of items, religious and otherwise, including those that are claimed to be medicinal. Note though that vehicles are allowed to park on-street and this means people would have to hail jeepneys in the middle of the street.

This is traffic along Quezon Boulevard as seen from the descent from the Quezon Bridge (Quiapo church is seen at the left). I took this around 4PM on a Wednesday so it was not surprising to have heavy traffic on both sides of the boulevard. I’ve been told, however, that for most of the day during weekdays, traffic is as heavy as this.

Traffic in Quiapo is not as heavy on Sundays (It’s also quite as bad on Saturdays.) and holidays. During the Visita Iglesia period of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, however, there will likely be heavy traffic in the area as a lot of people bring their own vehicles for the Visita Iglesia as well as for their “church tours”. I used the term “church tours” because I’ve observed that many don’t really come to pray (e.g., Stations of the Cross or novenas) but to take photos (i.e., selfies or ‘groupfies’) and eat & drink about. In Metro Manila, there are several churches popular for this tradition. These include Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Christ the King, Sto. Domingo and Our Lady of Lourdes in Quezon City, and the Manila Cathedral, San Sebastian, St. Jude, Malate and Binondo Churches in Manila. That is not an exhaustive list as there are many churches (old and new) spread around Metro Manila including those in other cities like Malabon, Marikina and Las Pinas. And then there are also the churches in the provinces surrounding Metro Manila, which I will try to write about soon…

Congestion along C-6 and potential for a public transit corridor

We begin February with a post on a road that’s becoming more popular as a major (as opposed to alternate) route to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and Makati CBD – Circumferential Road 6. I took the following photo at the approach to the Nagpayong Bridge that is current has only 2 lanes (1 per direction). Another bridge is being constructed along the existing one that will increase capacity for the Pasig River crossing to 2 lanes per direction. This is similar to what was done to the Barkadahan Bridge  crossing the Manggahan Floodway in Taytay, Rizal.

The volume of road vehicle traffic is steadily increasing along C-6. The adjacent land use offers a lot of potential for development (hopefully planned) that will feed more traffic along what will become a major thoroughfare in the near future. The land I am referring to are the reclamations on the side of Laguna de Bai along C-6 that are under the jurisdiction of Taguig and similar developments on the opposite side on what was once swampy or marshlands. One wonders if Taguig has a plan for all this or if the city is turning a blind eye and just letting developers do what they want. Most seem to be residential subdivisions and industries-related with a sprinkling of mainly small to medium-sized commercial developments.

Again, I think national and local governments should consider making this a public transport corridor by introducing formal public transport in the form of a scheduled bus service stretching from, say, Bicutan Interchange to Taytay Public Market. The demand along this corridor is steadily rising and only a better connection to C-5 limits an even steeper increase in traffic volume along C-6. The time is now in order to condition commuters about the system and to the unwanted congestion experienced along major roads in the metropolis.

Vested interests, Part 1

An old friend and I met up some time ago and he casually mentioned the ongoing transit projects, particularly one that has affected him along his commute via Commonwealth Avenue. He said he can’t wait until Line 7 was completed and running. Perhaps then, there will be less vehicles along Commonwealth and he can have a shorter (travel time) drive from his home to his office in Ortigas. This type of comment did not surprise me as it is a reality that many would still likely prefer to take their cars or perhaps opt for car-share services rather than take public transportation, even with a new and note efficient option like the Line 7 available.

I have read or browsed articles, both technical and anecdotal, about many drivers wanting (and even encouraging) others to shift to public transport in order to lessen the cars on the road. This is so they can benefit from the reduction in vehicular traffic (i.e., less congestion equals faster travel by car). One article in the US even went as far as saying that if you didn’t drive 60,000 miles per year then you probably didn’t need a car. This is understandable for those who probably are, by default, dependent on their cars. It is frustrating, if not ironic, for those who don’t have to drive or take their cars but opt to do so. The latter includes people who have shorter commuting distances and with less transfers (less inconvenience) in case they do take public transport.

Next: Ridesharing as sustainable transport?

Tacloban’s one-way traffic scheme

I was in Tacloban City last month and got to meet former participants to our training program who are working for their Traffic Operation Management Enforcement and Control Office (TOMECO). Among the topics of discussion was the traffic scheme for the central business district (CBD). Last year, the city had implemented a one-way traffic circulation scheme for the CBD as shown in the following map in the traffic advisory released by the city:

The city had to ease up on the one-way scheme, retaining it for the northwest-southeast directions and reverting to 2-way flow for the northeast-southwest directions. This decision was apparently due to the feedback the city got from various stakeholders about travel times and distances becoming longer due to the one-way scheme. This needs to be verified by collecting data pertaining to typical routes taken by vehicles, private and public utility, in order to get from an origin to a destination (e.g., from home to school). This can be simulated or estimated using field data (travel time surveys). We intend to use both as we make an assessment of the scheme and formulate recommendations for the city.

On one way schemes

A proposed one-way scheme for EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard raised not a few eyebrows among transportation and traffic professionals. While it seems to some that the three major thoroughfares are parallel or can be paired in such a way that EDSA can be one-way southbound, and C-5 and Roxas Blvd. can be one-way northbound, it is not as easy at it seems because these arterial carry a heckuva lot of traffic compared to the roads they are being compared to (New York?). The road network layout is also quite different. We have a circumferential and radial road network as the backbone of road-based transportation. A one-way scheme could be more effective if we had a grid type network where you have several pairs of roads that can be designated as one-way streets.

