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On the opposition to “complete streets”

I recently read an article about the opposition to road diets in California, USA:

Tinoco, M. (2018) “How to Kill a Bike Lane”, http://www.citylab.com, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/05/how-to-kill-a-bike-lane/559934/?utm_source=SFTwitter [Last accessed: 5/20/2018]

So far, we know that at least three cities are progressive enough to implement road diets including Marikina City, Pasig City and Quezon City. Iloilo doesn’t count yet since their bike lane was constructed along the very wide Diversion Road. Our recommendations for Tacloban, if implemented by the city, will probably result in the second most comprehensive application of road diets/complete streets in the Philippines after Marikina, which implemented their bikeways network almost 2 decades ago. There are sure to be many who would be opposed to such schemes as many still have the view that streets are for motor vehicles. This car-oriented thinking is something that will be a challenge to advocates of people-oriented transportation systems. Hopefully, many can learn from experiences here and abroad on how to reclaim space for people leading to safer and more inclusive transport for all.

On the Pasig HOV traffic experiment

Someone shared a post about a traffic scheme they will be implementing along Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. The proposal is for the avenue to have a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane where vehicles with 4 or more occupants are to take one lane and all other vehicles the other. I am not entirely sure about the objective other than to promote high occupancies for vehicles. However, it would be nice to see how travellers will be behaving (e.g., complying) and how Pasig (with MMDA?) will be enforcing this scheme.

This is what a segment of Julia Vargas currently looks like with 2 wide lanes designated for motor vehicles (separated by the solid yellow line) and one narrow lane for cyclists (adjacent to the shoulder):

 

The intent is good but as a major link the scheme can be quite confusing especially for those who are not necessarily frequent users of this road. I assumed the yellow line was painted by the DPWH but it seems it was by Pasig. Perhaps they should have removed the old markings? Or maybe better if they rationalised the carriageway width to accommodate 3 lanes for motor vehicles and 1 wider lane for bicycles? From the photo above, it appears to me that it is possible to have 2 narrow lanes for general traffic and one wider lane for HOVs (in this case defined as having 4 or more occupants) and public utility vehicles. This configuration maximises the capacity of the road while having a the “best” lanes allocated for HOVs and bicycles.

I wish them success on this social experiment. Perhaps there can be valuable learnings from this including the need for connectivity to other links as well.

The need for speed (limits)?

My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.

While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.

I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns,  high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.

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.

Why do we need to reduce speeds?

A common observation made of Philippine drivers is that they seem to hesitate from slowing down even at hazardous locations or situations. Note, for example, vehicles approaching an intersection and you will observe that many if not most will not reduce their speeds. Most guilty for me are motorcycle riders who tend to maneuver and even speed up instead of slowing down for a safer approach. Slowing down (i.e., reducing one’s vehicle’s speed) is actually a no-brainer and something that is explicit in any country’s traffic rules and regulations and driver’s handbook.

I saw a lecture on why reducing speeds are important. This is not just from the specific perspective of safety but is explained in favor of mobility and quality of life. Here’s the lecture:

Reducing speeds for better mobility and quality of life by CarlosFelipe Pardo

 

 

TSSP 2017 Conference

The Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) holds its 24th Annual Conference tomorrow, July 21, 2017. It will be held at the National Center for Transportation Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. More than a hundred participants are expected to attend this 1-day affair.

The final program for the conference may be found in the following link:

http://ncts.upd.edu.ph/tssp/index.php/2017/07/17/tssp-conference-program/

The theme for this year’s conference is “Improving Quality of Life in Urban and Rural Areas Through Inclusive Transportation.” This is also the theme for the panel discussion in the morning. The afternoon will feature four parallel technical sessions where 18 papers will be presented.

The keynote lecture will be delivered at the start of the conference by Prof. Tetsuo Yai of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is also the current President of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS) under whose umbrella the TSSP is part of. TSSP is a founding member of EASTS and actually preceded EASTS by a year.

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…