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Why do we keep widening roads?
I’m just going to share this article here. The article from The NY Times asks a question that has been bugging planners and engineers, particularly those who are in government and perhaps under the agencies like the DPWH, DOTr and NEDA. This also applies to planners, engineers and those from other disciplines involved in transportation infrastructure development and particularly roads or highways.
Traffic and air quality
Along one of my commuting routes, I couldn’t help but take a photo of what lied ahead as our vehicle was crawling along Marcos Highway in Antipolo. The following photo pretty much captures the relationship between transportation and the environment; the latter in terms of air quality and the former in the form of our congested roads.
Smoggy Metro Manila in the horizon as vehicles are crawl along Marcos Highway towards Masinag Junction
With traffic practically back or even worse than pre-pandemic levels, one cannot help but think about what could have been if government planned and executed during the time of the lockdowns in preparation for the eventual return to workplaces and schools by most people. The peak of the pandemic when total lockdowns were implemented was supposed to provide the opportunity to make the drastic changes required of transportation. You cannot find a better time for a reboot and yet here we are and again struggling with our daily commutes. We can just hope that other cities and municipalities will not go the way of Metro Manila.
On addressing global warming
Here is another quick share of an article; this time on “warming”. The evidence for global warming is strong and we need to address this pressing issue if future generations are to survive a planet that is heating up fast.
Litman, T. (August 31, 2022) “Cool Planning for a Hotter Future,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/118535-cool-planning-hotter-future?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-09012022&mc_cid=ead7ee914a&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 9/5/2022]
“Many of these strategies provide significant co-benefits. For example, reducing road and parking supply with more efficient traffic and parking management helps reduce infrastructure costs and traffic problems, and by reducing impervious surface area it reduces stormwater management costs. Planting more urban shade trees helps create more attractive neighborhoods and increase wildlife habitat. Improving natural ventilation creates more comfortable and healthier buildings, as summarized below.”
I recall people calling for more trees to be planted along roads and how our city streets can become something like Orchard Road in Singapore. I agree with having more trees and other plants, landscaping, along our roads. I also lament the times (and it continues) when the DPWH chopped so many old trees along national roads for road widening projects that didn’t need to destroy so many that gave those roads shade as well as character. We need more change in mindsets particularly when we design highways and streets towards sustainability and yes- reducing heat.
We need to do more to reduce transport emissions
I did some work on long term action plans on low carbon transport for the ASEAN region before. We were able identify many of interventions that were being implemented as well as those that can be done to reduce transport emissions. Such reductions for the region would ultimately contribute to alleviating global warming. Unfortunately, while ASEAN is a significant contributor to emissions, it pales in comparison to emissions by individual countries like China and the US. If these two and others in the industrialized world do not commit to reducing their emissions, all work will come to naught. Here is an article that serves as a pre-event write-up for COP26, a major climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in the coming days.
On the importance of trees in the urban setting
Having lived in two other countries and traveled in many others, I have seen and experienced for myself examples of tree lined avenues and streets in the urban setting. And I am not talking about small cities but big ones like Tokyo and Singapore. I have gone to many of the big cities in Japan to be able to say that trees should have their place in the so-called urban jungle and the benefits of having them are tremendous. Here is a nice article recently published in The Guardian that explains the advantages of green streets:
Balch, O. (2019) “Green streets: which city has the most streets?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/nov/05/green-streets-which-city-has-the-most-trees [Last accessed: 11/08/2019]
Philippine cities should heed the advice from the author and city and municipal planners should make sure that plans incorporate trees and other flora. Obviously, they are not just ornamental but rather should be indispensable components of our towns whether it is highly urbanized or not. I guess the same concepts apply also to the roadsides of our national highways. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) clearly had little or no regard for greenery; chopping down even the elder trees along the way of their road widening programs. As such, they have contributed to blight along these roads and it would take some time and effort to bring back what used to be tree-lined, canopied roads in many provinces.
On the need to increase NMT and public transport use
A recent report reinforces what many of us already probably know or are aware of – that we need to shift away from dependence on car use to more sustainable modes of transport in the form of non-motorised transport (NMT) and public transportation. Here is the article from the AASHTO Journal:
Global Climate Report Calls For Expansion Of ‘Non-Motorized’ Transport And Public Transit (2018)
There is a link to the report in the journal article. The report is conveniently available in PDF form and is very readable (i.e., not overly technical).
