Caught (up) in traffic

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Whatever happened to those ‘enhanced’ pedestrian crossings?

Before the lockdowns, a lot of people seem to have become excited with what a private company did as part of their PR campaign (I’m certain about this because their ads feature these.). That is, they painted on the existing pedestrian crossings in Antipolo City along major roads such as Sumulong Highway and the Sumulong Memorial Circle. While coordination with the LGU was done, there seems to be none with the DPWH considering these are national roads and any matter concerning them are under the agency’s jurisdiction through their District Engineering Office. The following photos were taken prior to the lockdown and as you can see (if you were objective) there’s nothing really notable about them though they appear to enhance the existing crosswalks.

The artwork is practically invisible to motorists especially those on cars whose drivers’ eyes are lower than those driving SUVs, jeepneys, buses or trucks (i.e., larger and taller vehicles).

 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety. 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety and you can check on this by doing either a quick or even an extensive search for literature proving significant impact. I guess the key here is to also install other devices such as a speed table or rumble strips for motorists to feel that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. Also, perhaps instead of just painting on the crosswalks, they could have painted so as to widen the crosswalk. Then they could have increased the visibility for pedestrian crossings. That said, they should also have used the standard paints for these facilities that make them visible at night and could have been more resistant to weathering. 

On people’s apprehension to use public transport

Public transport supply issues aside, there is also an apprehension to use public transport in the Philippines because of the perception that using public transportation will expose you to COVID-19 and lead to an infection. So far, this is far from the truth, which is that if proper precautions or countermeasures are applied (including physical distancing), public transportation can be safer than taking a car to move about.

Here is an article from the US co-written by Janette Sadik-Khan, who presided over the complete streets transformation in New York City. Aside from explaining how public transport can be safe, COVID-19-wise, the authors state that one must be most worried about conditions in places they go to including their workplaces, markets and yes, homes.

Sadik-Khan, J. and Solomonow, S. (2020) “Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence,” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/fear-transit-bad-cities/612979/ [Last accessed: 6/25/2020].

Several groups have already called for jeepneys to resume services. Unfortunately, DOTr and LTFRB have other plans to implement; opting for a hard-push of the modernization and rationalization programs of the government. As such, despite the demand for public transport, the latter’s unavailability meant that many commuters had to take private vehicles to go to their workplaces. That meant those who usually could leave their cars home or at least opt for public transport most days reverted to their vehicles (note: the number coding scheme is still suspended for Metro Manila). Tricycles could only carry one passenger each; effectively making them 3-wheeler taxis. While train and bus operations have resumed, both have limited passenger capacities due to the physical distancing requirements.

Again, there are precautions and countermeasures that can be applied in order to ensure the reduction or minimization of infection risks. Public transport providers need to follow these guideline to prevent infections that can be attributed to public transport use, and help people trust in using these modes over cars.

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]

Comments on current transport issues – Part 2: On motorcycle taxis

I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.

1) On motorcycle taxis:

I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.

The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.

I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.

I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.

I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.

 

Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations

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

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.

Slippery when wet

On rainy days like this, motorists need to heed advice to be more careful in driving or riding. Pavement surfaces are slippery and conditions may lead to drivers or riders losing control when they speed or execute risky manoeuvres.

It is not uncommon for road crashes to occur during rainy days. However, most if not all are preventable if people would just exercise extra caution. Slowing down, for one, is among the most effective ways to avoid situations that lead to crashes. You tend to lose control of your vehicle with excessive speeds and so slowing down makes sense.

Spacing also helps; especially between you and the the vehicle in front of you. Braking distances are longer along wet roads so make sure to maintain the proper distance between vehicles. A good rule of thumb is at least 1 car length per 10kph you are traveling. That’s at least 3 car lengths between your vehicle and the one in front, for example, when you’re traveling at 30 kph.

