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The Tagaytay transportation predicament

The title of this article is actually a bit tame and on the diplomatic side of trying to describe transportation and traffic in this city that was once relaxed a retreat for many. I had wanted to end February on a good note and so I decided to defer posting this until March.

We used to frequent Tagaytay and liked spending some rest and recreation time there to the tune of being there almost once a month at one time. Needless to say, at the time travel to Tagaytay from our home in Antipolo took us only about 2 to 2.5 hours excluding our usual stop at Paseo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. We liked the city so much that we even considered making it a second home; even inquiring and looking at properties there.

Fast forward to the present and it has become an excruciating travel with the highways leading to the city already congested. It didn’t help that when you got there, you also had to deal with serious traffic congestion. This started not a few years ago when the city approved developments by major players including Robinsons, SM and Ayala. The developments by SM and Ayala proved to be the backbreakers with Ayala coming up with the first mall in the city and SM operating an amusement park beside its prime acquisition that is the Taal Vista Hotel. Now, there is another mall under construction by Filinvest and right at the corner of the rotonda where the Aguinaldo Highway terminates.

img_4120Vehicles queue along the Tagaytay – Nasugbu Highway towards the Rotonda where Tagaytay traffic enforcers attempt to manage traffic but appear to create more congestion instead.

More on Tagaytay soon…

On cable cars as a solution to Metro Manila transportation problems

I was asked about my take on the pronouncement about cable cars being a potential solution to Metro Manila’s traffic woes. I say pronouncement because careful qualification of the news articles on this clearly show that this is not yet a proposal. I leave it to the reader to Google these articles on cable cars for Metro Manila.

The first thing that came to my mind are capacity and demand. What would be the capacity for such a system and what could be the demand given that you would have to determine where stations would be. There’s also the fear factor as many people would not be comfortable riding a vehicle so high up in the air and then of course, there’s the wind that will obviously have to be factored in the operation of such cable cars. Suitability is very much an issue here. Perhaps cable cars like the one featured in the news articles are more appropriate for cities like Baguio, Antipolo and Tagaytay? There are very limited applications for Metro Manila even including perhaps possibilities for Ortigas and perhaps Loyola Heights.

I like what my friend, Rene Santiago, said about the cable being one possible answer but not The Answer to Metro Manila’s traffic problems. I am aware of and quite amused by the comments posted on social media about the so-called ‘cable car solution’ as it is definitely not going to make a big impact on Metro Manila transport. I like comments proposing instead improved river transport as well as protected bicycle lanes around the metropolis. These are well-grounded proposals that have been proven elsewhere to be very effective in reducing congestion while mass transit projects are under construction and to be operational in 2 to 3 years time. I think it would be wiser to put your money on bike lanes and even bike bridges than in cable cars.

I was also asked about what should be the first project the new Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade should take on. Metro Manila is still very much a “battleground” for transport and traffic, and there are already projects lined up for implementation like the much delayed MRT 7 and the extension of LRT1. The new administration should strongly support such efforts, whether its via Public Private Partnership (PPP) or public funded. That said, I think the incoming Department of Transportation Secretary should work on an urban mass transport project in one of our major cities. Either Cebu or Davao come to mind as these cities are already also congested and would need to have an urban transit system (rail?) very soon in order to avoid becoming another Metro Manila. There are low-hanging fruits in these cities, for example, with the Cebu BRT ready to be taken on by the new administration for full implementation and Davao already being the subject of public transport studies pointing to it being ripe for a rail transit system.

Finally, there are also the outcomes of research & development work by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). I am referring to the DOST-MIRDC’s road train, AGT and hybrid train projects. The road trains, for example, may be used for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines that are proposed for C5 and Quezon Avenue. I also think it is worth considering for EDSA. BRT is not technology-specific as far as buses go so why not use Philippine-made buses for this? While these are still subject to third party safety and technical certifications, the Transportation Department could lend a helpful hand towards this certification and this could perhaps ultimately lead to building an industry out of these buses and trains.

