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Not so fast…caution on data collection and reporting

I’ve seen posts where people have offered data on bicycle counts based on short period measurements (e.g., 5 to 15 minutes). They are quick to expand the counts to hourly values. So counting 10 bikes in 5 minutes (10 bicycles/5-minutes) is reported as 120 bikes/hour. I have seen some posts even stating that this was evidence of just how many people choose cycling for their commutes. While there is a significant increase in cycling volumes since last year (probably mainly due to the lack of public transport during this pandemic), their numbers still are quite low compared to both public and private transport users. It would be nice to know just how many people are cycling compared to pre-Covid levels. Here are some data I posted 5 years ago about traffic along the Iloilo Diversion Road where they have a wide bike lane along the northbound side of the highway. One wonders about the current numbers.

Figure 1. AM Peak hour traffic along the Iloilo City Diversion Road (ca. 2016)

Figure 2. PM Peak hour traffic along Iloilo City Diversion Road (ca. 2016)

 

It’s one thing to report and another to use the expanded value for modeling or analytical work. One basic reason why traffic scientists and engineers use the expanded value is because traffic volume is generally expressed in “vehicles/hour” as a standard unit. For certain purposes, this unit is converted to “pcu/hour” or “passenger car units per hour”. Flow rates may vary and are useful to describe the flow at specific times but the variation of flow is actually more important as this describes the behavior of traffic. I know, it reads or sounds like a car-centric unit of measurement, and it is. But that same comment can be made about currency and how the US dollar is being used rather than the Euro, the Yen, or the Yuan/Renminbi…if you get my point.

Perhaps a better argument is to use persons/hour/direction as the unit of measure if people cannot agree about using a specific vehicle type? That should be more acceptable to most people. But you need to have information about vehicle occupancies. Past studies in Metro Manila have established, for example, that on average the private vehicle occupancy is between 1.2 to 1.6 persons per car. This and other vehicle occupancies are multiplied to the various vehicle to estimate the number of persons in persons/hour/direction traveling along roads. This can be for the entire day or for peak periods. Note though that occupancy values will also vary according to time of day. The same calculations can be applied to rail and other modes as well.

The classic and popular graphic comparing the road space occupied by cars vs. spaces occupied by buses, motorbikes or bicycles, respectively is also inaccurate as these show capacity or the potential high value if certain modes are used. There will never be a 100% single mode choice especially for major roads like say the urban street network. Most people will choose their mode of transportation based on many factors including travel distance, time and cost. Those are the measurable factors. Others like comfort and convenience are also important and perhaps may have other factors substituting for them.

While I support cycling and the provision of bike lanes, there should always be a fair treatment of how data or information are gathered and presented. Otherwise, we are just misinforming people and generating hostility where cooperation or collaboration should be pursued instead. More work or effort towards convincing the general public and especially decision makers and movers in government and the private sector to effect changes in policies and infrastructure requires being collaborative rather than combative. That includes formulating ang communicating solutions rather than playing a blame game.

Didn’t we already have 15-minute cities and towns in the Philippines?

I was reading about articles and posts in social media about the ’15-minute’ city. The concept basically states that your home should be within 15 minutes of necessary destinations such as the market, the grocery store, the drug store, hospital, police station, and maybe perhaps the government office.

To quote:

“The core principles behind the 15-minute city aren’t new to urban planning. They derive from an old history of designing cities around people rather than cars, and many European cities that were planned before the invention of the automobile are better suited to this notion. But the idea that has been popularized during the pandemic is that all cities — including European ones — must center future planning on the goal of ensuring car-free access to basic necessities, such as health care, schools, employment and food. It’s a lofty goal, but one that is unlikely to reach all neighborhoods in many cities without drastic interventions and investments. Pitter warns that simply injecting design changes such as bike lanes and parklets into a neighborhood will not reverse segregation that has been embedded into city planning.”  O’Sullivan in “Where the ’15-Minute City’ Falls Short” 

Many of our cities and municipalities date to the Spanish times or older (e.g., Manila, Cebu). Those that developed during the Spanish period were planned according to European cities. You know, with the church, government (i.e., municipal hall), market and school located at the center. Residential and commercial establishments surround the center, which often had a plaza. And, as the saying goes, the further you were from the center (i.e., the fainter the sound of the church bells), the lesser you are as far as society goes. This set-up still applies now and arguably sari-sari stores, which were the convenience stores of old, are now being replaced by convenience store chains like 7/11 and Family Mart. Commerce-wise, it helps that big companies like SM, Robinsons and Puregold have smaller stores spread around. And hospitals like Medical City have smaller clinics and laboratories. Wet markets? Surely there are talipapas if you just check around you.

Even now, if you look around closely, the only likely exceptions to the 15-minute city concept would be concerning the workplaces and schools. Many people live more than 15 minutes from their workplaces, enduring ‘painful’ or ‘wasteful’ commutes on a daily basis. The same goes with students who are enrolled in their or their parents’ preferred schools. Note that the public school system in the Philippines, despite its being maligned, has pre-school, elementary and high school campuses or buildings located strategically in each barangay. That would mean short commutes for students enrolled in these schools which prioritize residents of the barangays. However, many prefer private schools (e.g., Ateneo, LaSalle, St. Scholastica, St. Paul, Assumption, etc.) or elite public schools (i.e., science high schools) and so even children have to endure long commutes.

