Caught (up) in traffic

Home » Traffic Engineering

Category Archives: Traffic Engineering

Articles on examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion

Planetizen recently published a three-part series of articles examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion:

Part 1: Brasuell, J. (April 13, 2022) “Planning and the Complicated Causes and Effects of Congestion,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/116834-planning-and-complicated-causes-and-effects-congestion [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 2: Brasuell, J. (April 20, 2022) “How Planning Fails to Solve Congestion,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/116914-how-planning-fails-solve-congestion%5BLast accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 3: Brasuell, J. (May 12, 2022) “Planning for Congestion Relief,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/117153-planning-congestion-relief?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05162022&mc_cid=34b0612d40&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

I think these articles are a must read especially for students (and not just practitioners or professionals) and is sort of a crash course on transportation engineering and planning. It covers many concepts and learnings from so many decades and touches on certain programs that are most effective in reducing car trips. To quote from the article, the top 12 programs based on case studies in Europe are:

  1. Congestion Pricing (12-33% reduction in city-center cars)
  2. Parking and Traffic Controls (11-19% reduction in city-center cars)
  3. Limited Traffic Zones (10-20% reduction in city-center cars)
  4. Workplace Mobility Services (37% drop in car commuters)
  5. Workplace Parking Charges (8-25% reduction in car commuters)
  6. Workplace Travel Planning (3-18% drop in car use by commuters)
  7. University Travel Planning (7-27% reduction in car use by university commuters)
  8. University Mobility Services (24% drop in students commuting by car)
  9. Car Sharing (12-15 private cars replaced by each shared car)
  10. School Travel Planning (5-11% reduction in car use for school trips)
  11. Personalized Travel Planning (6-12% drop in car use share among residents)
  12. App-Based Incentives (73% – proportion of app users declaring reduced car use)

Are we ready to confront congestion and at the least start discussing these car trip reduction programs? Or are we content with the current discourse, which remains car-centric?

History: article on how jaywalking came to be

I am sharing this article on the invention of jaywalking. It is a very informative articles and gives context to the current situation where cars dominate streets and car-centric policies and infrastructure diminish pedestrians and walking. I’ve always said that history should enlighten us about how it was, how it came to be and what we need to change now if we are to attain a more sustainable transport system that will contribute to improving safety and ultimately, quality of life.

Thompson, C. (March 29, 2022) “The invention of ‘Jaywalking’,” Marker, https://marker.medium.com/the-invention-of-jaywalking-afd48f994c05 [Last accessed: 4/2/2022]

To quote from the article:

“It’s not totally clear who invented the phrase, but it was a fiendishly clever portmanteau. In the early 20th century, the word “jay” mean an uncultured rube from the countryside. To be a “jaywalker” thus was to be a country bumpkin who blundered around urban streets — guileless of the sophisticated ways of the city…
Ever after, “the street would be monopolized by motor vehicles,” Norton tells me. “Most of the children would be gone; those who were still there would be on the sidewalks.” By the 1960s, cars had become so dominant that when civil engineers made the first computer models to study how traffic flowed, they didn’t even bother to include pedestrians.”

The article showed photos of pre-automobile times in the US. Here’s a photo of pre-automobile Manila for context:

And here’s Manila during the American period but with most people walking or taking public transport in the form of the tranvias:

Chaotic as the scenes appear to be, these streets were definitely safer and perhaps saner than what he have now. The challenge is how to re-orient our streets and reclaim it to favor people instead of cars.

On the number coding options for Metro Manila ca. 2022

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recently announced that the agency was studying options for a new number coding scheme under its Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). UVVRP is basically a travel demand management (TDM) program focused on vehicle use restraint. In this case, private vehicles, particularly cars, are the target of volume reduction. Here’s a graphic from their Facebook page:

Coding schemes posted by MMDA on their official social media page

The schemes are not really new as these were also considered before. Are the conditions new at all? Are we assuming things changed due to the pandemic? Or will there just be a return to the old normal in terms of traffic congestion? Here are some past writings on the topic including a 3-part series I wrote back in May 2011:

I think many of the arguments I made in those more than decade old articles hold or apply to the present. Even with the increasing popularity of active transport in the form of bicycle facilities appear to have not made a dent to the transport problems in the metropolis. Many questions abound and I have seen and read comments pointing to the many transport infrastructure projects currently ongoing around Metro Manila as proof that transport and traffic will be improving soon. Transportation in general may indeed improve once the likes of the Metro Manila Subway, Line 7, Line 1 Extension, and the PNR upgrades come online (i.e., all operational) but we have yet to see their impacts outside the models created to determine their potential benefits. Will they be game changers? We do hope so. Will UVVRP be needed in the future when these mass transit lines (including others in the pipeline) are all operational? Perhaps, but a scaled down version of this TDM scheme might still be needed and may suffice if people do shift from their private vehicles to public transportation. The fear is that most people eventually taking the trains would be those who are already commuting using road-based public transport like buses, jeepneys and vans. If so, the mode share of private transport will not be reduced and those traffic jams will remain or even worsen. Maybe we should be discussing road pricing now?

