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Article on building support for walking and cycling infrastructure

There is another recent article on non-motorized transport (NMT). This is a good read and something that I think should be required for those who are little too serious or staunch about their advocacies.

Doyon, S. (2017) “Building support for walking and bicycling infrastructure”  Public Square, A CNU Journal, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/11/11/building-support-walking-and-bicycling-infrastructure (Last accessed 11/11/2017)

I believe that if you want to convince people to appreciate and support your cause, you should not take the hardline. Instead, there should be a more persuasive process for wooing people. This is especially true in transportation and the advocacies for walking and cycling. You will not get a lot of support, for example, by condemning car users and telling everyone they should bike instead.

Some recommended references for sustainable transportation design

We conclude the month of October with the following recommended readings:

While these are guidelines and manuals developed and published in the United States, the principles and much of the content and context are very much applicable here.

As an additional reference, here is the latest version of functional classifications for streets that is supposed to be context-sensitive:

On one way schemes

A proposed one-way scheme for EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard raised not a few eyebrows among transportation and traffic professionals. While it seems to some that the three major thoroughfares are parallel or can be paired in such a way that EDSA can be one-way southbound, and C-5 and Roxas Blvd. can be one-way northbound, it is not as easy at it seems because these arterial carry a heckuva lot of traffic compared to the roads they are being compared to (New York?). The road network layout is also quite different. We have a circumferential and radial road network as the backbone of road-based transportation. A one-way scheme could be more effective if we had a grid type network where you have several pairs of roads that can be designated as one-way streets.

Take the case of Tacloban City, whose central business district has a grid-type network with intersections relatively closely spaced. The city implemented a one-way scheme as shown below:

Note the pairs of roads designated for one-way flow. These basically make for efficient traffic circulation provided the capacities of streets and intersections are not significantly reduced by factors such as on-street parking and other roadside friction. This can be achieved in various places in Metro Manila where streets are similarly laid out and there are multiple pairs to promote good circulation. Makati, for example, has many one-way streets in its CBD, and these are also in pairs. While having high capacities, EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard just does not have the closely spaced intersections to effect efficient circulation. In fact EDSA (or C-4) and C-5 are arterials that function to distribute the traffic carried by radial roads such as Roxas Blvd., Shaw Blvd., Commonwealth Ave, Aurora Blvd., etc.

A better option is to focus on improving road -based public transport by setting up high capacity, express bus services with exclusive lanes. These may not necessarily be full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems but requires a drastic reduction and restructuring of current numbers of buses along EDSA and their deployment along corridors like C-5 and Roxas Blvd. Express means longer intervals between stops (hint for EDSA: express bus stops coinciding with MRT-3 stations), and increased travel speeds made possible by exclusive lane(s). This could have been piloted during the APEC meetings in the previous administration where 2 lanes for each direction of EDSA were appropriated for APEC vehicles. These lanes could have been used afterwards for a BRT (-lite?) system and what could have been an pilot could have also provided an appreciation or “proof of concept” for BRT in Metro Manila that we could have learned a lot from.

What if Manila decided to build its first subway back in the 1970s?

There is something about the counterfactual that is attractive to me. While I do not have formal training as an historian, I like to dabble in history and particularly about the what-could-have-been. It started with a book I read about counterfactual military history with various articles written by prominent historians who put forward scenarios including that on Thermopylae, Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam War. I have found it a good exercise in analysis that is along the lines of chess analytics where one move may lead to another in response. Applying this to transport was quite a natural thing and we take a look at some information from the Feasibility Study for what was proposed in 1973 as the first subway line for Metropolitan Manila.

Proposed schedule for the 3-stage construction of RTR Line 1, most of which would have been a subway connecting Diliman, Quezon City with the University Belt in Manila and ultimately the airport in Paranaque.

Stage 1 between UP and FEU could have been operational as early as 1983 but typical delays could also have led to service starting in 1984 or even later. According to some critics of the LRT Line 1 that was built instead of the RTR Line 1, Marcos decided against the subway after being convinced by his advisers that the line could not be completed before Singapore finishes its own first line. A story is told that Marcos didn’t want Lee Kuan Yew to have the satisfaction of having Southeast Asia’s first mass transit line so the former opted for the elevated LRT instead. What really happened though was Singapore started operating its SMRT North-South Line in 1987, after what was also a long period of planning, decision-making and construction. It can be argued that the Philippines could still have completed at least 10 kilometers of the RTR Line 1 and at most 15 kilometers by 1987. Even a revolution in 1986 could not have doomed this project given its benefits that we could have reaped over the long-term.

Proposed stages of construction for the RTR Line No. 1 – whichever alternative could have led to the completion and inauguration of a substantial segment by 1983/84, well ahead of Singapore’s first line.

 

Artist’s conception of what an RTR Line 1 platform could have looked like. The trains look like a typical Tokyo Metro train. There’s some humor here as you can see the route map at right and the direction sign at top left referring to the Manira (Manila) Air Port.

As you can see in this rather simple (note: not included are discussions on the financial & economic aspects of this project) exercise, Metro Manila could have constructed the RTR Line 1 more than 3 decades ago. Even with the political upheavals in the Philippines during this period, it can be argued that Marcos and his version of the “best and the brightest” could have pulled it off and come up with the country and Southeast Asia’s first subway line. Most of the decision-making, planning and construction would have been during Martial Law when the Marcos had quite a firm grip on power. So he and his apologists have no excuse for this failure to potentially revolutionize transport and take Metro Manila to the next level in terms of commuting. That failure ultimately led to the current transportation situation we have in what has grown to become Mega Manila.