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Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion

There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:

For some reason that’s a bit surprising for many, the MMDA seems to have solved two of the most enduring issues on traffic congestion along two major thoroughfares. LSGH is along Ortigas Avenue while Ateneo is along Katipunan Avenue (C-5). Both have high trip generation rates and a significant percentage of their trip gen is comprised of private vehicles. While, Ateneo’s trip generation has led to traffic congestion due to the sheer number of trips the university attracts, the congestion due to La Salle is due to the poor traffic management and lack of parking spaces for vehicles attracted by the school.

I only wonder why it took so much time to address these problems considering the solutions mentioned in the articles are basically ones that could have been implemented years ago. In the case of La Salle, good old fashioned traffic enforcement apparently did the trick. But then, the MMDA even with the LGU constraint could have been stricter before whether when they were under Bayani Fernando (BF) or any of his successors as MMDA Chair. With Ateneo, the scheme is very similar if not the same as what BF proposed over a decade ago when he was MMDA Chair. At that time though a touchy issue was the U-turn scheme he installed along Katipunan that cost trees and the former service road on the west side of the avenue. We can only hope that these claimed ‘successes’ will be sustained and ensure smoother flow of traffic along the major roads they directly affect.

Will a flyover at Katipunan-C.P. Garcia solve the traffic problem in the area?

I read a news article about the proposal by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to construct a left-turn flyover at the intersection of Katipunan Avenue (C5) and C.P. Garcia Avenue in Quezon City.  The flyover is supposed to be for vehicles turning left from the northbound side of Katipunan to C.P. Garcia Ave., which goes through the University of the Philippines Diliman

Will the flyover solve the traffic congestion problem in the area, particularly at the intersection and Katipunan in general? I would say no, it would not solve the congestion problem both for the intersection and for Katipunan. This assessment is due to the following reasons:

  1. The overpass does not address the root cause of congestion in the area, which is trip generation related. There are many major trip generators along Katipunan alone including three major schools (UP, Ateneo and Miriam) and a mall (UP Town Center). Add to this the traffic generated by the high density residential developments along Katipunan (notice the high rise condominiums lining up across Ateneo and Miriam?) and the through traffic coming from various areas that use C5’s Katipunan section.
  2. Congestion is caused by saturated intersections corresponding to Ateneo Gate 3 and main gate of Miriam College. Traffic going in and out of these schools are favored over through traffic along C5 resulting in congestion in the area. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to build overpasses to bypass these intersections.
  3. Congestion is caused by vehicles bound for and coming from the UP Town Center. The congestion due to traffic generated by the commercial development is actually alarming considering it is not yet completed and trips attracted and produced is not yet at full potential.
  4. The heaviest flows at the Katipunan-C.P. Garcia intersection are along Katipunan (northbound and southbound through traffic). Logic and traffic engineering principles point to grade separation to be more appropriate for such traffic and NOT for the left turn movement. A flyover should also be able to bypass UP Town Center as vehicles bound for the mall already blocks traffic along both sides of Katipunan and directly affects the intersection.

I think the DPWH should do well to re-assess their proposal along the lines of the reasons I have listed here rather than continue with the folly of building a left turn overpass alone. UP Diliman should also resist this overpass as, based on the news article, it would mean UP giving up some 8,000 square meters of its property for the project. UP already has given a lot for widening C.P. Garcia but that goes without saying that a through flyover might also require UP to give up property and particularly from its National Science Complex for such a project.

