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Towards safer roads: design, respect and education

Fatal crashes involving cyclists have been posted in social media including a recent one involving a mother of two who was run over by a garbage truck that encroached on the on-street/painted bike lane in, of all places, Marikina City. Emphasis on Marikina is made here because it is a city well-known for its comprehensive bikeways network. The network is comprised of segregated and on-street bikeways.

Following are some photos showing examples of good and bad practices pertaining to bikeways design in the Philippines:

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Example of segregated bikeway at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. Cyclists actually share the carriageway lane allocated from the Academic Oval with pedestrians and joggers. They are not physically protected from motor vehicles that can encroach on the bike lane.

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Example of segregated and protected bikeway along Marcos Highway in Pasig City (similar design for the sections in Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) – bikeway is on the sidewalk and cyclists essentially share space with pedestrians despite delineations.

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Example of segregated and protected bikeway/walkway along EDSA in Makati City – note that space to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists is very constricted.

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Example of poor design along White Plain Avenue – the MMDA seems to have designated the entire sidewalk space for cyclists.

Three examples from Marikina’s bikeways are shown below:

Mkna Bikeways3Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway on either side of a two-way road [Note: This is basically the design along the street where the crash in Marikina occurred.]

Mkna Bikeways2Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway along a one way road

Mkna Bikeways1Segregated and protected bikeway off the carriageway along Sumulong Highway

Granted that the ideal set-up would have segregated or protected bikeways that are designed properly, we take a look at two other very important elements that are not at all as technical as design and planning of bikeways – respect and education.

Education is an important aspect of driving. Many Filipino drivers are poorly educated in terms of traffic rules and regulations, road design as well as local policies pertaining to transport and traffic. As such, there is a tendency for many drivers to disregard rules and drive/ride aggressively and recklessly. This must change and it starts with reforms in the way licenses are issued to all types of drivers including perhaps stricter certification systems for truck drivers and public utility vehicle drivers. Traffic education should also be integrated into the academic curricula of schools starting at a very young age. Road safety parks are one way to promote traffic education for kids.

Respect is partly derived from education but is also related to attitude. No matter how much driver or road user education or skill you get if you have a bad attitude, you will still have the tendency to be reckless or irresponsible with your actions on the road. One way to curb bad attitudes on the road and to educate road users (particularly errant drivers and riders) is strict traffic enforcement. Many cities already have CCTVs installed at major intersections that allow law enforcement units to be able to monitor traffic behavior and perhaps zoom in to determine driver and vehicle information including license plate numbers.

The crash that killed the single parent in Marikina is not so much as an issue one whether we need segregated and protected bikeways but is more an urgent need to assess the state of traffic education and enforcement in this country.

Articles on the crash and calls for reforms may be found in this link.

 

Another look at Iloilo’s main bikeway

Much has been written and said about Iloilo’s bikeways and particularly about the grander one built along the main highway that is Ninoy Aquino Avenue. This bikeway is already usable but is being extended along with the road widening works for the national road that connects major towns in central Iloilo province including Sta. Barbara and Cabatuan, which host the international airport. Here are some photos and commentaries on the bikeway.

2015-12-09 09.43.48Iloilo City’s wide bikeway along Ninoy Aquino Ave (formerly the Iloilo Diversion Road) – the building on the left is SM City’s recently opened expansion. The photos were taken from the pedestrian overpass across the diversion road.

2015-12-09 09.44.00A closer look of the traffic conflicts at the intersection with Jalandoni Street – the 3-leg intersection is not as simple as it initially looks because of traffic coming from/going to the service road on the right. It is quite obvious in the photo that the alignment of the service road changes abruptly, affecting the trajectory of flow along the road.

2015-12-09 09.44.15The photos were taken around 9:30 AM and there was practically no bicycle traffic to be seen. To be fair, perhaps there is significant bicycle traffic, particularly the commuting kind, earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon. Bicycle volumes need to be measured and monitored to determine if the bikeways indeed have encouraged more people to take up cycling as a mode for their regular commutes. That’s the Plazuela in the background on the right.

2015-12-09 09.44.32Another look at the bikeway shows it emanating from Iloilo City proper where it ultimately connects to the bikeways at the Promenade along Iloilo River. There are no bikeways within Iloilo’s CBD itself.

2015-12-09 09.44.42The photo above shows the bikeway and beyond (towards Jaro and Pavia) with the new SM annex at left and the Injap Tower Hotel on the right.

 

If you build it, will they come?