Incidentally, I was involved some time ago in a project led by the group Clean Air Asia (CAA), which involved several experts from across ASEAN as well as Japan that attempted to determine the necessary transport programs and projects in the region to stave off the projected increase in global temperatures. In all the scenarios evaluated, non-motorised transport (NMT) and a rationalised public transportation system By the term ‘rationalised’ I am referring to the use of higher capacity vehicles as against the taxis and tricycles that typically carry few if not one passenger. Here is a link to the final symposium for that study that has links to the materials presented:
The Final Symposium on the “Study on Long Term Transport Action Plan for ASEAN”
Here’s a slightly updated slide on the future image for a large city in the Philippines:
On child-friendly cities
Here’s another article that I want to share. This time it is about child-friendly cities. Here is an article that present many good practice examples in other cities. Many are easily replicable in our towns and cities, and should be considered by local governments in order to enhance safety and health aspects in their jurisdictions.
Laker, L. (2018) “What would the ultimate child-friendly city look like?”, theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/28/child-friendly-city-indoors-playing-healthy-sociable-outdoors [Last accessed 3/9/2018]
Sparing the trees
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) embarked on a major road widening project in the last administration. This continues today. One of the issues raised then was the cutting down of many trees along the roadside to give way to one additional lane along each direction of national roads. While conservationists and environmentalists were not successful in provinces like Tarlac where old camachile trees were cut down, the case in Pangasinan seems a bit more positive. Traffic along rural highways such as the Urdaneta-Calasiao-Dagupan Road can become heavy but not so much so that it requires two additional lanes to the original two. As such, while the shoulders can be paved as part of the lane widening program of the DPWH, the trees can actually be spared. I think the DPWH and the LGUs would just need to mark the trees to make them very visible at night time or when visibility is low along the highway.
Big old trees, mostly mango trees line up the Urdaneta-Calasiao-Dagupan Highway along the newly paved lane that used to be a shoulder of this highway. These huge trees are fruit bearing and so one can imagine that part of the loss if these were to be cut down were the tons of mangoes that many people could benefit from.
Sections of the additional lanes are generally not usable for general traffic and revert to their previous use as parking spaces. These paved sections now also are useful as ‘solar driers’. Shown in the photo above is an example where grains of rice (palay) are laid out direct on the concrete pavement for natural drying under the sun. People (staff of the owners) guard these against animals, wayward motorists and possibly thieves. These staff will gather the grains when there is impending rains or when the day’s almost over to dry another day.
I wanted to take more photos of the highway but was seated at the back of our van so I had to settle for a few select shots. The second photo above is care of a colleague who sat in front and took a few shots himself.
Some questions on a gloomy Saturday morning
On gloomy Saturdays like today, I often tend to sort of contemplate on some questions coming from events and articles the past few days. I don’t really want to answer these questions right now and immediately but would rather let these and the follow-ups play around in my mind. I would rather not do some shout outs on social media about these questions as some friends tend to be sensitive and I don’t really want to make a lot of effort carefully framing posts on FB just so they won’t appear to be offending certain persons who might be over-zealous about their advocacies or who would be so defensive of their organizations. Here are some questions running around in my brain right now:
1. Does DENR have the mandate to require sidewalks and bikeways along all roads? Design and implementation-wise, isn’t this supposed to be under the DPWH (for national roads) and the LGUs (for local roads)? Is this more a policy statement? But then shouldn’t this come from DOTC?
2. Is going out of your way really the way to get noticed and be awarded? Are there no points for people doing a great job at what they are supposed to be doing?
3. Shouldn’t an agency first check if they are doing what they are supposed to do and the outcomes reflect their objectives? Are emissions testings and monitoring successful or do we still have a lot of smoke-belchers on our roads? If they already have their hands full with their tasks according to their mandate, shouldn’t they first mind their business before even encroaching into another agency’s tasks?
4. Does media have to give so much airtime to a driver of a luxury vehicle who assaulted a traffic enforcer?
5. Why does it seem to be so much fuzz about Uber? Is it just on social media? Do most other commuters give a damn about it when they really can’t afford availing such services?
6. Are government engineers bereft of an appreciation for the arts, culture and heritage? Are they too mechanical or dumb to understand what planning and design really is all about?