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Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…

Ortigas Center congestion

A couple of Thursdays ago, I was in the Ortigas CBD area to attend a conference on statistics. I hitched a ride with an old friend who was also going there and so we had some time to catch up on life and other topics we usually talked about since our college days. Being on the passenger seat also meant I had some opportunities to take photos of the traffic situation in the vicinity of the venue of our conference. Here are some photos I took of traffic in the Galleria – ADB area as we drove along ADB Avenue.

Congestion along ADB Avenue across from Robinsons. The ADB building is shown ahead of the vehicles.

Most of the vehicles turned out to be turning towards Guadix and headed for Poveda. These are traffic generated by the exclusive school where most if not all students’ mode of transport is by car. This causes much of the congestion in the area at this time of day as well as during dismissals in the noontime and afternoon.

Vehicles bound for Poveda (building is in the background) and EDSA.

View of Ortigas bound vehicles filed along Sapphire Road – this photo was taken at the bridgeway connecting Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. The relatively uncontested road is the Robinsons’ driveway.

The photos show how dependent to cars many people working in the Ortigas CBD are. Many of them live outside of the CBD including those residing in the Rizal towns to the east of Metro Manila. The number of people using their own cars put so much strain on the major thoroughfares including and perhaps especially Ortigas Avenue, which serves as a main arterial connecting the CBD to many parts of Pasig, Quezon City (via C5) and the very progressive towns of Rizal Province such as Cainta, Taytay and Antipolo City.

It is a wonder why up to now, there is no mass transit system along Ortigas Avenue when the demand is very high and continuous to increase with the development of lands along it.  SM, Robinsons and Megawide are among the major players now developing their plots of land to become high density commercial/office/residential areas. And these will surely translate into more trips generated and worse traffic congestion. Perhaps the mayors of Pasig, Cainta, Taytay and Antipolo plus the governor of Rizal can get together to discuss and agree about solutions where each LGU can contribute for the betterment of their constituents’ commutes?

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.

Quick share: “The changing role of transport strategy”

Here is a nice article briefly discussing the evolution of transport strategy planning that have led to local transport plans:

Gleave, J. (2019) The changing role of transport strategy, Transport Futures, https://transportfutures.co/the-changing-role-of-transport-strategy-598fce17e9e9 [Last accessed: 8/24/2019].

More importantly, there is a very good discussion here of the recent developments and the need to change approaches in order to become more effective at the local level. The article explains that there should be an appreciation of the availability of resources including tools that allow people to be more engaged or able to participate in the planning process for their cities, municipalities or communities.

Alternate route via the Katipunan-Col. Bonny Serrano and C5-FVR Road intersection

I wrote previously about the alternate routes for eastbound vehicles given the ongoing rehabilitation of the Marcos Highway Bridge. In this post, I give some details on one alternative via C-5 and FVR Road (Riverbanks).

The intersection of Katipunan Ave.-Col. Bonny Serrano Ave. now features a left turn signal for vehicles approaching from Blue Ridge. Previously, this was not allowed and vehicles would have had to go straight or take a right, and then make a U-turn if they wanted to head towards FVR Road. Otherwise, travellers would have to take the tunnel and make the U-turn at Eastwood.

Vehicles queued along the C5 section approaching the intersection with FVR Road. The overpass in the photo is the section transitioning from the tunnel with an off-ramp past FVR Road.

Vehicles approaching the now signalised C5-FVR Road intersection. Previously, too, this intersection did not have traffic signals. Vehicles coming down from Blue Ridge/White Plains could not go through to FVR Road but would have had to travel to the U-turn slot not far from here.

The intersection of C5 and FVR Road – shown are vehicles turning from FVR Road to C5 southbound as well as those turning from C5 northbound to FVR Road.

Traffic management schemes for the Marcos Highway bridge rehab

The rehabilitation of the Marcos Highway Bridge in Marikina has necessitated traffic management schemes at the bridge itself and along alternative routes to alleviate congestion in the area. These are collectively called traffic or transport systems management (TSM) schemes with the objective of optimising existing infrastructure and resources without necessarily building something entirely new. These are quite different from travel demand management (TDM) schemes that include number coding and truck ban policies that are already being implemented (though Marikina does not implement the number coding scheme).

Traffic build-up at the approach to the intersection with FVR Road (To Riverbanks). This is now a signalised intersection as traffic from Blue Ridge/White Plains is now allowed to cross to FVR Road.

Using the route via FVR Road (Riverbanks) means you don’t have to cross the Marcos Highway Bridge and travellers will merge with those who crossed the bridge just before the Line 2 Santolan Station.

In the mornings, one lane each is allocated for either the eastbound or westbound traffic. That’s practically a total of 3 lanes (+2 lanes westbound for the SM Marikina Bridge) for the westbound direction and a single lane for the eastbound side. This is logical given the directional distribution of traffic at this time of day and the alternative routes already available to travellers.