There seems to be a belief among the more zealous advocates of sustainable transport that if “you build it, they will come.” It seems cliche but this saying is not necessarily applicable to many things especially when referring to transport infrastructure. There are examples of roads, terminals and other transport facilities that have been built but sadly are underutilized mainly due to the demand just not being there and taking much time to attain. The last is usually due to the fact that certain conditions or prerequisites have not been satisfied. One such example of this is the case of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), whose payment for the loan that covered the construction costs was premised on a very high traffic demand forecast. It took some time for more people to use the expressway as the traffic from the major developments (Clark, Subic, Tarlac and Bataan industrial and commercial developments) just didn’t happen as immediately as assumed in the forecast. Still, there is a strategic value to such major infrastructure considering it as an investment and something that will cost a lot more in the future if not built today.

In Metro Manila, the MMDA has allocated or designated lanes for cycling along several major roads. These included the lanes they created out of painting existing pedestrian sidewalks and marking these as bikeways. One section is between Magallanes and Ayala while another is from Ortigas to White Plains. These are poorly designed, “pwede na yan” types of bikeways that people on bicycles would find very difficult to use because the course is full of obstacles. And how about the plight of pedestrians who would have to share these narrow paths with cyclists? Such mixed signals on providing for the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are not necessary unless of course the main objective of this exercise is just to get the  attention of a wider audience that is the general public, which I would strongly agree is needed to advocate for sustainable transport. Focus on the ultimate goal, however, should not be lost for what appears as small victories. Perhaps an even stronger initiative should be towards having the DPWH revise road design guidelines to incorporate walking and cycling requirement especially for national roads.

IMG10205-20150228-0947Bicycle lane along Julia Vargas Ave. in Pasig City

Cebu City enacted an ordinance essentially promoting cycling through the planning and implementation of bikeways, bike lanes or shared lanes. However, initial efforts seem to be following the MMDA’s “pwede na yan” approach. I think Cebu could do better and come up with a better plan for integrating and mainstreaming bikeways into the transport network. But of course, a lot still needs to be done for pedestrian facilities.

In conclusion, building transport infrastructure is not an assurance that it will generate its intended benefits at once. However, some infrastructure are more strategic than others as perhaps they form part of a network. Expressways in Luzon are among these strategic investments. High standard highways in Mindanao are also essential. Rail rehab and building in Luzon is strategic. The same in Mindanao perhaps is not. Mass transit systems in highly urbanized cities are required but perhaps many should start with buses rather than rail. Bridges across islands are not urgent. International-standard airports in major cities are necessary but not all provinces require such airports. Its not a simple task to determine what will work and what wouldn’t. While it is easy to attribute so many benefits in order to justify a project, such practice would usually result in white elephants that few people benefit from.

 

University of the Philippines Diliman Bikeways Flyer (2005)

Searching for material on the proposed bikeways network at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, I came across a draft of a flyer. The flyer was intended for use in consultations with stakeholders including members of the UP Diliman community (e.g., staff, students, faculty and residents). I recall that there was also a committee established for the purpose of planning and implementing the UP Diliman Bikeways. Unfortunately, the network was not fully realised and took a few years before a major component was implemented but under a different project – the UP Diliman Model Traffic Safety Zone project.

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

A copy of the flyer in PDF may be found here:

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

At present, UP Diliman is again considering the bikeways network proposal and has initiated some studies towards determining its feasibility including what routes would be most viable. Incidentally, our students in one of the engineering elective courses offered by the Institute of Civil Engineering is currently surveying candidate routes and they should be finished with this task by middle of March. It would be interesting to see which “corridors” can be proposed as the next components of the network to be realised.

Let’s revisit the Marikina Bikeways

Calls for more walkable and bicycle-friendly cities and a lack of local data for these modes of transport got me thinking about Marikina. The city has its own bikeways office, the Marikina City Bikeways Office (MCBO), that was under City Planning and Development Office but borrowed staff from other offices of the city. The MCBO has gone through many challenges since the time of Bayani Fernando, who instituted the office, and his wife Ma. Lourdes under whose terms the office was downgraded. I’ve learned that the office has been strengthened recently and is implementing a few programs to promote cycling especially among school children. I wonder, though, if Marikina has been collecting and keeping tabs on cycling related data. I recall that during the conduct of the study for the Marikina bikeways network, it was established that there was a dearth of data on cycling and data collected pointed to cyclists primarily comprised of workers in factories or construction sites in the city and neighbouring areas. These are the regular commuters using bicycles instead of motorised vehicles. It would be nice to see if these increased in numbers (observations along major roads like Sumulong Highway seems to support the increase) and if there have also been shifts to motorcycles as the latter became more affordable in recent years. Enforcement is still an issue with regards to the bikeways as not all paths are segregated. As such, those lanes painted on the roads are more susceptible to encroachment by motorised vehicles. Still, Marikina is a very good example of realising people-friendly infrastructure and many LGUs could learn from the city’s experiences with the bikeways.