So do you still think we don’t have 15-minute cities in the Philippines?

On the principles of good infrastructure

Since the Philippine government is engaged in its Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program, and agencies like the DPWH and DOTr often or regularly refer to what’s happening in the US in terms of projects, guidelines and standards, I am sharing the following article on the principle

Marshall, A. (March 18, 2021)“What Are the Five Principles of Good Infrastructure?” Governing.com, https://www.governing.com/community/Five-Principles-Good-Infrastructure.html [Last accessed: 4/5/2021]

Despite obviously being an article about US infrastructure in the context of the new administration there, there are just too many takeaways or relevant information here that applies to us and how we are developing and maintaining our infrastructure. To quote:

“First of all, cost matters. The evidence is pretty clear now that we pay several times more than other advanced nations to build transit infrastructure, particularly tunnels, and possibly highways as well. It appears we pay too much to build public parks.

Second, time matters. We still get estimates for infrastructure projects whose construction stretches into decades, when it should be a few years. Time relates to cost. Adding time makes projects more expensive.

Third, connections matter. Whether it’s a light-rail line joining up to a bus line, or an interstate exit linking to a town, the connections between infrastructure systems are important. High-speed rail lines need to intersect seamlessly with the cities they serve. Infrastructure can’t be designed in a vacuum. Urban planners and designers should be at the top of the infrastructure food chain, so that transportation and other departments work for comprehensive visions.

Fourth, design matters. Western Europe has been erecting light, airy bridges for decades, while we have continued to build heavy concrete slabs. This is changing, but we lag behind other countries in the design quality of everything from bridges to subways.

Finally, ownership matters. Even the best-designed and swiftly built infrastructure will turn bad if we give one or two private companies total control over them. As we use private companies for broadband, cable, telephones, data management and the power that runs our homes, we need to remember this. When we can’t (or won’t) have public systems, then the private ones need to be carefully managed.”

To what extent do you think these principles apply to our case?

If you became the DOTr Secretary, what will be the first things you do?

I saw this article posted on Planetizen about what the new US DOT Secretary would be and should be doing upon his appointment:

Fischer, R. (February 8, 2021) “You’re in Charge of the US DOT; Where Do You Start?” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112170?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02152021&mc_cid=f4502363c4&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1

While, the US needs to implement a lot of projects for their needs and perhaps some catching-up here and there across the country, the term “catching-up” cannot really describe the backlog of programs and projects we need to implement in the Philippines. And so I posted the same article on social media to solicit some reactions. There were some good responses but many I though were on the cliche side. Some even posted about personalities in various transport agencies rather than the reforms needed or the infrastructure required to address transport problems.

How about you? If you were appointed Secretary of the Department of Transportation; where do you start?

What if Rizal today was the same province it was back in the day?

I write this as a super typhoon is bearing down on us this 1st of November. I found this map on the internet without attribution to the original source. It shows a still-born Metro Manila with only four local government units: Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City and San Juan.

Map of Rizal province in the 1960s

What if instead of the Metro Manila we have now, Rizal retained the towns (that eventually became cities) that were transferred to what became the National Capital Region (NCR)? These are Navotas, Malabon, Caloocan, Marikina, Pasig, Pateros, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Paranaque, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Valenzuela was taken from Bulacan Province. Pasig was the capital of the province (Yes, that’s why there is Capitolyo and the Rizal Provincial Capitol used to be in Pasig where you now have Capitol Commons. Surely, the political landscape could have been different though one could argue that certain families would have still held sway in cities/towns where they have their routes. Imagine, the governorship of the province would have been a coveted post but not by the the current holders but likely by personalities from the more progressive and densely populated cities. Governance would have been different, too, as Rizal would have both highly urbanized and rural areas. Perhaps certain undesirable politicians could not have emerged due to the dynamics of a province with highly urbanized cities? What’s your take on this “what if”?

Of inequitable allocations and accessibility

In the news recently were figures released supposedly by Philhealth showing the top hospitals receiving reimbursements from the agency for claims relating to COVID-19. Southern Philippines Medical Center, a hospital in Davao City received 326M pesos while UP-PGH got 263.3M pesos.  I was not surprised that my social media newsfeed included posts from both sides of the fence (The fence sitters among my friends on social media were not commenting about these anymore and seem content in just posting on food or whatever activity they were in.). Each were posting information divulged by the whistleblowers in the ongoing hearings on the issues pertaining to PhilHealth funds.

I will not go into the political aspect of this controversy but will just focus on the transportation aspects of the issue.  I will just compare the top two hospitals in the list to simplify the assessment while mentioning others in general.