Take the case of Tacloban City, whose central business district has a grid-type network with intersections relatively closely spaced. The city implemented a one-way scheme as shown below:

Note the pairs of roads designated for one-way flow. These basically make for efficient traffic circulation provided the capacities of streets and intersections are not significantly reduced by factors such as on-street parking and other roadside friction. This can be achieved in various places in Metro Manila where streets are similarly laid out and there are multiple pairs to promote good circulation. Makati, for example, has many one-way streets in its CBD, and these are also in pairs. While having high capacities, EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard just does not have the closely spaced intersections to effect efficient circulation. In fact EDSA (or C-4) and C-5 are arterials that function to distribute the traffic carried by radial roads such as Roxas Blvd., Shaw Blvd., Commonwealth Ave, Aurora Blvd., etc.

A better option is to focus on improving road -based public transport by setting up high capacity, express bus services with exclusive lanes. These may not necessarily be full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems but requires a drastic reduction and restructuring of current numbers of buses along EDSA and their deployment along corridors like C-5 and Roxas Blvd. Express means longer intervals between stops (hint for EDSA: express bus stops coinciding with MRT-3 stations), and increased travel speeds made possible by exclusive lane(s). This could have been piloted during the APEC meetings in the previous administration where 2 lanes for each direction of EDSA were appropriated for APEC vehicles. These lanes could have been used afterwards for a BRT (-lite?) system and what could have been an pilot could have also provided an appreciation or “proof of concept” for BRT in Metro Manila that we could have learned a lot from.

Some thoughts on Metro Manila traffic

I was going to defer posting another article this September as I reached my usual quota of at least 10 posts. Particularly, I wanted to have a series about my recent trip to Vietnam. But then the traffic congestion the past week was just so severe that I felt I just had to write another piece.

To be fair, there are so many reasons why transport and traffic are bad in Metro Manila. Among these is the lack of mass transit infrastructure, particularly a more comprehensive rail-based system. Metro Manila, with its population of over 12 million requires something like 8 to 10 mass transit lines that are interconnected and allows for seamless transfers with road transport modes. Singapore, with less people, has more efficient options for public transport. Then, there is the lack of facilities for walking and cycling that could tremendously reduce the number of trips using motor vehicles particularly for short trips (perhaps within 2 to 3 kilometers travel distance?). I won’t even go to the deficiencies of road public transport and the proliferation of private cars operating as full time taxis (ridesharing anyone?). And urban planning? Well, that deserves its own article…

This is EDSA in the mid-afternoon. I took this photo while we were heading back to Quezon City from Makati around 3:30PM. It was not supposed to be this heavy considering people were still at their workplaces, schools or even the shopping center/malls.

There is no quick fix to Metro Manila’s problems. Obviously, the infrastructure that should have been in place decades ago need to be built albeit at a high cost. Our children and grandchildren will likely end up paying for these but there is also the reality that such infrastructure won’t get cheaper in the future. There should also be stricter policies and enforcement to improve the quality of services of public transport. As it is, private transport modes including taxis, the popularity of ridesharing/ridehailing services and the unregulated motorcycle taxis are steadily taking people away from public transport. This is perhaps among the most significant causes of more congestion for the metropolis that needs to be quantified and validated for us to understand and determine what measures need to be taken.

I conclude this post and September with a nice article on walkability:

Steuteville, R. (2017) Why walkability is not a luxury, Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/09/28/why-walkability-not-luxury, last accessed September 29, 2017.

Traffic congestion along Sen. L. Sumulong Memorial Circle

I was on some errands and had to pass through the Sen. Lorenzo Sumulong Memorial Circle from Taktak to the other side of Antipolo near the Lico Circle. The section from Robinsons Antipolo where the Sumulong Circle intersects with Sumulong Highway until C. Lawis Street is being widened and photo below shows the work in progress. The road is a dangerous one especially at night. There are a lot of electric poles in the middle of the newly constructed lanes and power and phone lines dangling in many places. The unfinished parts have a lot of excavations, construction material and debris from the demolished buildings.

Widened section of Sen. L. Sumulong Memorial Circle

I took the following photos while traffic was at a standstill:

Initially, it was not so obvious what the cause of congestion was except for the dramatic sag along the road. Both sides appeared to be congested.

Closer observation showed my direction to be congested up to a certain point whereas the opposite direction across from me was free flowing and traffic build-up along the other side also appeared to be from a certain location at the bottom part of the sag.

It turned out that out of the 6 lanes of the road, only 3 lanes were available to moving traffic – one lane along my way and two along the opposite. Vehicles were parked along 2 lanes of the road in front of the Antipolo City Police Station and 1 lanes across from it. It seems quite ironic  considering the police is also tasked with traffic enforcement and management and yet the problem emanated from their station. I am not sure whose vehicles are those that are parked along the road. Perhaps many are owned by police officers? By comparison, the national high school beside the station and the nearby hall of justice did not seem to generate as much vehicular parking as the station. The obvious solution though would be to have an off-street parking lot or facility. Looking at Google Maps, there are some locations along M. Santos Street where a multi-level parking facility can be built but land needs to be acquired first and that can be a difficult task. Another option might be to relocate the main station (i.e., headquarters) elsewhere where there is space for proper facilities including off-street parking. Perhaps they should have a place at the new government center being developed by Antipolo?