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The return of carmaggedon and the illusion of low vehicle ownership
Traffic seems to be back to pre-pandemic levels in the Metro Manila and its adjacent provinces. You can experience this along major roads like Commonwealth Avenue, C-5 and yes, EDSA. The number of vehicles on the roads including motorcycles defy what is supposed to be low motor vehicle ownership in Metro Manila (as claimed by DOTr and JICA in the MUCEP report and echoed by groups who cite the report as if it is flawless).
Intense traffic congestion along C5/Katipunan Avenue. The photo shows traffic on the C5/Katipunan flyover’s northbound side and towards the direction of Ateneo, Miriam and UP Diliman.
The reality appears to be that more households actually own motor vehicles and the inefficiencies and unattractiveness of public transport continues to convince people to take private transportation, including motorcycles, over public transport options. The inconvenient truth according to one senior transport expert is that while cycling has gained ground, the numbers are minuscule compared with those taking either private or public motorized transport. Yes, carmaggedon is back and looks here to stay for a while longer until the so-called game changers like the MM subway and Line 7 are operational. Will they change the commuting behavior or are these too late in as far as solutions are concerned?
On floods, transport and traffic, again
It’s that time of year again when the heavy rains lead to flash floods along many roads. I took the following photo as we slowly progressed towards Cainta Junction early this week. The Felix Avenue approach was flooded after more than an hour of heavy rains fell upon Cainta and neighboring towns. We learned later that the rains fell on a larger area as EDSA and other major road in Metro Manila also experience flash floods. These cause traffic to slow down if not outright stoppage. Many commuters can get stranded when PUVs are not able to run due to the floods. Deeper waters mean light vehicles including motorcycles and bicycles cannot proceed along certain roads, further exacerbating the traffic situation.
Motorcyclists emerge from their shelters to travel along flooded roads. A common sight when there are downpours are motorcyclists huddling under overpasses, bridges, or whatever shelter may be available to them. Many bring rain gear but opt to just stop and wait it out until the rain stops.
A cyclist braves the floods – while pedestrians will likely stop and wait it out for the rains to stop or for the floods to subside, cyclist might just pedal on. They just have to be more careful as potholes and other dangers may be hidden by the floodwaters.
Cainta Junction has been submerged by so many floods over so many years. Even with the new drainage constructed under and along Ortigas Avenue Extension, Felix Avenue and Bonifacio Avenue, it seems their capacities are not enough to handle the rainwaters. That or perhaps their intakes need to be redesigned to more efficiently take on the heavy rains and the resulting runoff.
On phantom congestion
I’ve talked about phantom congestion in my class lectures and training modules but have always explained it through figures and diagrams I usually draw on the board as I discuss the topic with my students or trainees. Here is a very informative, very visual explanation of what typically happens along many roads and how there is congestion when there seems to be no reason at all for these traffic jams:
Have you experienced these phantom traffic jams yourself?
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 data on mobility trends
There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:
And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:
Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?
Is traffic congestion like a virus?
An article came up where the author explains the similarities of the coronavirus spread to the spread of traffic congestion. It is basically about modeling (and simulating) the spread while considering factors like the characteristics of the virus that are similar to traffic. I’m posting/sharing it here for future reference/reading:
Simon, M. (2020) “Turns Out, Traffic Spreads Like the Coronavirus”, wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/traffic-spreads-like-disease/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_040720&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list1_p2 %5BLast accessed: 4/8/2020]
On changes in traffic patterns after the pandemic
We start April with a nice article from Cities of the Future. The article explains how traffic patterns will be changing due to Covid-19. They have already changed for most of us who have to deal with quarantines and lockdowns. And we should not expect things to go back to normal. “Normal” here, of course, is “Business As Usual” or was that. It is quite clear that we cannot and should not go back to BAU and it is probably going to be good for most of us. There will definitely be a lot of adjustments and sacrifices especially for commuters who have been dependent on cars for travel. The transport industry, too, will have to deal with the new supply and demand dynamics. And government should be up to the task of engaging and rethinking how policies and regulations should evolve to address issues coming out of the “new normal” in transportation.
Valerio, P. (2020) Traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different, says Micromobility expert , Cities of the Future, https://citiesofthefuture.eu/traffic-patterns-are-going-to-drastically-be-very-different/ [Last accessed: 4/3/2020]
En route to Batangas the other day, we had to endure severe traffic congestion along C5 and SLEX. C5 was at its worst as it took us about 2 hours from Blue Ridge until SLEX. Descending from the flyover to SLEX, we were greeted by crawling traffic along the tollway, which was to us a slight surprise for the southbound direction. Normally, traffic would already be lighter compared with the northbound side that carried peak hour travelers inbound for Metro Manila.