The claim that the hospital in Davao was the equivalent of PGH in Mindanao doesn’t hold water as the hospital does not treat even 10% of the cases that PGH is handling and for a much smaller geographical area. While UP-PGH is accessible to a larger population and for less travel times, SPMC is not as accessible to say people coming from other major cities like Cagayan De Oro or Zamboanga City. Yes, there are other major cities on the same island that have sizable populations with ‘catchment’ or influence areas comparable to Davao City. They, too, probably need funds to be able to treat COVID-19 patients. It is true that there are many other hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) that have the facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. However, many of these are private hospitals that tend to incur more costs for the patient and are not generally accessible (read: affordable) to most people who are of middle and low incomes. Thus, UP-PGH can be regarded as the frontliner among frontline hospitals.

What? There are other public or government hospitals in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? True, but many of those have very limited capacities in terms of facilities and Human Resources. The same applies to Davao’s case as well because there are also medical centers and hospitals in surrounding provinces. And to round-out the resources available to these hospitals, local government units have also (over) extended their resources to hospitals. Perhaps the allocations and proportions can be explained in another way that is not the “apologist” but based on actual numbers pertaining to cases handled by the hospitals?

On the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on urban planning

Here is another timely article on the effects of COVID-19 on urban planning. Past pandemics have influenced the way cities are designed and COVID-19 is no different as we are now learning a lot of lessons on how towns and cities need to be laid out or structured to prevent future outbreaks from spreading so quickly while also allowing for a more effective actions in response to infections.

van den Berg, R. (2020) “How Will COVID-19 Affect Urban Planning?”, The City Fix, https://thecityfix.com/blog/will-covid-19-affect-urban-planning-rogier-van-den-berg/ [Last accessed: 5/15/2020]

On transport for essential workers

One of the major issues during this enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or lockdowns that the government has imposed pertains to the transport needs of other essential workers. I say ‘other’ because unlike the frontliners, who include mainly medical personnel such as doctors, nurses and others directly involved in combatting this pandemic, there are varying takes on who belongs to the category of these ‘other’ essential workers. To simplify, I believe these should include those working in factories producing food items, medical equipment and supplies, and people working in supermarkets, drugstores, markets and banks. People involved in transportation such as truckers or logistics personnel are essential. So are public transport providers. How will food and other supplies travel from where they’re produced (i.e., farms, fish ports, factories, etc.) to the places where they are needed if our supply chains are compromised due to a lack of personnel?

Here is a recent article about the reduction of public transport services that has affected ‘essential’ workers in the Bay Area in the US:

Davies, A. and Marshall, A. (2020) “Public Transit Cuts Hurt ‘Essential’ Workers Who Need It Most”, wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/transit-cuts-hurt-workers-who-need-most/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_TRANSPORTATION_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Transportation_TopClickers_040620&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=WIR_TopClickers_EXCLUDE_Transportation [Last accessed 4/7/2020]

In our case, there seems to be a double standard in how the national government sees our LGUs are trying to provide transport services. The cases of Pasig and Davao concerning the use of tricycles as public transport comes to mind but I will leave that topic for another article (soon!).

On transportation after the Covid-19 pandemic

Our lives will never be the same after this pandemic. The term ‘after’ is actually quite vague because various estimates figure that the Covid 19 pandemic is expected to have multiple outbreaks over the next 1 to years. A big part of our lives and particularly our daily routines is travel. This refers mainly to our regular commutes between our homes, workplaces, schools, shops, and other typical places that transportation engineers and planners like to term as origins and destinations. Transport will definitely be impacted by the pandemic as we seek to have physical distance between people. Public transport will be hard hit as, for one, as the number of passengers will have to be limited per vehicle. What were crowded buses with 60+ passengers (including those standing) will likely have only 20 to 30 passengers depending on the layout. Jeepneys that used to seat 20-24 passengers (excluding sabit or hangers as these are prohibited in the first place) may only accommodate 8 to 10 passengers, again depending on the layout. Tricycles will have to carry only one passenger in the sidecar with no-one allowed to sit behind the driver. Here’s an article and much stats on how the pandemic is disrupting transit elsewhere but particularly in US cities:

Judging from what was practically the elimination of traffic congestion along Metro Manila and other cities’ roads, it is clear that we cannot go back to transportation where cars dominate road space. And so public transport will have to carry that additional burden of private car users being required to use public transport modes instead. While its possible to do the number crunching to determine bus, jeepney, van and train frequencies, it is uncertain if there are enough manpower to run these vehicles under a protocol to ensure that passengers (and drivers and conductors) will not be infected or spread Covid-19.

Planning for the new normal – post Covid-19

There have been many discussions lately about urban planning and transport planning in relation to the pandemic currently gripping the world. There are opinions and assessments about topics such as population density, employment, public transportation, physical or social distance, as well as the prospects for reducing car dependence.

Here is a nice article that compiles some of the better articles on planning related to the current Covid-19 pandemic that’s affecting our planet:

Brasuell, J. (2020) Debating the Future of Cities, and Urban Densities, After the Pandemic, planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/108814?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03232020&mc_cid=a891454817&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed 3/24/2020].

The world will never be the same after what everyone has gone through during this pandemic. Let us not wish we could go back to normal because, as the saying goes, that “normal” was what got us here in the first place.

Keep safe everyone!