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Join the campaign: UN Global Road Safety Week 2022

Next week will be the UN Global Road Safety Week. Many organizations will be holding activities or events to promote road safety. In our case, we are part of a National Coalition promoting child road traffic injury prevention (CRTIP) in the Philippines with the support of UNICEF.

Here is the link to the UN’s page promoting road safety:

https://www.unroadsafetyweek.org/en/home

The theme touches on the campaign to reduce speeds to 30 kph. This is particularly important in the vicinity of schools or school zones where children are at a high risk of being involved in crashes. Their safety is of utmost concern and requires interventions to improve conditions. We have done assessments using iRAP’s Star Ratings for Schools (SR4S) tool and recommended interventions for many schools in Valenzuela City and Zamboanga City. This year, we hope to do the assessments in Angeles City and Cagayan de Oro City as well for Phase 2 of our project with UNICEF as we continue to help improve road safety for our children. After all, roads that are safe for children are safe for everyone else.

On walkability and walkability scores

I’m sharing a couple of articles on walkability and walkability scores. The first one actually points to the second but provides brief insights about the concept of walkability while the second is a more detailed article on the findings of a study on walkability.

Ionesco, D. (May 4, 2022) “Walkability Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/05/117075-walkability-scores-dont-tell-whole-story?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05052022&mc_cid=c04e3e4dc0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“if cities truly want to be pedestrian-friendly, they need to think beyond the sidewalk…”

The second article is from late April:

Gwam, P., Noble, E. and Freemark, Y. (April 28, 2022) “Redefining Walkability,” urban.org, https://www.urban.org/features/redefining-walkability [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“To create a more comfortable walking experience, our research points to a few steps DC planners and policymakers can take to increase racially equitable walkability across the city:

  • expand tree cover in the densest parts of the city,

  • increase nonautomotive modes of transportation in central areas,

  • reduce noise pollution,

  • support more equitable access to key resources, and

  • prioritize road design that limits the need for police traffic enforcement.”

While the article puts emphasis on the topic of racial equity, such concept can easily be adapted and adopted for our purposes. For one, it could be interpreted as being inclusive if one is not comfortable with the term “race”.

Don’t miss downloading the technical appendix of their report. This will be very useful to researchers, practitioners and advocates of active transport.

On the number coding options for Metro Manila ca. 2022

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recently announced that the agency was studying options for a new number coding scheme under its Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). UVVRP is basically a travel demand management (TDM) program focused on vehicle use restraint. In this case, private vehicles, particularly cars, are the target of volume reduction. Here’s a graphic from their Facebook page:

Coding schemes posted by MMDA on their official social media page

The schemes are not really new as these were also considered before. Are the conditions new at all? Are we assuming things changed due to the pandemic? Or will there just be a return to the old normal in terms of traffic congestion? Here are some past writings on the topic including a 3-part series I wrote back in May 2011:

I think many of the arguments I made in those more than decade old articles hold or apply to the present. Even with the increasing popularity of active transport in the form of bicycle facilities appear to have not made a dent to the transport problems in the metropolis. Many questions abound and I have seen and read comments pointing to the many transport infrastructure projects currently ongoing around Metro Manila as proof that transport and traffic will be improving soon. Transportation in general may indeed improve once the likes of the Metro Manila Subway, Line 7, Line 1 Extension, and the PNR upgrades come online (i.e., all operational) but we have yet to see their impacts outside the models created to determine their potential benefits. Will they be game changers? We do hope so. Will UVVRP be needed in the future when these mass transit lines (including others in the pipeline) are all operational? Perhaps, but a scaled down version of this TDM scheme might still be needed and may suffice if people do shift from their private vehicles to public transportation. The fear is that most people eventually taking the trains would be those who are already commuting using road-based public transport like buses, jeepneys and vans. If so, the mode share of private transport will not be reduced and those traffic jams will remain or even worsen. Maybe we should be discussing road pricing now?

On bicycle economics in the Philippines

I am sharing this link to a newly minted reference that should be useful to policy or decision-makers (yes, that includes politicians) in justifying bicycle facilities including bike lanes around the country.

https://www.freiheit.org/philippines/bikenomics-assessing-value-cycling-philippines

There’s been a dearth in local references and this should suffice for now pending more in-depth studies on the benefits of cycling and related-facilities and programs in the Philippines. Note that while the reference mentions certain calculations and unit costs, it would be better to have the actual numbers from the various LGUs that have constructed bike lanes and facilities, and implementing bike programs and projects. Quezon City and Mandaue City, for example, should have the numbers that can serve as initial data for compiling and eventual publication of unit costs per type or design of bike lanes or bikeways. LGUs and national government should gather, process and make use of such data in aid of bike facilities and infrastructure development that will attract people away from private motor vehicle use while reinforcing both active and public transport mode shares.