Shopping malls and Ortigas Avenue Extension traffic congestion

Recently, I noticed that traffic has somewhat eased along the eastbound side of Ortigas Avenue Extension. For one, this was probably due to the completion of road works and the reopening of lanes between Cainta Junction and Brookside. This improved traffic flow as traffic personnel didn’t have to resort to the balancing act that is the counter-flow scheme they had been employing to alleviate congestion for mostly home-bound traffic. But a major contributor to congestion was the Ever Gotesco Mall in the former Riverside industrial complex. Malls like this are major trip generators and if traffic coming in and out of the malls are not managed properly or facilities are not provided for efficient movement of people and vehicles, then there will surely be congestion along access roads. I stated that the Ever mall ‘was’ a major contributor because the mall recently closed down and the property is now fenced off from the road. At present, there is practically zero traffic that can be attributed to the former mall.

Following are a few photos of the closed and fenced off property that was the Ever Ortigas mall.

ever ortigas3Jeepneys and UV Express vehicles now use the service road of the mall as a terminal.

ever ortigas2It’s now a breeze passing through the eastbound section of Ortigas Extension in front of the former mall. There are signs stating the property has been acquired by retail giant SM. It will probably be transformed into an SM mall.

ever ortigas1This driveway used to cause congestion as jeepneys and private vehicles exited the mall through this driveway and many turned left towards Ortigas westbound. These vehicle often effectively blocked traffic along the eastbound direction with queues reaching all the way past Countryside and reaching De Castro on a bad day.

There were only two shopping malls along Ortigas Avenue Extension – the Robinson’s Place near Cainta Junction and Ever Gotesco. Ever has recently close but it is expected to re-open as an SM Mall sometime in the near future. SM doesn’t have a mall in the area and the ‘nearest’ ones would be Megamall, Marikina and Taytay (not counting the Super Center beside Tiendesitas and the Super Center along Felix Avenue). If indeed an SM mall will be there soon, we could expect heavier traffic in the area given the trip generation characteristics of SM. Perhaps, though, there is an opportunity to improve traffic in the area if SM can consider some improvements to its driveways and circulation. They could probably do something like what SM Novaliches had done with their generous setback to ensure that there will be no serious congestion along Quirino Avenue due to mall-generated traffic.

SM will not be the only major commercial development that is expected to generate traffic that will lead to congestion along Ortigas Extension. Almost across the former Ever mall is a commercial development under construction with a building I think is too close to the road. Then there is also the commercial/residential project that is being constructed along the westbound side of Ortigas Extension near the Kaytikling Junction in Taytay, Rizal. I wonder if these had the necessary traffic studies to support their impacts on at least the immediate areas they will be affecting.

EASTS 2015 – Cebu City, September 11-13, 2015

The 11th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS 2015) will be held in Cebu City this September 11-13, 2015. For information on the conference and program, check out their website here:

http://www.easts2015.com/

You can also download a brochure about EASTS here:

EASTS brochure2014-2015a

The conference is hosted by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is the local affiliate of the EASTS. More information on the TSSP are found below:

TSSP brochure_inside TSSP brochure_cover-back

Ortigas Ave. Extension choke points

One alternative route for my daily commute is Ortigas Avenue. While there are several choke points along this road, I will focus on those between the Ever mall and Cainta Junction. Congestion is also usually experienced between the Manggahan Bridge and Ever but these are mostly due to traffic interruptions because of vehicles turning to and from the many subdivisions whose access/egress line up along Ortigas Ave.

The Ever mall is already a given as a significant traffic generator in the area. However, there is something about its circulation particularly the flow of vehicles in and out of the complex that detrimentally affects Ortigas Ave. traffic. While through traffic along the eastbound direction should use Ortigas Ave., many opt to go through the wide driveway of Ever in order to bypass the choke point that is the exit driveway of the mall. Many of these exiting vehicles are jeepneys turning left into Ortigas westbound (their routes terminate here and make their turnaround via Ever’s driveway). These effectively block the flow of traffic along Ortigas eastbound especially in cases when the westbound direction is also congested (i.e., due to sheer volume as well as stopping vehicles across the mall).

