Caught (up) in traffic

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Commuting and stress

Here is another quick post but on a topic that’s related to health and therefore is something that I think many should be interested in and perhaps take important note of.

Commuting: “The Stress that Doesn’t Pay”

There are many links to various medical articles within the article. At the last part, there is also a list of references that the reader may want to look at. I’m also posting this for future reference. This would contribute to the formulation of topics for research especially the inter-disciplinary or collaborative kind.

Bike share success?

There are two articles about bike sharing that got my attention today. These are both asked the question of weather bike sharing programs actually work or are successful. Following are links to the two articles available online:

Both articles draw upon the experiences in many cities in the United States where various bike share programs have sprouted. Many seem to have had some measure of success but most are not as successful when evaluated using criteria mentioned in the articles. I guess there’s much to be learned here but the experiences should not be limited to the US. There are better examples in Europe where bicycle use is quite popular compared to the US. Perhaps Asian examples, too, need to be assessed but then all need to be examined objectively and according to the unique situations and/or circumstances for how these bike shares came to be in the first place. In Metro Manila, the bike share program by the students at the sprawling University of the Philippines campus in Quezon City is a recent one but is very popular with students. Another, more endowed program in a more posh district in Taguig City is much less successful judging from the usually full racks of bicycles. There are also lessons to be learned here and perhaps things that can be shared with others looking to come up with their own bike share programs in their cities and towns.

Tutubi bike share at BGC

I had been curious about the ADB-supported bike share initiative they called Tutubi since it was launched at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila and at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig. These have sophisticated portals where one can rent a bicycle by simply swiping or tapping your card unto the terminal. I finally noticed the bike station at Bonifacio High Street in BGC. I don’t know how I missed it since we are there weekly but then there are usually events in that area and the bike share station may have been obscured. Following are a few photos I was able to take as I watched our toddler walking about curiously and excited of the fountains and others she found interesting at High Street.

img_3080All the bikes seem to be here as not a slot was vacant.

img_3082It seemed ironic to see not one bike in use against the backdrop banners of a popular motoring magazine.

img_3081A closer look at the portal shows what looks like a new (unused?) facility.

It seems to me that there are few users of the Tutubi at least at Bonifacio High Street. I wonder if the bikes at UST are utilized more than the ones at BGC. I also wonder if UST is monitoring or studying bicycle use in its campus. Its use being limited within the premises of the campus sort of restricts users and diminishes utility. UST has a walkable campus and while its area is big (20+ ha) compared to other universities and colleges in the University Belt district, it is smaller beside Katipunan neighbors Ateneo De Manila University  (80+ ha) and the University of the Philippines (493 ha). The latter two are also “walkable” with UP having more park-like features and open to the public.

UP Diliman has its own Bike Share program run by students and (I might come as biased) these seem to be popular on campus as I see many of the bikes used by students to go around from one building to another. UP Bike Share currently employs a more conventional system including subscriptions for frequent users. There is, however, a Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-funded project through the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute of UP Diliman that hopes to develop a more sophisticated system for managing and monitoring the bikes. That project has just started so we might wait 1 to 2 years to see its fruits.

Evidence from Montreal: Building bike lanes to reduce car use

I just wanted to share this article showing evidence of car use reduction (and therefore, car traffic along roads) with the provision of bicycle lanes.

Building Bike Lanes Really Does Get More People Out of Their Cars

The article though cautions readers against generalising or assuming great improvements. Some figures mentioned in the article including the following (I took the liberty of copying and pasting):

  • “A 10% increase in bike accessibility resulted in only a 3.7% increase in ridership.”
  • “…cycling infrastructure also reduced greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 1.7%, a reduction equivalent to converting transit buses to hybrids and electrifying commuter trains.”

These numbers are for the case of Montreal, Canada. Not mentioned are the number of cyclists, vehicle traffic volumes and other pertinent data that are useful in analysis. The article correctly points out the importance of using science (e.g., sound analysis based on good data) in order to convince governments to put up bicycle infrastructure. I would even add that this approach should also be applicable to pedestrian facilities.