Much of the ‘additional’ congestion along SLEX is attributed to the ongoing construction of the Skyway extension. Traffic management is particularly criticized and congestion very atrocious at Alabang on ground level beneath the viaduct. Buses are prohibited from using the viaduct and the traffic schemes have contributed to severe congestion. Through traffic along both sides of the tollway have been affected, too, with queues reaching Laguna.
Preview: Passing the Alabang area, we observed that the queue from Alabang already stretched beyond what is visible to the eye.
No end in sight: this is what we usually describe as a traffic jam condition with the density reaching its maximum value and speed at its lowest. Volume approaches zero for this case.
Horizon: The queue that morning reached the Southwoods exit of the SLEX. Approaching northbound travelers would have to endure severe congestion until Alabang.
On hindsight, I thought that we should probably have opted to fly between Quezon City and Lipa City. My colleague said that the contact person offered that option to us but that he turned it down because he gets dizzy riding helicopters. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never ridden on one. However, we also thought it wouldn’t be prudent for us to ride a helicopter from the university. It would seem to be the transport of VIPs and easily attracts unwanted attention. Yet, it would have been the more practical and speedy if not the less expensive option for the trip that day.
The problem with public transport in the Philippines…
There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the arguably, traffic congestion was not as bad as the present we experience daily.
The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?
Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.
Cooperative work among LGUs to address transport problems along Ortigas Avenue Extension?
I saw a recent post about a meeting hosted by Pasig City. The Mayor of Pasig City recently held a meeting where he invited the mayors or Antipolo, Cainta and Taytay to discuss, among other things perhaps, transportation along Ortigas Avenue. Ortigas Avenue is a corridor shared by several LGUs most notably the Rizal towns of Antipolo (which is the provincial capital and a highly urbanized city), Cainta and Taytay. The latter two are among the richest municipalities in the country; a fact I underline here since that also should translate to them having the resources or means to help come up with transport and traffic solutions.
Morning rush traffic starts very early these days. This photo was taken around 6AM on a Thursday along the westbound direction just after the Manggahan Bridge. The pedestrian overpass at C. Raymundo junction is shown and the dark colored buildings are at Robinsons’ Bridgetown development. Note the commuters along the right waiting for a ride.
Photos paint a thousand words. The Taytay Mayor attended the meeting. He has been under fire for the horrendous traffic caused by the mismanagement of Tikling Junction as well as the Barkadahan Bridge area that was and is supposed to be a major alternative route for Rizalenos heading to their workplaces in Makati and BGC. More recently, there were posts about the traffic signals installed at Tikling Junction that basically invalidates the roundabout concept for the junction. The result last Thursday, the first day of operations for the signals, was hellish traffic that backed up a couple of kilometers along the Manila East Road and Ortigas Ave. Extension (some reports say until Cainta Junction). This, even as the signal settings were supposedly done with help from the MMDA.
Antipolo was represented by its former Mayor and husband to the current one. He also happens to be a former Governor of the Rizal Province and likely to run again as his mother, the current governor, is on her 3rd term. It seems to me that the province is not so interested in solutions for Ortigas Avenue despite most of its constituents traveling through the corridor to get to their workplaces and schools. Marcos Highway is not the main corridor for Rizal towns as it basically carries only Antipolo and maybe some of Tanay (via Sampaloc) traffic. Ortigas Avenue Extension branches into two major roads from Tikling – Ortigas Ave Extension, which ends at the capitol, and the Manila East Road, which connects to practically all of Rizal towns with San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) being the exceptions. It is time for the province to pay attention to this commuting problem experienced daily by her constituents.
The Mayor of Cainta seems not as interested as the others, sending a representative who appears to be not one of the top officials (the traffic chief with a rank of SPO1=Master Sergeant is lower ranked than a councilor) of the Municipality to such an important meeting. In fact, he is currently now embroiled in a controversial faux pas involving himself by not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle. What’s more is his downplaying this and appearing to be even justifying the act. He eventually apologized but not before stating his moves. He is not new to publicity (stunts?) and knows how bad publicity still translates to good publicity especially in this days of fake news and trolls (he apparently has many on social media). He seems to forget that transport and traffic solutions for Ortigas Ave will likely benefit anyone seeking reelection or higher office in Rizal. He is on his last term as mayor and the break-up with some of his allies including his former Vice Mayor who ran against him in the last elections shows the limits of his political career. What was rumored as plans to run for Rizal governor might just be downgraded to perhaps Vice Mayor? In any case, he should show more interest and effort in finding solutions beyond traffic management and not by himself but in cooperation with others with whom his jurisdiction shares the problems with. Perhaps the initiative of the Pasig Mayor presents an opportunity for such cooperative work? Many people are very interested in this and will be watching – and hoping.