 

Here are a few photos taken on a night time drive. Note that this was taken by a passenger. Don’t even try doing this (taking photos) while driving a vehicle, and especially not while on a motorcycle.

Entrance to the bridge right after Maj. Dizon – this part is not affected by the rehab works but vehicles position themselves to shift towards the left side, which is the usable part of the bridge.

Both lanes of the westbound side of the bridge are used for eastbound traffic. Westbound traffic are all along the SM Marikina bridge for a total of 2 lanes each for either direction of flow. The cones are not removed for practicality since they would have to be installed for the morning when one lane is allocated for the westbound traffic.

Vehicles shift to the right to return to the correct lanes for eastbound traffic along Marcos Highway at the Santolan area. Note the westbound vehicles shifting towards the underpass and SM Marikina on the left.

On the impacts of the closure of the Marcos Highway Bridge

The Marcos Highway Bridge was scheduled for rehabilitation in the next four months starting last week. While it will not be totally closed to traffic, the scheme reducing its capacity will surely lead to congestion along Marcos Highway. This congestion should be expected along other roads as well, as travellers, particularly those taking private transport will be using alternative routes in order to avoid this area. Those coming from the east will likely go through Marikina City via the parallel route comprised of Sumulong Highway and A. Bonifacio Avenue. Others will turn to A. Rodriguez (Ligaya). And perhaps others may go via Ortigas Avenue Extension. These alternative routes correspond to the other bridges crossing the Marikina River connecting the Rizal province and part of Marikina and Pasig to Metro Manila.

A photo of the bridge prior to its partial closure

I will write more on this topic once I get more information on what’s happening to the traffic in the area. Meanwhile, I do know that my usual alternative route via Marikina and Tumana seems to have more than the usual traffic during my commute. While it is easy to attribute this to the partial closure of the Marcos Highway bridge, this could also be just a normal variation in the typical daily traffic for that route.

Bike patrol

Wouldn’t it be healthier and more effective for law enforcers to have bike patrols? Many of them seem to be detached from the communities they’re supposed to serve when they aren’t on foot or pedals but instead go around on motor vehicles. It also seems a waste that the motor vehicles assigned to these people are being used to train them for driving. Thus, you often see patrol cars (even motorcycles) that are supposed to be recent model vehicles but seem so battered already. Do they really use these for chases? Or are they damaged due to their being used as “training” vehicles?

 

PNP officers on bike patrol along the beaches in Baler, Aurora

To be more effective, police officers should probably be roaming on foot or bicycles. They can be more in touch with the communities as there will be opportunities to mingle compared to if they were on cars or motorcycles. In one thread on social media, for example, there was a call for our local police to adopt the “Koban” style of the Japanese police where officers roam the communities mainly on foot and where many are recruited from the community for the latter and former to have some familiarity with the people and areas they are assigned to. Going around on foot or bicycle would also be a healthier option as surely they will be able to go more than the 10,000 steps (or equivalent) necessary to be classified as active.

On phantom traffic jams again

I’m sharing this article on phantom traffic jams:

Seibold, B. (2019) Traffic Ghost Hunting: When the biggest problem with traffic is nothing at all, Nautilus, https://medium.com/@NautilusMag/traffic-ghost-hunting-ac071197695d [Last accessed: 4/9/2019]

Have you wondered why the road or path is congested only to find out there seems to be nothing causing it? This is the phantom or ghost traffic jams caused by simple behaviours of travellers whether on motor vehicles, cycles or people like slowing down their movement or changing lanes. These disruptions cause a “ripple effect” on the traffic stream much as like waves are generated by a stimulus on calm waters.

On the traffic flow predicament at Tikling junction…again

During weekends, a constant frustration have been the incidence of severe traffic congestion along Ortigas Avenue Extension. Weekday evenings are usually better in terms of traffic compared to Saturdays. But last Monday, the congestion was so severe the congestion reached Valley Golf and vehicles had to crawl to Tikling. As mentioned in previous posts on this subject, part of the problem is the sheer volume of vehicles that make the roundabout set-up inappropriate for the junction. Then there is also the issue about the people who are supposed to manage traffic but end up mismanaging it. From what I usually observe, they tend to favour vehicles coming from Taytay via the Manila East Road leg and seem oblivious to the build-up of traffic along Ortigas Ave. Ext. eastbound.

Typical heavy traffic at Tikling Junction

We might finally get a chance to have a solution for this. One of our students took on a topic that will require her to asses the traffic at the intersection to determine, for example, whether the roundabout is suitable or perhaps should be changed into a signalised traffic control. Both analytical approach and microsimulation (using Vissim or the homegrown LocalSim) will be employed. But we will have to wait by May to see some substantial results.