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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  • Level of service (LOS) – I had a nice, brief exchange about LOS and the notion that it is outdated.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.

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.

The Barkadahan Bridge situation

The Barkadahan Bridge is currently undergoing rehabilitation. To be accurate, the old bridge is being rehabilitated and upgraded/retrofitted to be able to carry the traffic projected to use it being a vital link between the Province of Rizal and Metro Manila via Pasig and the C-6 corridor. The bridge is named after the “friendship” established among Rizal municipalities and Pasig City for an area that has been subject of a territorial dispute among them. These are the municipalities of Cainta and Taytay (Rizal Province) and the city of Pasig. The bridge spans the Manggahan Floodway, much of which is in Pasig City.

To increase the capacity for this crossing, which is the most direct route to C-6 and popular among many headed to Taguig/BGC and Makati, a new bridge had been constructed to the south of the old one. The older one had 2 traffic lanes and was no longer sufficient for the volume of vehicles crossing it after the expansion of C-6 resulting to it steadily gaining more users over the years. Use of this route cut down travel times between Rizal and BGC and Makati by at least 30 minutes based on our experiences using the route.

Late last year as far as I could recall, the new bridge opened and immediately increased capacity but then congestion quickly set-in due to two factors: the traffic management at the intersection with the East Bank Road and the constrained (two-lane, two-way) leg of Highway 2000. Add to this the lack of discipline by local traffic in the form of tricycles and motorcycles counter-flowing in the area.

Earlier this year, signs were posted around Rizal about the then impending project for the rehabilitation of the old bridge. The signs advised for most travellers to avoid using the Barkadahan Bridge due to the congestion in the area because of the project. It turns out that what was thought by most as a project retrofitting the old bridge alone was actually a bigger one involving increasing the capacity of the Highway 2000 leg of the intersection with the East Bank Road. Following is a photo posted at the official Facebook page of the Rizal Provincial Government showing the demolition of buildings and other structures along the Highway 2000 leg. The photos were taken from the new Barkadahan Bridge approaching the intersection, the southbound direction of the East Bank Road, and from the westbound side of Highway 2000.

Demolition and clearing of ROW for the expansion of Highway 2000 in relation to Barkadahan Bridge [Photo collage from the Lalawigan ng Rizal Facebook page]

From the photos above, it is clear that at least 2 lanes will be added to Highway 2000 and that this leg will soon be well-aligned with the Barkadahan Bridge, which will also have a total of 4 lanes. Hopefully, this project will be completed soon and within the year (before December?) in order to alleviate the commuting woes of Rizalenos working in the BGC and Makati CBD areas. Of course, that goes without saying that there is also a need to optimise the traffic signals at the intersection and to strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations vs. erring motorists in the area.

Alternate route via the Katipunan-Col. Bonny Serrano and C5-FVR Road intersection

I wrote previously about the alternate routes for eastbound vehicles given the ongoing rehabilitation of the Marcos Highway Bridge. In this post, I give some details on one alternative via C-5 and FVR Road (Riverbanks).

The intersection of Katipunan Ave.-Col. Bonny Serrano Ave. now features a left turn signal for vehicles approaching from Blue Ridge. Previously, this was not allowed and vehicles would have had to go straight or take a right, and then make a U-turn if they wanted to head towards FVR Road. Otherwise, travellers would have to take the tunnel and make the U-turn at Eastwood.

Vehicles queued along the C5 section approaching the intersection with FVR Road. The overpass in the photo is the section transitioning from the tunnel with an off-ramp past FVR Road.

Vehicles approaching the now signalised C5-FVR Road intersection. Previously, too, this intersection did not have traffic signals. Vehicles coming down from Blue Ridge/White Plains could not go through to FVR Road but would have had to travel to the U-turn slot not far from here.

The intersection of C5 and FVR Road – shown are vehicles turning from FVR Road to C5 southbound as well as those turning from C5 northbound to FVR Road.

On phantom traffic jams again

I’m sharing this article on phantom traffic jams:

Seibold, B. (2019) Traffic Ghost Hunting: When the biggest problem with traffic is nothing at all, Nautilus, https://medium.com/@NautilusMag/traffic-ghost-hunting-ac071197695d [Last accessed: 4/9/2019]

Have you wondered why the road or path is congested only to find out there seems to be nothing causing it? This is the phantom or ghost traffic jams caused by simple behaviours of travellers whether on motor vehicles, cycles or people like slowing down their movement or changing lanes. These disruptions cause a “ripple effect” on the traffic stream much as like waves are generated by a stimulus on calm waters.

