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On the planning and design dilemmas for traffic and highway engineers

It’s the Holy Week so I had some time for some musings. Quite some time ago, I commented on a post a prominent architect made on his social media page that practically blamed traffic and highway engineers for problems for what he considers as flawed designs. He even singled out the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for being responsible. The reality though is that not all architects are a progressive, innovative and responsible as him. In many if not most projects that civil engineers have engaged in, they are usually provided with what are supposed to be preliminary plans drawn up mainly by architects. Many of these plans though are not really preliminary but in an advanced stage in the design process that often do not involve civil engineers much less transportation engineers or planners.

Granted, the traffic and highway engineers involved in many projects seem to proceed with their work blindly and mechanically, they should also be responsible for being aware of the interdisciplinary nature of these projects. These are civil engineers by profession and many seem to have been indoctrinated with the notion that local guidelines such as those issued by the DPWH are basically the only authoritative references for design. For many, there is no need to be proactive and look for more progressive references such as those on complete streets or people-friendly infrastructure, many of which are now more easily available online than before. There is a National Building Code (NBC) but the provisions, often referred to as minimum standards, are often not followed as one can plainly see in many developments in cities and towns around the country. Parking and driveway provisions, for example, are among those that many buildings do not comply with. Then, of course, there is the case of pedestrian sidewalks; particularly their absence along many streets.

Perhaps there is a need to revisit the education of civil engineers? There have been observations (criticisms?) that most undergraduate programs in the Philippines are “board-oriented”, meaning that the end result for programs are for graduates to pass the CE licensure exam. Memorization of formulas is encouraged. At UP though, early on in civil engineering courses, we already make it clear to our students that infrastructure engineering and planning involves a host of a lot of disciplines including architecture, economics, social and behavioral sciences, and, of course, other engineering fields as well. Maybe CE’s would have benefited from a stronger liberal arts program as what critics of UP’s proposed reduction of GE courses claim? But then you already have a lot of general education subjects in most BSCE curricula especially those offered in sectarian schools. Perhaps the lack of connection with the humanities is not a concern that is entirely to be attributed to one’s education in college but instead is one traceable to more fundamental issues that can be traced to one’s formation from as early as grade school if not high school? But then that’s another topic that deserves its own article…

The Tagaytay transportation predicament

The title of this article is actually a bit tame and on the diplomatic side of trying to describe transportation and traffic in this city that was once relaxed a retreat for many. I had wanted to end February on a good note and so I decided to defer posting this until March.

We used to frequent Tagaytay and liked spending some rest and recreation time there to the tune of being there almost once a month at one time. Needless to say, at the time travel to Tagaytay from our home in Antipolo took us only about 2 to 2.5 hours excluding our usual stop at Paseo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. We liked the city so much that we even considered making it a second home; even inquiring and looking at properties there.

Fast forward to the present and it has become an excruciating travel with the highways leading to the city already congested. It didn’t help that when you got there, you also had to deal with serious traffic congestion. This started not a few years ago when the city approved developments by major players including Robinsons, SM and Ayala. The developments by SM and Ayala proved to be the backbreakers with Ayala coming up with the first mall in the city and SM operating an amusement park beside its prime acquisition that is the Taal Vista Hotel. Now, there is another mall under construction by Filinvest and right at the corner of the rotonda where the Aguinaldo Highway terminates.

img_4120Vehicles queue along the Tagaytay – Nasugbu Highway towards the Rotonda where Tagaytay traffic enforcers attempt to manage traffic but appear to create more congestion instead.

More on Tagaytay soon…

First call for papers for the TSSP 2017 conference

The first call for papers for the 24th Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines came out last Wednesday, Feb. 15:


Of accomplishments and legacies in transport

My colleagues and I have been talking about accomplishments and legacies. In particular, we had a spirited discussion about what we have been doing in terms of transportation projects that we have been involved in. I think everyone wants to have something physical to remember them by. And these should be positive and constructive and not memories of controversies or anomalies like those in major projects that will be associated with corruption or abnormalities in the processes by which the projects were implemented.

The ‘problem’ with being involved in policy making and planning is that these often lead to outputs such as reports and maybe even laws. If one is lucky enough then perhaps its in the form of a legislation rather than a Department Order. But those legislations and memos often do not acknowledge the people who contributed to its drafting. They will be associated with the politicians (e.g., senators and congressmen) and officials (e.g., secretaries, undersecretaries) who sponsored, co-sponsored or issued them. It will be good to have some sort of evidence to show and prove that you were instrumental in planning, designing and/or implementing a project.