IMG10279-20150312-1640Vehicles exiting from Ever and turning left to Ortigas westbound

Once eastbound vehicles are freed from the blockage of left-turning vehicles, they have to merge with significant right-turning traffic from Ever that includes buses and mostly through traffic vehicles whose drivers were ‘wise’ to have taken the driveway instead of Ortigas to get through the choke point. The situation results in another choke point right after the first one as the traffic along two lanes of Ortigas eastbound merge with the traffic equivalent to 2-3 lanes turning right from Ever. The total of 5 lanes of traffic squeezing into 2 lanes immediately after is a prime example of a bottleneck.

IMG10280-20150312-1641Narrow eastbound two-lane section – additional space should be expropriated to widen Ortigas at this section

Right after the short 2-lane section is a sudden widening of Ortigas Ave. in front of BF Metals. I have heard it said that this is the ideal road width for Ortigas Ave. considering the volume of traffic passing through this major corridor connecting Rizal province with Metro Manila. There are practically 4 lanes for each direction at this short section so its easy to project these lanes on maps to see what properties would need to be expropriated if the objective is road widening. (Of course, the best option should still be to pursue a mass transit system along this corridor.)

IMG10281-20150312-1641Ideal road width – Ortigas Avenue at its widest is the section across BF Metals. Vehicles here spread out along the many lanes suddenly available. But then people will eventually and immediately realize this is the mouth of a funnel. Note the sign indicating that vehicles are entering the Province of Rizal from this point.

IMG10282-20150312-1641The eastbound section in front of BF Metals is usually parking lot in the evenings. This is due mainly to the 4 lanes almost abruptly constricting into 2 lanes just past BF Metals. Compounding things is the U-turn slot located here where many jeepneys whose routes end at Cainta Junction make their turnaround. Turning vehicles are assisted by “tambays” earning their money by blocking eastbound vehicles to make way for U-turning vehicles.

Finally, there is Cainta Junction itself, which is a signalized 4-leg intersection that handles a tremendous volume of traffic all-day. I am sure that there are efforts for the traffic signal settings to be optimized but more often there is human intervention for traffic management at the intersection. Whether this causes more severe congestion is quite obvious to many travelers going through this intersection. Queues along Imelda Ave./Felix Ave., for example, can reach way past Village East even reaching Vista Verde on a bad day. This only shows that the intersection is already severely saturated and conventional traffic management or signal settings can no longer handle the traffic. Perhaps the next stage of engineering intervention for this intersection is grade separation or the construction of a flyover or two at the intersection. Notably, such a project should including strategic widening along Ortigas Ave in order to balance the number of lanes feeding into and receiving traffic from the intersection.

IMG10283-20150312-1723A view of the traffic approaching Cainta junction – there are only 2 lanes along the eastbound side of Ortigas and public utility vehicles stopping here only exacerbates the congestion along the road.

Is road widening the ultimate solution to Ortigas Ave congestion? I personally don’t think so. As I have mentioned earlier in this post and in previous posts the key is still to come up with a mass transit system to serve this eastern corridor. Yes, there will eventually be a Line 2 along Marcos Highway, the main alternate (or competing?) route to Ortigas but is is obvious that even with a railway line along Marcos Highway and connecting to Aurora Blvd., there will still be an urgent need for a similar capacity line along Ortigas. The buses and jeepneys can no longer handle the demand and their poor levels and qualities of service have given rise to a proliferation of UV Express and pushed people to purchase cars and motorcycles. Congestion can be reduced significantly with a mass transit system along Ortigas. Without this transit system, Ortigas will just continue to be congested even if the entire corridor is widened; except perhaps if it is widened like Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City. I don’t think that is possible and practical.

On school trip generation and exclusive villages

In the news weeks ago is the coding scheme for vehicles that Ayala Alabang, a posh residential subdivision in Muntinlupa City, imposed on vehicles coming in and out of the village. According to media reports, affected are vehicles bound for and coming out of De La Salle Zobel (DLSZ), which is an exclusive school located inside the subdivision. There is another exclusive school inside the village but they don’t seem to be in the news regarding this issue on car stickers and access through the subdivision roads. Perhaps they generate a lot less cars from outside the village?