Some thoughts on the Metro Manila subway project

The proposed Metro Manila subway seems to be well underway after months of studies particularly to determine the best alignment given so many constraints and preferences such as it being directly connected to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). A prominent opinion writer is obviously quite excited about the prospect of I also assume that most transportation planners and engineers in Metro Manila if not the whole country are also excited about this project. Commuters are definitely hopeful and many who have experienced riding metros abroad (e.g., Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc.) should be among those who look forward to using Metro Manila’s first in perhaps 5 years time.

The idea is not a new one as it is something that was actually thought of way back in the 1970s (perhaps further back?) when the precursor of JICA came up with the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA) in 1973. The study was closely followed by a feasibility study for what was proposed as the Rapid Transit Railway (RTR) Line 1.

RTR Line 1 FSCover page for the MRTR Line No. 1 Feasibility Study (NCTS Library)

It was unfortunate, however, that the project was derailed (pun intended) after the World Bank came up with their evaluation of transport situation and transportation planning in the Philippines in 1976, which led to a counter-recommendation to have light rail transit instead of the heavy rail system proposed by UTSMMA. The latter report was followed closely by the WB-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) completed in 1977. What really happened such that the “best and the brightest” in those days (Martial Law Philippines under Marcos) abandoned the subway for light rail?

While MMETROPLAN is often lauded as a comprehensive study of metropolitan Manila, many of its assumptions and recommendations should now be subject to scrutiny. These include the assumptions on land use (e.g., for the Marikina Valley and environs not to be developed, etc.) and recommendations for a light rail transit (LRT) network. Time and history provides us with new lenses and filters by which we could try to understand what was going on in the minds of those who did MMETROPLAN. Many of those involved including one prominent (some will say self-promoting) architect and a rather controversial transport planner who were young at the time still refer to MMETROPLAN as The Masterplan that should have been implemented. It obviously wasn’t and we now bear the brunt of opportunities lost because of the decisions made in the 1970s.

I don’t buy the argument of one prominent local transport planner who downplayed the UTSMMA plan as a juxtaposition of the Tokyo metro system to Metro Manila. A more reliable and grounded assessment was recently put forward by another transport planner who is also a geographer and an economist. He was recently in London where they have a comprehensive underground railway network (the London Underground as many fondly call it) and came to the conclusion that the Japanese were inspired by this network and went on to replicate this in Tokyo. This is not without historical basis since the Japanese sent a lot of their future engineers and planners to Europe especially England and Germany during the Meiji Restoration. And so it is not a stretch to think that the principles employed by the Japanese in recommending a heavy rail system back in 1973 is not necessarily just a copy of Tokyo’s but draws inspiration from European models as well. That could have been a game-changer 40 years ago when RTR Line 1 could have started operations and commuting in Metro Manila may not have become as hellish as it is today.

What if Ondoy happened today?

With the news of the devastation of Houston by Hurricane Harvey comes articles about transportation in that city. An interesting articles is this one:

Davies, A. (2017) “Hurricane Harvey Destroys Up to a Million Cars in Car-Dependent Houston“. Wired.com.  September 3, 2017. https://www.wired.com/story/harvey-houston-cars-ruined?mbid=nl_090317_daily&CNDID=%%CUST_ID%% (Last accessed 9/4/2017).

The article reminded me of a very personal experience back in 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) submerged much of Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces in what was believed to be at least 100-year floods. Greater Metro Manila or Mega Manila is not too dependent on private cars for transportation with an estimated 70% of trips taking public transport (about 30% use private vehicles including motorcycles and taxis). Much of this public transportation, however, is road-based and so the floods did much to affect transportation in the area for the weeks after Ondoy. Car-owners rebounded quite quickly and car sales surged afterwards with many people purchasing SUVs in response to the likelihood of floods.

But what if Ondoy happened today? What if people were as unprepared as in 2009? Perhaps the damage would have been even greater than back in 2009. Mega Manila has become more dependent on cars since then with the current estimates of private vehicle mode shares at around 35%. The increase includes not only taxis and motorcycles, which have enjoyed steep increases in the past decade, but also ridesharing services (i.e., Uber and Grab).

Uber and Grab vehicles are predominantly comprised of vehicles purchased for the main purpose of being driven for income instead of the original concept of ridesharing where the vehicles are already owned and operated only during the free times of their owners (i.e., they provide services only on a part-time basis). Their proliferation and popularity means a lot more vehicles could have been damaged by Ondoy and that the owners of these vehicles likely would not have recovered from the loss even despite their auto insurance coverages.

Metro Manila and other Philippine cities under the threat of similar severe weather systems such as typhoons should build resilient transportation systems. Not surprisingly, among the more resilient modes of transport are non-motorized such as walking and cycling. Pedicabs where almost immediately back on service in Tacloban after Yolanda practically destroyed that city. But then again, an efficient public transport system is also necessary and buses and trains may provide relief from flooded cities. Maybe, a proposed subway system can also contribute if it includes the construction of subterranean drainage systems similar to that of Tokyo’s. These are not easy to develop or build with infrastructure costing much over the long term. However, Metro Manila needs to start building them now as these won’t get cheaper in the future.

Some thoughts on the proposed Metro Manila subway

The detailed design for the proposed Metro Manila subway is supposedly underway. Here’s a graphic of what the system may look like underground. I got this from the American Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

What is not shown, and which I think should also be emphasized, are the drainage tunnels that need to be constructed in relation to the underground transport system. Tokyo’s subterranean drainage, for example, are so extensive and spacious that it could handle the precipitation/runoff during rainy days so its subways are flood-free. Metro Manila stands to benefit much if similar drainage systems are built together with the subway. I think a lot of people can appreciate this feature of the subway nowadays when we all feel the impacts of the intense monsoon rains (Habagat) not to mention the typical typhoons that come our way. The subway’s construction may be seen not only from the transport perspective but also as an opportunity to improve the metropolis’ drainage system.