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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.

On congested tollways during the pandemic

I finally was able to go on a long road trip yesterday as friends invited us to go on an excursion to Quezon to a prominent pottery artist’s place in the town of Tiaong. I first thought we would be going via the backdoor of Rizal since we were already in Antipolo but it turned out that it would be faster via the tollways route. Both Google and Waze recommend our route via C-6, SLEX and STAR to get to our destination. It could have been longer via the Manila East Road but which is a more scenic route. While it took us only 2.5 hours to get to our destination, it took an additional hour on the way back. Part of it was the congestion along the national highway between Tiaong and Sto. Tomas, Batangas but I was also a bit surprised about the congestion along SLEX on the way back (photo below) but saw that this was mainly due to vehicles filing towards the Skyway ramp in Alabang.

There was the expected congestion at the toll plazas as vehicles still need to slow down. It is not like the seamless, structure-less system in Singapore where their sensors can detect vehicles running at high speeds. The toll barriers are still there and the channels for one are relatively narrow. Then, there are travelers that seem hard in understanding that there are specific booths for cash payments. Also, there were occasions when the barriers did not lift immediately for one reason or another. That tends to slow down the processing of queued vehicles – a problem that my undergraduate students could probably take on after their lessons in queuing theory.

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.