Is the concept of induced demand a hard sell?

Here’s a quick share of an article on ‘induced demand’ particularly why it appears to be a hard sell:

Blumgart, J. (February 28, 2022) “Why the concept of induced demand is a hard sell,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/now/why-the-concept-of-induced-demand-is-a-hard-sell [Last accessed: 3/8/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Transportation experts say that the way to defeat induced demand, and actually ease traffic, would be to price roadways through tolls and congestion fees. But such alternatives are not popular. It’s hard to imagine running a political campaign on such a promise, as opposed to pledging an answer that looks free and easy… “Highway expansion is an attractive project regardless of your political orientation or what the state of the economy is,” says Thigpen. “There’s always a good argument for why we should be expanding highways. We need more jobs, or we need to unlock economic opportunity. There’s always a good political argument in favor of that.”

That last statement there relating highway or road expansion to politics is relevant everywhere. In our case in the Philippines, politicians are perceived to be very conservative and the type to use road projects as accomplishments. They are not as progressive as politicians abroad who may have the backgrounds and/or advocacies relating to sustainable transport to pursue the more difficult programs and projects needed improve the transport system. Instead, most are content with projects that they can put their name on and claim as hard accomplishments. Many of their constituents appear to agree. And agencies like the DPWH are only too happy to support this never-ending road construction and widening projects with the length of roads and the number of lanes added being their metrics for success. Of course, these (e.g., understanding and how to address induced demand, performance metrics, etc.) need to change if we really want to transform our transportation system towards something more efficient for everyone’s benefit.

Traffic along EDSA? Can we still widen this road? No, we can’t so we need something better than being dependent on cars. Incidentally, MMDA is planning to bring back motorcycle lanes along EDSA. Currently there are also bike lanes along either side of this road; a product of the pandemic that is now under threat of being removed.
Morning rush traffic along Commonwealth Avenue prior to the MRT 7 construction. What used to be 10 lanes per direction has been reduced but we still don’t know if Line 7’s eventual operation will make a dent on this congestion.

UPSE Discussion Paper on Martial Law and the Philippine Economy

To those who were looking for references on the Philippine economy during the Martial Law years, look no further than a recent discussion paper from the UP School of Economics (UPSE). To quote from their social media post:

UPSE Discussion Paper No. 2021-07 (November 2021)
📌Title: Martial law and the Philippine economy
🖊Authors: Emmanuel S. de Dios, Maria Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Jan Carlo Punongbayan
📄Abstract: Part of a proposed anthology, this article provides a concise review of the economic performance during the period of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1985) from a comparative historical perspective. We examine the external events and internal policy responses that made possible the high growth in the early years of martial law and show that these are integral to explaining the decline and ultimate collapse of the economy in 1984-1985. The macroeconomic, trade, and debt policies pursued by the Marcos regime—particularly its failure to shift the country onto a sustainable growth path—are explained in the context of the regime’s larger political-economic programme of holding on to power and seeking rents.
📖 Read the full paper here: https://econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/dp/article/view/1543/1027

https://econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/dp/article/view/1543/1027

Why is this relevant to transportation in the country? Economic performance and policies during that period strongly influenced if not practically dictated infrastructure development during the period. Add politics to the mix and you get what ultimately affected future administrations in terms of debt servicing and other financial or fiscal issues that needed to be addressed due to the debt incurred during that period.

We should learn from this and hopefully not repeat it. Unfortunately, the fiscal discipline and reforms during the previous administration appear to have been abandoned and the current spending and borrowing spree will likely handicap future administrations. Are there bad debts around? Probably! And so there will likely be a need to do some due diligence during the transition to a new administration after the elections this year.