Article on people-oriented traffic management

Here’s a quick share on a topic that is also very relevant especially for local government units – traffic management. To quote from the article:

“Today, when the mobility of Filipinos is severely constrained by limited public transport capacity, …and when there is heightened pressure for private vehicle use, there is no better time to re-orient traffic management in the Philippines in order to prioritize inclusive, efficient and environmentally sustainable travel modes. The crucial ingredient is not infrastructure but political will.”

Siy, R.Y. (January 8, 2022) “People oriented traffic management,” Mobility Matters, The Manila Times, https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/01/08/business/top-business/people-oriented-traffic-management/1828593 [Last accessed: 1/8/2022]

The article makes perfect sense as traffic management in the country has always been car-oriented including the strategies, policies, schemes, measures and others that have focused on facilitating private car travel over active and public transport modes. The challenge here is how to bring this up front and an election issue at both national and local levels.

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

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.

Vienna Conventions on Traffic and Road Signs

There are two important international conventions or agreements that the Philippines is a signatory to. These are the

Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (November 8, 1968):

and the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (November 8, 1968):

These are important as signatories are bound but the agreements on road traffic rules and regulations and standard signs and signal. I included the links to each agreement as they also include the exceptions taken by different countries such as Thailand and Vietnam declaring they will not be bound by Article 44, choosing to classify mopeds as motorcycles. Apparently, the Philippines did not declare exceptions or objections to any of the articles.

Are the traffic signs in the Philippines the same as those in the US?

This seems to be a simple question with a simple answer. And the answer is no. While the Philippines is signatory and has ratified the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic and the Vienna Convention on Road Signs, the United States hasn’t. The US also depends on their Manual of Unified Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) that is by their Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Here is a nice article on Wikipedia for a comparison of signs in different countries:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_traffic_signs_in_English-speaking_countries

I recall an interesting project I was involved in where we audited signs along what was a new Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). The signs from Clark to Subic followed international convention while the ones from Clark to Tarlac followed the MUTCD. We recommended that the latter signs be changed to international convention. I am not sure if the tollway operator changed the signs as I recall there were still US standard signs there particularly for speed limits.

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

It’s not that simple: the math on vehicle sales and registration

I read the statement of a government official about vehicle sales, and the subsequent responses it got. He cited math and seemingly joked about not being good at it while trying to make sense of the numbers. It is not as easy as he supposes. And I think that is partly why we fail to address the transport problems. For one, we think it is just about road capacities. For another, it may be about public transport supply. These are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined along with so many other factors.

Housing, for one, (i.e., its availability, affordability and location) is among the most important factors that affect or influence how we commute. I have been asking the question about housing affordability in CBDs such as Makati, Ortigas and BGC. Lucky for those who already reside at or near those places but most people working there have to contend with expensive mortgages, leases or rents. How much is a condo unit in BGC, for example? If you have a family of 4, you certainly can’t and won’t opt for a studio unit just because its near your workplace. It’s obvious here that you also would have to consider where your children will be going to school as well as the workplace location of your partner if he or she is also working. No schools for now but imagine how it was and would be once our children go back to physical school. Such facts of life seem lost to many pundits commenting or offering opinions about transportation.

I think to be fair this should also be framed from various perspectives. For example, those vehicle purchases don’t necessarily mean additional vehicles on certain roads. like what one MMDA official claims. These will be distributed across the network of roads, and these will be operating during certain times of the day. Some of these vehicles were purchased by new car owners. Others as replacements to older or unserviceable units (e.g., upgrades). It would be nice to see, for example, the stats from 2008, 2009 & 2010. Thousands of vehicles were doomed by Ondoy in the greater Metro Manila in 2009 resulting in their replacements late that year until 2010. Then there was the boom in sales in the following years as people ventured into TNCs (Uber and Grab). The recent surge in private car use and what seems to be strong sales of these vehicles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is more out of necessity (why do you think people aren’t taking to cycling for their commutes as much as is desired?)

The question why people still prefer to purchase and use their own vehicles has not been answered in the most honest way because different people with their own agenda tend to paint different pictures of the car owner. In some cases, car owners are being portrayed as ‘evil’ while those taking the more environment-friendly modes as ‘good’. Again, it should be obvious that this is not a ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ discussion nor is it something that is black and white. We should pay (a lot of) attention to the grays, which can have so many different shades when it comes to transportation. No one really wins a “holier than thou” exercise where people on opposite sides tend to take hard line stances and close their minds to constructive ideas from either side.