On the efficiency of transportation – a crash course on transportation engineering concepts

There is an excellent article on the efficiency of transportation systems:

Gleave, J. (2019) Space/Time and Transport Planning, Transport Futures, https://transportfutures.co/space-time-and-transport-planning-1aae891194e5 [Last accessed: February 25, 2019].

It is highly recommended not just for academics (including students) but also for anyone interested in transportation and traffic. It’s like a crash course in transportation engineering with a lot of basic concepts in traffic engineering and traffic flow theory being presented for easy understanding by anyone. Enjoy!

On re-designing or re-imagining our transportation system for people

Here is another good read especially for those who advocate or even just beginning to appreciate the concept of people-oriented transportation:

VannPashak, J. (2018) “Design for humans as they are, not as you want them to be,” http://www.medium.com, https://medium.com/@jvannpashak/design-for-humans-as-they-are-not-as-you-want-them-to-be-ef95076c0988 [Last accessed: 11/23/2018].

In a recent symposium where I made a presentation about low carbon transport and visioning and re-imagining transport, I was asked how we can re-design our transportation to be more people-oriented than car-oriented. I replied that we have to do a lot of unlearning. That is, many planners and engineers would need to unlearn many things they’ve learned in school and those they got from their workplace. One convenient excuse for not coming up with a better design, for example, is that certain planners or engineers just followed what their offices or agencies have been doing. What if what their offices and agencies (and consequently their seniors at work) where wrong all these years and what was “ginagawa na” or “nakasanayan” have led to deficient outcomes? I even joked about whether these offices or agencies were “open minded” referring to a favourite by-line by networking companies. Being open-minded in the context of having people-oriented transport solutions would be difficult if everything was “nakakahon” because these were what you learned from school and/or the workplace. It is difficult to admit that something was and is wrong.

What the DPWH says about the installation of ads including those masquerading as signs

So what does the DPWH say about signs and their installation? The DPWH in their Highway Safety Design Standards (Part 2: Road Signs and Pavement Markings Manual) states the following:

 

It’s plain and simple and yet we find a proliferation of ads masquerading as signs and entities such as the MMDA and LGUs not properly (or strictly) implementing the provisions of the DPWH manual. It is also sad to see practitioners actively trying (and succeeding) to circumvent this provision in the DPWH manual.

More on ads masquerading as signs

I recently wrote about what I thought were ads masquerading as signs. It turns out a friend also took notice of similar signs along Katipunan and decided to make this a topic of his vlog. I learned that he has corresponded with the MMDA regarding this matter and even contacted the company behind these ads (I would prefer to call them what they really are.) to get their take on the matter. It turns out that the company is quite aware that what they are doing are basically not according to DPWH guidelines pertaining to signage. I wouldn’t and couldn’t say it is illegal since the MMDA and LGUs gave their approvals for these ads to be installed.

 

Approaching Cainta Junction from Antipolo, there is a sign that advertises Cherry Antipolo, which is all the way back and past Masinag Junction along Marcos Highway.

Less than a kilometre away from Masinag Junction along Sumulong Highway, there’s another ad posing as a road sign and from a certain angle it covers a more important traffic advisory concerning the construction of the Line 2 Extension.

This ad doesn’t even pretend anymore since all directions point to an Ayala Mall!

Following are examples of what may be tolerated and what must be disapproved and therefore removed. Guidelines are important so that the criteria for signs including ads masquerading as such will be clearly spelled out and approval/disapproval will not be

Logical: The photo below shows a sign installed by the DPWH showing the general directions for towns (Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo) or major thoroughfares (EDSA). The smaller sign is actually an ad for a mall but is located near a major junction (Cainta Junction – intersection of Ortigas Avenue Extension and Felix Avenue/A. Bonifacio Avenue) and may perhaps be tolerated as the mall is close by. Such a sign can be justified to assure or validate the direction to be taken by a traveler headed for this mall.

Not logical: The sign below is meters away from Masinag Junction in Antipol but advertises the same mall as the previous sign. It is not logical and should not have been approved since it is far from the destination mall and does not offer a validation or assurance for direction like the previous sign. In fact, the same mall chain has a branch nearby in the Masinag area and another one further on along the Marikina River. This sign should be removed as it adds to the clutter, the visual noise that makes people blind or numb to the actual road signs that require their attention.

 

[Disclaimer: For purposes of transparency, my colleagues and I also have worked as consultants for projects such as malls but never have we recommended for signs like these.]