I lived in villages where there are exclusive schools also located inside the villages. They are smaller compared to DLSZ and likely generate significantly less vehicles than the latter. Also, the numbers of vehicles they generated from outside the subdivisions are not enough to cause traffic congestion along the main roads to and from the schools and the village gates.

For the school in the former subdivision we used to reside in, I noticed that most students arrived via school service. School service vehicles carry more passengers than private cars and so help reduce the number of vehicles generated by the school. These were mostly vans or AUVs and not the mini-buses, coasters or regular buses of when I was in grade school and high school myself. Though lower in capacity compared to buses, AUVs and vans could take in 10 to 12 students comfortably and perhaps max out at 14 to 16 people depending on the sizes of the children the ferry between school and their homes.

In the current subdivision where I live, most students go by car and the wider main road that they use translated to faster cars running between the village gate and the school. I have observed many instances when speeding vehicles do not slow down at intersections or when there are people about to cross the street. There are no humps along the main road like those in the previous village. Humps or speed bumps can be very effective in reducing speeds but improperly designed humps can eventually damage your car’s suspension. The rolling terrain of our village does not seem to be a deterrent against speeding and limited sight distances along the main road presents a significant likelihood that a crash can occur involving speeding vehicles. Thus, some traffic calming measures need to be formulated and implemented before tragedy strikes.

Now that school is almost out for most schools (including the ones inside subdivisions) I think the attention the issue has been getting will steadily die down. But that will be until schools open again in June and residents again feel the impacts of traffic generated by the schools from without the subdivision whether its traffic congestion or road safety that is the more pressing issue in residential subdivisions hosting schools. Perhaps a sticker system and the restriction of the number of vehicles of outsiders is one way to reduce the negative impacts of traffic generated and then there is also the option of not allowing a major school to be located inside a residential subdivision in the first place.

Transport and traffic purgatory, paradise and inferno

A lot of people have been referring to the traffic congestion and other derivative issues that will be the result of the construction of several transport projects around Metro Manila as “traffic armageddon.” Some friend have appropriately (I think) referred to it more as “car-mageddon.” This seems to be the case since it is perceived to have the most impact on car users than public transport users, cyclists or pedestrians. This is far from the truth as there are more people taking public transport, cycling or walking than those driving their own cars. In fact, estimates for Metro Manila indicate that 70-80% of travelers take public transport while 20-30% take private vehicles. These mode splits do not include bicycles or walking, which obviously will further decrease private car shares.

I would rather refer to this period of construction as a sort of “purgatory” though it has nothing to do with the cleansing that’s associated with it. There is still the suffering involved while improvements are being implemented. But, most importantly, there is hope at the end of this process. This “hope” is not necessarily the “light at the end of a dark tunnel” kind of thing as surely population and the number of vehicles will surely increase over time even as the transport projects are being implemented. By the time these are completed, there are sure to be more people, more vehicles, as well as more of other developments that will put our transport system to a stress test. We can only hope that the designs of these infrastructure we are building now are based on honest to goodness trip or traffic forecasts. Otherwise, we’ll end up with congested or saturated systems by the time they start operating.

Unfortunately, most projects mentioned and those we know have the green light and would likely be proceeding with construction in the near future are basically road projects. It’s ironic considering that what Metro Manila urgently, and maybe desperately, needs now are public transport systems including the much delayed MRT 7, LRT 2 Extension and LRT 1 Extension. The proposals for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) seem to be in a limbo, too, despite extensive studies and surveys to support BRT along corridors such as Ortigas Avenue and Circumferential Road 5. These are blamed on institutional and legal impediments including allegations of shortcomings among officials of agencies responsible for these infrastructure.