IMG09156-20140813-0934A bicycle bridge along Sumulong Highway in Marikina City

Recently, some students consulted about designing bikeways in other cities as well as in a bike sharing program being planned for the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. These are good indicators of the interest in cycling that includes what discussions on the design of cycling facilities and programs intended to promote bicycle use especially among young people. We strongly recommended for them to check out Marikina to see the variety of treatments for bikeways as well as the examples for ordinances that support and promote cycling.

Proof of concept

I recall a quote from the cold war era when Nikita Kruschev was supposed to have asked “how many divisions did the Pope had under his command?” This was basically a challenge to the Pope after the latter made some statements regarding the Soviet Union and its military action in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. A similar challenge could be made, albeit vastly reworded, for many advocates of various transport programs and projects to prove they had the numbers or the proof to support their calls for certain projects or programs to be implemented. Often, the proof comes in the form of examples or demonstrations of their proposals. Simplest perhaps would be to present examples of best or good practices in other countries (e.g., bicycle paths in Europe, transit in Singapore, walkways in Japan, etc.).

One that is still fresh in my mind is what has been said to be the “challenge” of Malacanan to the DOTC to present a “proof of concept” for BRT as a pre-requisite of the proposed project in Cebu to be approved. This “challenge” boggled the minds of many experts and advocates of public transportation as BRT is well established around the world and there are many cities with BRT systems worth emulating (To be accurate, there have also been failures but these were mainly due to compromises made that led to the systems not adhering to essential BRT requirements.). What’s stranger was the response from DOTC to do a demonstration via an experiment at Bonifacio Global City to simulate BRT operations. Obviously, this experiment could not be a really good approximation of BRT (something along Commonwealth would have been more suitable) given the conditions at the Fort.

With the recent approval of the Cebu BRT project, we now look forward to its construction and operation. I am aware of how much work was put into the non-technical aspects of this project (i.e., social and institutional) and so a lot of eyes will be on changes to Cebu City’s transport system once the BRT becomes operational and the expected rationalisation of the existing public transport routes and vehicles would take place. There will definitely be a transition period and it is not known how long this will be or how much opposition the change will encounter. Doing workshops and consultations, and getting commitments here and there is one thing. Having the BRT operational and actually affecting the operations (and revenues) of conventional road transport is another matter.

Many cities will look to Cebu’s experience and probably emulate it should the BRT be a success. Metro Manila is too complicated for other cities to identify with unlike Cebu, which likely has similar transport and traffic issues to cities like, for example, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan De Oro or Legazpi. Of course, there will be exceptions and unique problems for each but density-wise, Cebu compares well with more cities in the country than Metro Manila. Here’s hoping that the BRT would finally have its true and actual “proof of concept” in Cebu and that this can demonstrate the benefits of such a system to other Philippine cities along with a necessary rationalisation of existing public transport modes.

Innovations for cycling and walking

I usually browse the net for the wealth of information now readily available on transport facility designs that are pedestrian and/or cycling friendly. In the Philippines, there has been an increased awareness lately for people-oriented systems encouraging cycling and walking. These have extended to calls for more bikeways and walkways to enhance mobility, with several projects being implemented to further the advocacies for non-motorised transport (NMT). Of course, there are already existing examples of both good and bad practices around the country including ideal and undesirable cases in Marikina City, which is the first (and only?) city in the Philippines to have a comprehensive network of bikeways. 

Recently, I found this article entitled “Urban Innovations That Could Turn Your City Into a Bicycling Paradise” on one of my favourite websites io9.com. It contains some of the more prominent examples of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly designs that have been implemented elsewhere that we could probably take note of as good practice references when we do plan and design similar facilities in our cities. I’m sure there are many people out there, and not just architects or engineers, who would have good ideas for people-friendly infrastructure design. We need to encourage them to come out and propose these ideas that can be adapted into sound design according to architectural and engineering principles (i.e., the designs would still have to follow standards or guidelines, e.g., seismic, wind, etc. in order for these to be safe for use and last long.

Government agencies especially the DPWH and local government units should be open to new ideas or innovative designs to help transform our transport system to become more people-oriented than vehicle-oriented. There should be initiatives from within these agencies to come up with innovative designs while keeping the details up to standards or following established guidelines. So far, there have been no notable push for updating road designs, for example, despite road safety assessment findings and recommendations that should resonate more within agencies and LGUs if they are not comfortable dealing with NGOs or civil society groups advocating for people-friendly infrastructure.

I believe government engineers are competent and have the talent to come up with innovative designs and guidelines but there is a lack of incentive for them to do so and to think out of the box. The bottom-line is still to create an enabling environment for such design ideas to come out and be implemented. Perhaps the academe could lend a hand here with their strong linkages with government planners, architects and engineers. The schools could provide the environment for encouraging new thinking in as far as transport infra is concerned and the leading universities would have the resources that can be harnessed towards innovative designs.