Bicycle traffic in comparison with motorised vehicle traffic – a case in Iloilo City

I believe that there is a need to have numbers to guide planners and engineers in designing suitable bicycle facilities. It is not enough to claim there is demand since an important requirement for facilities to be provided (i.e., funded and constructed) are numbers for the facilities’ justification. You don’t build mass transit systems, for example, without a valid estimate of ridership. For one, the ridership allows for the determination of revenues. Roads cannot be built without at least a number like the population of communities that will be given accessibility via that road.

Not too long ago, we were able to obtain traffic counts for the Benign S. Aquino Avenue that is also knows as the Iloilo City Diversion Road. The road includes an exclusive bikeway constructed along its airport-bound side that is supposed to benefit cyclists and encourage more people to use bicycles for commuting within the city and between the city and towns along the national highway. The following figures show the AM and PM peak hour traffic at the intersection of the diversion road and Jalandoni Street across from SM City Iloilo. Another figure shows 16-hour traffic at the same location.

Traffic Volume Count-Diversion Road-Jalandoni-PMFig. 1 – AM peak hour traffic along the Iloilo City Diversion Road including bicycle traffic along the exclusive bikeways constructed along the airport-bound side of the highway.

Traffic Volume Count-Diversion Road-Jalandoni-AMPM peak hour traffic along the Iloilo City Diversion Road including bicycle traffic along the exclusive bikeways constructed along the airport-bound side of the highway.

Traffic Volume Count-Diversion Road-Jalandoni-16H16-hour traffic along the Iloilo City Diversion Road including bicycle traffic along the exclusive bikeways constructed along the airport-bound side of the highway.

The numbers clearly show the current low volume of bicycles along the bikeways in comparison to motor vehicle traffic. Since bicycles are also presumed to carry only 1 passenger per vehicle, then the volume also translates into an even lower share in terms of mode of choice by travellers/commuters. For comparison, jeepneys will likely carry an average of 14 passengers while cars may have an occupancy of 1.5 passengers per vehicle. Perhaps a more direct comparison can be made with motorcycles, which are two-wheeled vehicles like bicycles. Only, motorcycles may typically carry 2 passengers.

I am aware that at least one NGO is employing crowd-sourcing in order to obtain bicycle traffic counts along major corridors. Neither the MMDA nor the DPWH have bicycle counts with both agencies’ traffic counts only covering motorized vehicles. Few, if any, local government units would have their own bicycle traffic counts (Perhaps Marikina has data of bicycle traffic in their city that is well known for having the country’s first and most comprehensive bikeways network?). As such, there is generally a dearth of useful data for planning bikeways. One option that advocates for the “if you build it, they will come” approach is not something that is applicable to many cases especially those that do not yet require exclusive bikeways. The folly is to allocate funding for facilities that will not be utilised by their proposed users.

Helmet or no helmet when biking?

We were at the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) this morning to help defend our proposal for a bike sharing system. UP Bike Share is an initiative coming out of a group of students from various programs in their respective colleges at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

One question that was raised among the technical panel to whom the proposal was presented for evaluation was concerning safety of people participating in the bike share. One panelist asked if cyclists were required to wear helmets. We replied that those participating in the bike share were not required to wear helmets and that despite helmets being available few, if any, borrowed the available helmets. I mentioned that there was an article I came upon before that stated the requiring people to wear helmets discourage biking. It seems a coincidence that as I browsed my Facebook just now, I found a link to that very same article I mentioned in a meeting earlier today:

To encourage biking, cities lose the helmets [by Elisabeth Rosenthal from The New York Times, Sunday Review, September 29, 2012]

The article makes a lot of sense especially the observation that requiring helmets seem to send the message that it is dangerous to bike. People associating danger with biking with helmets tend to opt out of biking. I recall that in Japan before, I didn’t have a problem biking in urban areas and helmets were not required. Of course, drivers of vehicles in are very admirable by the way they drive safely and respecting other road users’ right to the road. Instead of having a campaign to require helmets for bikers perhaps efforts should be focused on how to make our roads safer for all users including bikers and pedestrians.

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:

IMG03101-20120612-1058

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.

IMG03426-20120707-0902

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.

2014-02-11 16.58.11

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.

2014-02-28 08.31.21

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.