I am aware of an initiative led by an environmental lawyer seeking to effect the redistribution of road space in favor of public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. I think such actions are useful from the perspective of getting the attention necessary to push government and private sector players to have a sense of urgency not just in words but also in actions in as far as transport infrastructure programs and projects are concerned. We are already lagging behind our ASEAN neighbors with regards to infrastructure and at this pace, it is likely that less developed countries like Cambodia and Myanmar might just overtake us in the foreseeable future. From another perspective, it is hard to push for sharing the road when people really don’t have better options for commuting. Walking and cycling are not for everyone and many people have turned to the motorcycle to solve their transport woes. In the latter case, motorcycles are perceived as a vehicle that’s fuel efficient and allows the users to zip through congested streets often at high risks of being involved in a crash or spill.

We can only achieve “paradise” in our highly urbanized cities if we build these mass transit systems along with the pedestrian and cycling facilities that will complement each other. Those for whom car travel is a necessity would also benefit from reduced road congestion so it will eventually (hopefully) play out well for most people.  Meanwhile, we would have to endure transport and traffic hell (some more and longer than others) as the government and private sector embark on this round of infrastructure projects implementation. It helps to look back at our experiences with the last major batch of projects in the latter part of the 1990’s when the number coding scheme was first implemented. At the time, it was implemented as a temporary measure to alleviate congestion while projects where being implemented. What was a temporary measure is now still being implemented along with a truck ban that has also been evolving the past years with the latest being the one implemented by the City of Manila starting last February 24. Will these vehicle restraint schemes be modified to cope with the traffic congestion expected from projects like the Skyway connector? Will these be relaxed or removed after all these projects have been completed? Your guess is as good as mine.

Traffic congestion along Buendia (Gil Puyat Ave.)

The Makati CBD generates a very high number of trips owing to it being arguably the largest CBD in Metro Manila in terms of offices and workers. There are several other CBDs like Manila, Ortigas, Cubao, Eastwood, Filinvest City, and Bonifacio but they generate less traffic compared to Makati. There are several major roads in the area including four intersecting roads that practically define the CBD. These are Ayala Avenue, Gil Puyat Avenue (formerly but still popularly known as Buendia Avenue), Makati Avenue and Paseo de Roxas. Both Gil Puyat and Ayala Avenue are lined with offices along either side and are often congested due to the vehicle traffic generated by the CBD. Following are a few photos of Buendia Ave.

IMG05849-20130418-0900Traffic congestion along Gil Puyat Ave. as seen from the overpass from Kalayaan Ave. Even the sidewalk on the right side of the road is filled with pedestrians.

IMG05850-20130418-0903One can see many people walking along the narrow sidewalk along Buendia. Some buildings have been renovated and refitted but many remain as they were in the last decade or more. The building in the center of the photo has so many air-conditioning units jutting outside the windows that it is quite obvious the units were an afterthought. Other buildings would likely have centralized or more strategically positioned air-conditioning units.

IMG05851-20130418-0904Another look at the traffic jam along one of Makati’s main roads indicate a lengthy queue from the Buendia Ave.-Paseo De Roxas intersection. The junction is signalized but saturated during peak periods. I am not sure about the optimization of the signal settings but it should be synchronized with at least two other intersections: Buendia Ave.-Makati Ave. and Paseo de Roxas-Makati Ave.

The DPWH is proposing a grade separation project along Buendia that is supposed to alleviate congestion at the intersections with Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. The plan is to have an underpass along the avenue that would allow vehicles to flow through and bypassing the two major intersections. At-grade would still be signalized intersections but minus substantial through traffic along Buendia. The downside of such a project, of course, would be the expected traffic congestion during the construction phase. With very limited alternate routes and restricted space (i.e., unlike the case of the Quezon Ave. underpass at Araneta Ave.), traffic management in the area will surely be a challenge for the combined forces of Makati and MMDA traffic enforcers.