The appointment of a new Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary in Art Tugade had me recalling our meeting with him to present the outcomes of our study on a major commercial development at Clark Freeport. He was appreciative of our work and mentioned that Clark had implemented many of the recommendations of the Master Plan we had developed for the Freeport back in 2010. All the major recommendations were implemented during Tugade’s watch at Clark. Following are the most notable ones:

Mabalacat gate B and AThe Mabalacat Gate and Public Transport Terminal of the Clark Free Port Zone

McArthur B and AMcArthur Highway – M.A. Roxas Highway – First Street rotunda

Main gate B and AClark Freeport main gate

The lead for these projects was Dr. Ricardo Sigua who is the one of the leading transportation engineers in the Philippines and currently the Director of the Institute of Civil Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is also the head of the Road Safety Research Laboratory of the National Center for Transportation Studies where he is also a Research and Extension Fellow. Others involved in these projects were Dr. Karl Vergel, Dr. Noriel Christopher Tiglao and Dr. Jose Regin Regidor, all from UP Diliman and affiliated with the NCTS.

Research topics for transportation engineering and planning for 2016-2017?

I observed from my site’s statistics that there have been a lot of interest on research topics in transportation engineering and planning. I regularly post on the undergraduate research topics our students have engaged in. At this point in the first semester of the current 2016-2017 academic year, topics have not yet been assigned and we have only learned how many students have been assigned to our research group. As such, we are still in the process of determining who takes on which topic. Following are topics we have identified in addition to those that had no takers the previous semesters:

Traffic engineering

  1. Anatomy of congestion along EDSA
  2. Anatomy of congestion along C-5
  3. Segregated lane for motorcycles
  4. Impacts of the MMDA’s truck lane policy along C-5
  5. Congestion study in the vicinity of UP Town Center
  6. Assessment of through traffic for the UP Diliman campus

Public transportation

  1. Connectivity study for UP AGT and MRT 7
  2. Feasibility of bus services beyond Masinag junction
  3. Characterization of Internal Public Transportation Operation in UP Diliman and Viability of Introduction of Electric Vehicles
  4. Modelling the Public Transport System of UP Diliman Campus Using CUBE Travel Demand Software
  5. Estimation of Passenger Demand for New Transit System for UP Diliman Using Discrete Choice Model
  6. Characteristics of motorcycle taxis in the Philippines [Habal-habal, skylab, etc.]

Road safety

  1. Severity of injuries of motorcycle riders (helmet and non-helmet users)

Pedestrian & non-motorised transport

  1. A study on walkability along Ortigas Avenue
  2. A study on the characteristics of bike share users in the UP Diliman campus

Transport & Environment

  1. Assessment of Roadside Air Quality along C.P. Garcia Avenue in the Vicinity of UP-ICE Compound

Other topics

  1. Study on the mobility of PWDs in Metro Manila
  2. Assessment of ridesharing in the context of sustainable transport

I’m sure there are other topics but I’m not aware of the specifics at present. Also, we welcome the ideas of our students should they already have topics in mind as long as these preferably fall under the research agenda of our Institute. The topics listed above may appear to be specific but these are still basically very general and can be refined after the students establish their scope and limitations. They can only do that once they have undertaken a decent enough literature review for them also to have a more firm appreciation of their chosen topics. I will post again on this later this year when students would have already put in substantial work on their research proposals (i.e., the objective for this semester).

Emergency powers to solve PH transport problems? – A long list of projects

I am sharing the long list of projects submitted by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe. This is a public document and I think should be circulated for transparency and so people will know what projects are proposed to be covered

List of sectoral projects that the Department of Transportation intends to implement and draft bill for emergency powers: dotr-list-of-projects-and-draft-bill

I leave it up to my readers to determine which among the projects listed really require emergency powers. Many I think do not require emergency powers especially since the period requested for such powers is 2 years and not the duration of the current administration’s term. Perhaps those requiring emergency powers would be programs and projects aiming to overhaul our public transport system, which is currently much dependent on road-based modes. Public transportation services do not follow the suitable hierarchy as seen along major corridors served by low capacity modes. An overhaul (i.e., rationalisation) will touch the very sensitive nerves of bus, jeepney, UV express and tricycle operators and drivers and could trigger an avalanche of TROs to prevent or discourage government from doing what should have been done decades ago to bring order to our chaotic transport. I believe emergency powers coupled with the current admin’s political capital (and the “action man” image of Pres. Duterte) can help bring about genuine reform (and change!) to transport in our cities.

TSSP 23rd Annual Conference Proceedings

The 23rd Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) was held at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman last August 8, 2016. It was hosted by the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS), which for some time was practically inactive in its dealings with the society. The conference was a very successful one with more than 170 participants, mostly students from the undergraduate programs of Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT), De La Salle University (DLSU) and UP Diliman.

The Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Conference contains 22 technical papers, which I have already listed in a previous post showing the technical program for the conference. The link is to the current website of the TSSP hosted by NCTS. Those wishing to have copies of the papers may download them directly from the link. Meanwhile, those interested in the presentations should contact the authors. Their contact information are stated in the paper and it is ethical to get the nod of the authors for their presentation file as these still fall under what can be defined as their intellectual property. I am aware of people who tend to get presentation slides and then pass them of as their work when they use the slides or the data/information therein. There are proper ways for citations of references and sources but sadly such ways are not observed by many.