On “universal basic mobility”

You’ve probably heard or read about the concept of “universal basic income.” The concept has been discussed and implemented or attempted in some countries including those that have successfully tinkered with their social welfare systems. Here is an article that presents and discusses the idea of universal basic mobility:

Descant, S. (December 22, 2021) “‘Universal Basic Mobility’ Speaks to a City’s Values,” Government Technology, https://www.govtech.com/fs/universal-basic-mobility-speaks-to-a-citys-values [Last accessed: 12/24/2021]

It was in graduate school back in the 1990s when I first encountered the concept of the ‘transportation poor’ and ‘transport poverty’. While the term suggests people who are generally in the low income classes, the actual definition of transport poverty is more complicated and comprehensive than that. While sustainable transport and its current versions have always discussed the more fad issues on public transport, low carbon transport, active transport, etc., specific engagements on the more rad topic of equity in transportation have not been as common. Perhaps this current issue and discussions on the government’s “no vaccination, no ride” policy will open doors for equity to be out in the open?

Placeholders and inheritors

[Notice to the reader: This post is not directly about transport or traffic.]

I like one post circulating in social media that is attributed to former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. about the Vice President. I particularly like this part: “Did NOT choose to be a placeholder when her husband finished his term as Mayor in Naga.” If you do a scan of elected officials around the country, you can probably see how many if not most are held by political families. Even Marvel Comics recognizes this when they featured Filipino superheroes in an Iron Man series where the original team perished and was replaced by their children!

Placeholders are usually wives of politicians who have reached the maximum of their term limits. A mayor, for example, can only run for reelection twice for a total of 9 years continuously in power. After the nine years, he/she must step down to give way to a new mayor. Instead of honing someone competent from the other leaders in the local government (e.g., the vice mayor, a councilor, etc.). As they say, elective posts in the Philippines are family business and are often passed on to the next generation of what are termed as dynasties.

My most recent encounter with a “placeholder” was with the then Mayor of Tacloban City, Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez. She was on the second year of her term after she took over from her husband who was mayor for 3 terms (9 years). I must say that she had very competent staff and we thought they did their jobs well and for the benefit of many in Tacloban. And this was during the years immediately after the tragedy brought by Typhoon Yolanda (Ketsana).

Previous to that, we’ve also encountered or engaged with other local government units dominated by certain families. One town in Cebu even had the matriarch as mayor, the son as vice mayor and the uncles as councilors! The municipal hall had a portrait of the patriarch as a multiple term mayor in the recent past. You wonder if there were no other competent people in such towns and cities.

The next presidential elections will feature the son of a former dictator with the daughter of a current president as running mate. They are supported by other dynasties such those of two previous presidents including one who was been convicted of plunder but pardoned by his successor. He was allowed to run for president again despite the conviction as the Comelec failed to make a firm interpretation and stand vs. it. Now comes someone who believes he is entitled to the presidency despite also being convicted of tax evasion. While arguably a lighter crime, it is still a conviction and should mean he cannot run for the highest position in government. He’s also a fraud because he claims to have completed his education at a well known UK school when in truth he failed there. Would you trust a tax evader, fraud and one who does not admit guilt nor expresses regret or remorse for his family’s crimes with the presidency of the country? I certainly won’t and don’t!

Article on people-oriented traffic management

Here’s a quick share on a topic that is also very relevant especially for local government units – traffic management. To quote from the article:

“Today, when the mobility of Filipinos is severely constrained by limited public transport capacity, …and when there is heightened pressure for private vehicle use, there is no better time to re-orient traffic management in the Philippines in order to prioritize inclusive, efficient and environmentally sustainable travel modes. The crucial ingredient is not infrastructure but political will.”

Siy, R.Y. (January 8, 2022) “People oriented traffic management,” Mobility Matters, The Manila Times, https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/01/08/business/top-business/people-oriented-traffic-management/1828593 [Last accessed: 1/8/2022]

The article makes perfect sense as traffic management in the country has always been car-oriented including the strategies, policies, schemes, measures and others that have focused on facilitating private car travel over active and public transport modes. The challenge here is how to bring this up front and an election issue at both national and local levels.

On transport equity

To start the year 2022, I’m sharing another article by Todd Litman. I thought this was a timely one as this is basically about transport equity and the results despite competent planners and perhaps good intentions.

Litman, T. (December 21, 2022) “Good Planners: Bad Outcomes. How Structural Biases Can Lead to Unfair and Inefficient Results,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/115621-good-planners-bad-outcomes-how-structural-biases-can-lead-unfair-and-inefficient?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12232021&mc_cid=35d4ce69aa&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 12/27/2021]

There should be similar studies for the Philippine case. We need to understand and correct bad practices including those related to an over-reliance to what is referred to as “old school” practices (i.e., “nakasanayan na”, “ginagawa na noon pa”, and so on), which is what young engineers and planners are taught by the “old boys” in certain agencies as an initiation of sorts if not part of their ‘continuous orientation’ at these offices.