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On floods, transport and traffic, again

It’s that time of year again when the heavy rains lead to flash floods along many roads. I took the following photo as we slowly progressed towards Cainta Junction early this week. The Felix Avenue approach was flooded after more than an hour of heavy rains fell upon Cainta and neighboring towns. We learned later that the rains fell on a larger area as EDSA and other major road in Metro Manila also experience flash floods. These cause traffic to slow down if not outright stoppage. Many commuters can get stranded when PUVs are not able to run due to the floods. Deeper waters mean light vehicles including motorcycles and bicycles cannot proceed along certain roads, further exacerbating the traffic situation.

Motorcyclists emerge from their shelters to travel along flooded roads. A common sight when there are downpours are motorcyclists huddling under overpasses, bridges, or whatever shelter may be available to them. Many bring rain gear but opt to just stop and wait it out until the rain stops.

A cyclist braves the floods – while pedestrians will likely stop and wait it out for the rains to stop or for the floods to subside, cyclist might just pedal on. They just have to be more careful as potholes and other dangers may be hidden by the floodwaters.

Cainta Junction has been submerged by so many floods over so many years. Even with the new drainage constructed under and along Ortigas Avenue Extension, Felix Avenue and Bonifacio Avenue, it seems their capacities are not enough to handle the rainwaters. That or perhaps their intakes need to be redesigned to more efficiently take on the heavy rains and the resulting runoff.


Post-typhoon BFCT and SM Marikina area

Still on the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) though this is already a late post about it, here are some photos at the river banks level on the side of SM Marikina and the vicinity of the transport terminal constructed and operated by the former MMDA Chair and Marikina Mayor’s company. The area is basically a flood plain and in other countries would not have been suitable for building. Rather, these are often used as open spaces like parks, football fields or baseball diamonds, among other possible uses.

There were garbage and mud everywhere. By the time I passed by, the mud had dried up and turned into fine dust that blanketed the area.

Trash were everywhere and you can see how deep the water was by the garbage still on the power line towers and the trees.

Underpass leading to SM Marikina – bulldozers and payloaders were busy moving mud and garbage to clear the roads. There were no signs of the work in progress so I ended up making a U-turn seeing the way to SM’s parking was blocked by mud and debris.

On the way back to Marcos Highway, you can see the large trees that were transferred to this area from Katipunan Avenue (when it was widened by way of removing the service road to give way to the MMDA’s U-turn scheme). It is heartening to know these survived the river’s onslaught.

The FVR Road and Bridge after Typhoon Ulysses

This is a continuation of the feature on the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco). I am posting this here as part of my archives on the floods in the Marikina Valley.

There’s a road branching off from Marcos Highway that links to a bridge crossing the Marikina River and connects with the FVR Road along the Marikina Riverbanks. The following photos speak for themselves in as far as the mud and garbage that was left after the floods subsided.

Descending from Marcos Highway, only one of two lanes are passable after heavy equipment moved tons of mud and garbage to the roadsides. The fences trapped a lot of garbage, too, as seen in the photo.

Piles of mud and garbage at the service road leading to the east bank of the Marikina River and the SM Marikina access road.

Under the Marcos Highway Bridge, garbage, mostly plastics, remain on the wire fences. This area was totally submerged during the height of the floods with water reaching the underside of the bridge. Fortunately, the bridge seems undamaged.

Even lamp posts and electric poles caught a lot of garbage.

The Olandes housing development was surely affected by the swelling of the river.

The FVR Road leading to C-5 is already clear for 2-lane traffic but you can see the mud and garbage all around. The dried mud has turned into dust (alikabok) that blows away as vehicles pass through the road. There is also mud on the plants in the median planters as this area was also submerged during the height of the typhoon.

Tumana during and after the flood

I was heading to the office the Monday after Typhoon Ulysses had devastated wide areas in Luzon. I was aware of the congestion along my usual routes so I used Waze to guide my trip. Waze took me to Tumana instead of Marcos Highway, which I assumed would have been less congested. I took the following photos in the Tumana area:

Congested main road due to heavy equipment like bulldozers, backhoes and dump trucks clearing the mud and trash in the area. There were also lots of parked vehicles along each side of the road including Marikina service and emergency vehicles.

There was trash all around that included what looked like the belongings of people residing in the area. Many people were busy clearing their homes of items destroyed or damaged by the floodwaters.