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 car following

We teach our students about car-following theory and applications in our transportation engineering courses at the undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels. This is an important part of traffic flow theory and essential in understanding and modelling traffic flow/ behaviour. Among its applications is in the development of simulation models such as those that are now commercially available like VISSIM and CUBE-DynaSim and the older but still very useful TRAF-NetSim. Car-following theory allows for a more accurate simulation of real-world traffic behaviour considering the many parameters describing traffic flow as well as the assumptions that need to be in place for various scenarios.

Here’s an interesting article that’s basically about car-following, specifically mentioning the proper (ideal?) spacing between vehicles and how such discipline can lead to less congestion along our roads.

Simon, M. (2017) Math says you’re driving wrong and it’s slowing us all down, Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/math-says-youre-driving-wrong-and-its-slowing-us-all-down/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_121517_daily_list3_p4 (Last accessed: 12/17/2017).

Give way!

Road courtesy can be a scarce thing in many Philippine roads. In many road crash incidents, it can be quite obvious even to the casual observer that one of the problems we have is drivers and riders not practicing common courtesy. Hindi nagbibigayan. This is the case in most intersections where no traffic signals are installed and operational. Congestion occurs as drivers and riders try to impose their right of way over others. The absence of traffic personnel, even those who have limited capabilities managing traffic, further exacerbates the situation as motorists tend to ignore traffic personnel. Based on my observations, the most guilty of ignoring traffic rules and regulations including the enforcer on duty are motorcycle riders, followed by public utility vehicle drivers.

Below is a scene that greeted me one morning during my commute to my workplace. Maj. Dizon is a secondary national road passing through a residential area in Quezon City and Marikina; connecting  C-5 with Marcos Highway.

Who had the right of way here? Did the private car have the ROW and the taxi driver tried to impose himself (cut into the path of the private car) thinking that the private car driver will slow down to give way? Or did the taxi driver have the ROW but then the private driver decided to accelerate so as to prevent the taxi from completing the maneuver? Either are likely cases and are often the cause of crashes like this.

Other situations that are common are vehicles maneuvering (e.g., backing or turning) but tricycle drivers and motorcycle riders proceeding despite the clear ROW for the maneuvering vehicles. In certain cases, large vehicles like trucks have blind sides and have resulted in their inadvertently hitting motorcycles who riskily and recklessly maneuver with respect to the trucks.

How do we address such behavior? It likely is rooted from how drivers and riders learn to drive or ride so its starts with that stage. Many people learn to drive or ride from peers or their seniors (e.g., parent, uncle, family driver, company driver, etc.) while others learn via driving schools. Do they learn courtesy from their ‘teachers’? Are driving schools imparting this or just teaching people how to operate a vehicle? Then there is the licensing stage. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) is also responsible for assessing whether those applying for licenses are qualified. Both the written and practical exams should contain elements related to the practice of courtesy. And then there is the enforcement aspect, which has the burden of educating drivers and riders by accosting and reminding (lecturing?) motorists about proper driving and riding etiquette. Of course, you have to have capable enforcers in the field whether they be traffic aides or police officers.

Seemingly minor violations that affect traffic and safety

The following photo shows one of the many minor violations that happen everyday along many roads and particularly at intersections. Motorcyclists and drivers frequently occupy spaces that are supposed to be clear of vehicles. The motorcycles and AUV below occupy the pedestrian crossing that is typically space for pedestrians and cyclists crossing the intersection. Both vehicles also are encroaching upon the intersection’s yellow box, which can be risky given that the intersection is signalised and other vehicles are given the right of movement according to the cycle settings of the intersection.

Encroach intersection

This and others like it are what seems to be minor incidents but in truth have a combining or cumulative effect on traffic streams that contribute to congestion as well as having implications on road safety. Pedestrians and cyclists are forced to go around the vehicles blocking their paths, likely putting them in harm’s way. Other motorists try to avoid these errant vehicles, which, like in the photo, may be blocking the path of vehicles proceeding towards the intersection leg to the right that is hidden in the picture. Motorists doing this must be apprehended by traffic officers/enforcers as these are clear violations of traffic rules. If one is to promote discipline among road users, then it should start with minor violations that tend to be disregarded by traffic enforcers.