Despite being cleared for traffic, you can see the mud and water still in the area and signs of how deep the flood waters were by markings on the buildings.

At the foot of the bridge connecting to Quezon City, you can see that there is still so much mud in many areas especially those closest to the river. Sidestreets were so narrow that the heavy equipment cannot enter them and cleaning the mud had to be done entirely manually.

Here are what looks like the vehicles that survived the floods. I thought people must have rushed to get their vehicles on the best positions atop the bridge when they realized the waters were rising fast. It was likely few if anyone left their vehicles there during the height of the typhoon. That’s because the winds were so strong that perhaps people though it would be unsafe to leave their vehicles exposed to the winds.

The following photos from Facebook shows the extent of the flooding that reached the other side of the river – Loyola Grand Villas and another subdivision that’s directly along the banks of the Marikina River. The first photo shows the submerged end of the bridge from the LGV side in the foreground and Tumana in the background at the other end of the Tumana Bridge. The second photo is atop LGV and shows many submerged homes and cars.

Only the cars on the bridge likely survived the floods.

This was definitely at the level of the floods of Typhoon Andy (Ketsana) given the spread and depth of the floods.

One wonders what is now the return period for these typhoons. Ondoy was 11 years ago and the monsoon (Habagat) rains that also brought heavy rains and floods were in 2012 (8 years ago). Such floods cannot be solved by improving drainage systems alone but have to go to the root cause of flooding while also addressing how people could cope with these phenomena. Infrastructure alone cannot solve this and certainly will cost a lot for any initiative to provide some relief from such.

Improving road drainage to prevent flooding

Road drainage seems to be a most suitable topic given the heavy rains the past few days due to a powerful typhoon that hit the northern Philippines. With or without typhoons, however, the frequency of flash flooding has increased the past few years in part due to the heavier than usual monsoon rains but mainly due to the poor state of road drainage in our cities. The photos below show an example of flash flooding due to a sudden downpour in Cebu City.

Cebu flash flood2 Cebu flash flood1

What is noticeable along the road is a lack of storm drains that could have prevented the accumulation of water on the carriageway. If there were storm drains at strategic points along the road, it is difficult to judge from the photo. I also suspect that road construction may have adversely affected the slopes required for the water to travel to the drains. These are surely stated in the road design but are somehow lost or deficient upon construction of the road. There are similar situations in other cities as well and especially in Metro Manila where flash floods often cripple road traffic around the metropolis as critical sections of major arterials like EDSA, C-5, Espana Blvd. and E. Rodriguez become flooded.

We were traveling back to Quezon City along Sumulong Highway after a meeting in Antipolo City. We noticed the road widening projects along the highway; effectively increasing the number of lanes and the capacity of the road. Included in the project are the construction of sidewalks and drainage along both sides of the road. Below is a photo of the section near the Sumulong gate of Valley Golf clearly showing the newly constructed lane and sidewalk along the Masinag-bound side of the highway.

2015-09-23 08.20.46

Note in the photo the size and intervals of storm drains along the the highway. Compare this with what we have along most Metro Manila roads including overpasses and it shouldn’t be a surprise why there are frequent flash flooding in Metro Manila. Of course, the capacity of the culverts is a factor (and many are already clogged or barado with garbage and mud) but then it starts with the drains for water to go to the culverts. Many newly rehabilitated roads in Metro Manila have small drains spaced at long intervals. With heavy rainfall, these cannot take in the amount of water given the rate at which they drop from the skies. Perhaps a quick fix to address flash floods is to make these storm drains larger and spaced more closely like those shown in the photo of Sumulong Highway. And then, of course, there should be increased efforts to make sure these drains are not blocked/clogged and that garbage, dirt and other debris will not go straight into the culverts.

Rains, floods and traffic

The wet season is here and with it the now typically heavy rains in the afternoons. Last week, the heavy rains brought upon flash floods in Metro Manila and adjacent towns. There have been no typhoons yet so these are mainly monsoon rains (Habagat), which we expect to be daily occurrences. Many of these floods are along major roads including EDSA, C5, Espana, and Quezon Ave. that transformed these roads into parking lots as most light vehicles are unable to traverse flooded streets.

11390151_10152810738186805_18884354179388413_nVehicles run along the flooded Elliptical Road in Quezon City

11390210_10152810738321805_9043366778214047404_nJeepneys and SUVs (at right in the photo) take on the flooded Elliptical Road-Quezon Avenue intersection

Due to the traffic congestion resulting from the floods, many public utility vehicles especially jeepneys and UV Express vehicles were not able to go back and make their round trips.

11391604_10152810738141805_4776796639676842585_nCars risk the floods along Elliptical Road – the deepest waters are, ironically and curiously, along the section fronting Quezon City Hall where there is a pedestrian underpass connecting city hall with the Quezon Memorial Circle. Since the underpass is not flooded then it can be concluded that there’s something wrong with the drainage for Elliptical Road.

The weather is a very significant consideration for transport planning for cities in the Philippines. For Metro Manila it is almost everyone’s concern about how they can travel between their homes, offices, schools and other destinations without them and their things getting wet. This is what a lot of people advocating for road sharing seem to forget or choose to forget in their arguments for walking and cycling. A person residing in Fairview in Quezon City and working in Makati City will most likely not walk or cycle between his home and office because of the weather. This is a reality that could be solved by good public transportation, which, unfortunately, we also don’t have (yet) so people are ‘forced’ to do what they can to improve their plight. Unfortunately, too, what they are forced to do is purchase a car (or more). The proposal to build infrastructure to enable walking and cycling especially over medium to long distance is in the same dilemma as those for mass transit. And the latter is the more urgent matter needing action for the sheer volume of people they can carry and therefore benefit.

Flooded roads and some thoughts on flooding

I’ve always said that transport and traffic problems will always take a back seat to flooding. Traffic also takes a back seat to floods in this post. Issues like congestion and terrible public transport services are experienced by many everyday but basically do not stop people from their routines. Floods on the other hand are a major inconvenience that makes things like congestion or getting a ride during the rush hours much worse. Floods also have a way of making things stop as people cannot go to work and students cannot go to school. It seems that whenever there are floods, everything grinds to a halt and productivity takes a dive. Such losses, of course, are in addition to the cost of damages directly brought about by the floods.

The following photo was taken by a staff of our office who was going around near his home. Fortunately, their place was not flooded so that afforded him time to go around and take some photos of the swollen Marikina River along Marcos Highway in the Pasig-Marikina border.

Mario flood1Marcos Highway Bridge over a swollen Marikina River – not visible in the photo is the road leading to FVR Road and C-5, which is usually subject to flooding. The tall building in the background is SMDC’s Blue condominium along Katipunan Avenue. [Photo credit: Roy Velasco, NCTS, September 2014]

These extreme floods have been happening more frequently lately. I think these extreme rain events brought about by typhoons or monsoons are the norm now and we should be more prepared than ever in dealing with such heavy rainfall. Flooding can be alleviated if not eliminated and the experiences of some flood-prone LGUs can help us in determining suitable approaches to alleviate the problem and mitigate its impacts.

The philosophy applied by previous administrations of Marikina City  did not have the objective of eliminating flooding. That was too expensive for a growing city that needed to put resources to other aspects or areas of development. The main objective was to alleviate flooding; mainly to reduce the depth as well as the duration of flooding. That is, instead of having waste-deep waters, perhaps knee-deep would be more tolerable. And instead of having to deal with flooded homes or streets over a day or more, half a day would make life better for people affected. The key was to address issues that led to severe flooding. Such issues include poor drainage stemming from inadequate maintenance of facilities and the still tremendous amounts of garbage irresponsibly disposed off by people, especially those living near waterways.

Marikina, Antipolo and Cainta at least should consider building retention basins in order to mitigate serious flooding. A lot of waterways were lost as residential subdivisions were developed and developers responsible for these should bear part of the burden by doing their part (e.g., identifying and turning over or donating lands than can serve as sites for the basins) in helping alleviate flooding. One friend pointed out that the critical time for flooding would be when rains are heaviest (e.g., last Thursday to Friday for Mario or the 6 hours of extreme rains by Ondoy in 2009). Basins should be designed so they can accommodate waters from the rains during the critical period so that instead of neck-deep floods, perhaps there will only be knee-deep or waist-deep waters. Yes, there will still be floods but they will be more tolerable and perhaps faster to dissipate than when you don’t have the basins to mitigate such events. There will be significant costs for such facilities but then the costs surely don’t compare to the annual losses that can be attributed to flooding and relocating whole communities definitely is much more costly and is not an option for those in the Marikina Valley and other food prone areas. Floods have been issues for many LGUs during elections and whoever can come up with a good plan to alleviate flooding will surely win a lot of votes.

All weather transport

The flooding brought about by heavy rains around the country rendered many roads impassable to motor vehicles. This meant traffic congestion in many areas and so many commuters being stranded due to the lack of public transport vehicles available to them. In these times, the only modes for traveling are reduced  and limited to walking and non-motorized tranport (NMT). While cycling is an option for some people, a more popular mode in many areas and local roads are pedicabs. Known by various names in the vernacular such as padyak, trisikad, sikad, etc., these three wheelers are found providing transport services particularly in residential areas. These tend to use national roads and busy streets in cities, and such often causes conflicts with motor vehicles as the NMTs slow down traffic. During times of heavy rains due to typhoons or the monsoon, pedicabs become the mode of choice for many who need to get to their workplaces, schools or home despite flooded streets.

2013-08-20 19.25.29Photo of TV news report (GMA News’ 24 Oras) on air passengers taking pedicabs in order to get to the airport and catch their flights. Traffic was terrible due to floods along airport roads and only the non-motorized transport could navigate the flood waters. Interviews of passengers including tourists and foreigners showed their appreciation of the alternative mode of transport they had to take to catch their flights.

IMG06611-20130819-1323Pedicab service along a flooded residential road – special rates are often charged by pedicab drivers during the rainy season and when go into flooded streets. Regulated fares are charged in areas like residential subdivisions where homeowners associations have a say in fare rates. In other places, fares can be arbitrary or according to the willingness to pay of prospective passengers.

2013-07-27 14.52.13Bicycles are becoming popular for commuting not especially due to floods but more because of increasing fuel prices and fares. There is also an influx of second-hand or used bicycles from Japan (Note: Jitensha is bicycle in Japanese). These have become collectibles but are in actual use by their owners like the bikes shown in the photo that were exhibited at a mall recently.

Floods and traffic

Transport and traffic problems take a backseat to the flooding problem during this time of the year in the Philippines. Since there are practically only two seasons (dry and wet) in the country, floods become a genuine concern once monsoon rains arrive and these are usually complicated by a high frequency of typhoons between August and November. Many major roads in Metro Manila are prone to flooding including Espana Avenue, Araneta Avenue, Gil Fernando Avenue, Ortigas Avenue, and EDSA. Flash floods often lead to traffic congestion and commuters and motorists alike would have a hell of a time traveling yet it seems very little has been done to address a situation that’s been here since the Spanish period. This is a perception by many people and a reasonable one given the historical evidence of flooding in the area and elsewhere in the country.

IMG06611-20130819-1323Pedicab ferrying passengers in a flooded residential area

There are many images on the current floods in Mega Manila that one can find in various reports online and on TV. The Telegraph provides good photos for describing the situation around Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, and especially in the low-lying areas like Marikina, Malabon, Rodriguez and Cainta. These images could have been taken in any other year in the past and the images would probably be the same with slight changes in some buildings that could have been improved (e.g., additional floor?) in response to the flood experience.

Floods and possible solutions have been the topics of discussions every year and usually during this rainy season. While there have been efforts to address this problem, these are usually and obviously not enough and a more comprehensive approach is needed. Quite obviously, too, solutions that tend to dig up faults in urban planning throughout Metro Manila have led nowhere as legitimate residents and other locators in these areas are not in a position to give up their properties just like that. Relocating informal settlers and others who have encroached from waterways and other critical areas is a start but will have limited impacts in part because Mega Manila does not have a good drainage system in the first place.

Expensive as they are, engineering solutions like perhaps what Tokyo has done in this underground wonder. Of course, this example is a kind of ultimate solution and would require tremendous resources to realize. But then this is also like the transport and traffic problems we are experiencing where years (or decades) of inaction and hesitation due to resource and technical questions have led to the despicable transportation we have now The reality is that solutions will not get cheaper as we continue to balk at the cost of the required solutions. Floods and traffic will not be solved overnight. It will take years to improve the lives of many people in flood prone areas and implementing solutions should have started yesterday.