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On what local governments can do to improve road safety

Here is a very interesting article on how a small city in the US was able to reduce traffic deaths by investing in people-oriented transport programs and projects:

Kessler, E. (April 6, 2021) “EYES ON THE STREET: How Hoboken Has Eliminated Traffic Deaths,” StreetsBlog NYC, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2021/04/06/eyes-on-the-street-how-hoboken-has-eliminated-traffic-deaths/ [Last accessed: 4/14/2021]

The article is pretty much self-explanatory. I won’t be commenting more about this except that many of the items mentioned can be taken on by many cities and municipalities in the Philippines. You don’t have to be a highly urbanized city with a big population and so much resources to come up with a plan and perhaps improvise in order to reduce costs of implementation. The most important thing is leadership since leaders like the mayor will be responsible for and making the critical decisions for the town. That is why he was elected in the first place, and the same goes for the other elected officials who are supposed to represent the interests of all their constituents and not just those who own cars.

On the principles of good infrastructure

Since the Philippine government is engaged in its Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program, and agencies like the DPWH and DOTr often or regularly refer to what’s happening in the US in terms of projects, guidelines and standards, I am sharing the following article on the principle

Marshall, A. (March 18, 2021)“What Are the Five Principles of Good Infrastructure?” Governing.com, https://www.governing.com/community/Five-Principles-Good-Infrastructure.html [Last accessed: 4/5/2021]

Despite obviously being an article about US infrastructure in the context of the new administration there, there are just too many takeaways or relevant information here that applies to us and how we are developing and maintaining our infrastructure. To quote:

“First of all, cost matters. The evidence is pretty clear now that we pay several times more than other advanced nations to build transit infrastructure, particularly tunnels, and possibly highways as well. It appears we pay too much to build public parks.

Second, time matters. We still get estimates for infrastructure projects whose construction stretches into decades, when it should be a few years. Time relates to cost. Adding time makes projects more expensive.

Third, connections matter. Whether it’s a light-rail line joining up to a bus line, or an interstate exit linking to a town, the connections between infrastructure systems are important. High-speed rail lines need to intersect seamlessly with the cities they serve. Infrastructure can’t be designed in a vacuum. Urban planners and designers should be at the top of the infrastructure food chain, so that transportation and other departments work for comprehensive visions.

Fourth, design matters. Western Europe has been erecting light, airy bridges for decades, while we have continued to build heavy concrete slabs. This is changing, but we lag behind other countries in the design quality of everything from bridges to subways.

Finally, ownership matters. Even the best-designed and swiftly built infrastructure will turn bad if we give one or two private companies total control over them. As we use private companies for broadband, cable, telephones, data management and the power that runs our homes, we need to remember this. When we can’t (or won’t) have public systems, then the private ones need to be carefully managed.”

To what extent do you think these principles apply to our case?

Vaccine passports anyone?

As the Philippines, relaxes protocols to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it is interesting to note that other countries have not let down their guard. And the latter includes nations that have been quite successful in dealing with the pandemic. Many countries have also received the vaccines and have started inoculating their populations. These received the doses ahead of the Philippines and have now vaccinated a significant % of their population according to their respective prioritization schemes.

But even as countries have started vaccinations, the question remains whether a vaccinated individual can now move around or travel as if it were pre-pandemic conditions (the old normal). Here’s a nice article to read as the topic of unrestricted (or restricted, depending on your take) comes up in discussions including those leading to certain policies to be formulated by governments:

Fisher, M. (March 2, 2021) “Vaccine passports, Covid’s next political flashpoint,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/europe/passports-covid-vaccine.html [Last accessed: 3/4/2021]

On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

On the RFID fiasco

Early December 2020, Metro Pacific Corporation suddenly had to deal with jam-packed toll plazas and queues that affected roads connecting to the North Luzon Expressways. Fast-forward and Valenzuela City apparently had enough of it and revoked the tollway corporation’s business permit. Later, matters were resolved with the tollways reverting to mixed toll collection to manage the queues at the toll plazas.

Prior to this, tollways corporation scrambled to meet the deadline set and re-set by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) for contactless, cashless toll payments. The question is if there was enough time for tollway operators to acquire the best (not just the minimum required) system for this endeavor. There are some opinions that this was basically required on short notice and for the government to get some brownie points for this.

Were there issues about technology and the corresponding costs to the acquisition and deployment of the necessary devices for seamless, contactless, delay-free (in relative terms) transactions for tollways? Probably so. Those RFIDs and the readers installed at strategic locations along tollways (i.e., entries and exits) were certainly not state of the art or the best available out there. Singapore, for example, uses a more sophisticated system for their expressways where you no longer have toll plazas and you won’t have to slow down to be detected by the system. That system has corresponding costs but is perfect for the city state given that most roads are tolled anyway because of their road pricing policy. In the case of our tollways, not all travelers are actually going to utilize the tollways as frequently as it would necessitate them having to get either the Easy Trip or Auto Sweep tags. That is obvious from the relatively low penetration rates for electronic toll collection (ETC). So it still makes sense to have hybrid booths for those not availing the ETC option. Anyway, travelers will have to exercise disinfection protocols to ensure infections are prevented.

On cycling fatalities and the way forward

I’ve read a few articles and social media posts about how its become more dangerous or risky for cyclists during the pandemic. The statistics and observations show that there is an increase in the number of cyclists. I am not even considering here the recreational ones (and I have observed that there are a lot more of them). I focus rather on those who use bicycles to commute between their homes and workplaces; or those who cycle to market or do their groceries. The danger lies mainly from motorists who have little or no regard for cyclists and pedestrians; choosing to hog the roads for themselves. And there seem to be more of these motorists these days, too, as people owning cars have opted to use these instead of taking public transportation.

Here’s a recent article about safety in the US. Those stats and assessments can be replicated here given the availability of data on kilometers traveled and crashes that are usually employed for risk assessments.

Marquis, E. (December 22, 2020) “Cars have killed almost 700 cyclists in 2020,” Jalopnik.com, https://jalopnik.com/cars-have-killed-almost-700-bicyclists-in-2020-1845934793

The only solution for our case really is to put up protected bike lanes. Local standards or guidelines need to evolve and the people behind these should be of progressive thinking rather than relying on “what has been done” or “what they have been doing”. That attitude will only give us poorly planned and designed infrastructure for cycling and walking. The coming year offers some opportunities for active transportation as the DOTr and the DPWH (plus the MMDA in the case of Metro Manila, and perhaps the LGUs where applicable) are supposed to implement major projects intending to produce the bike lanes and walkways for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao. The budget is in the billions of pesos so much is expected about these projects. Will they become models for other Philippine cities and municipalities to follow? Or will these be like going through the motions just to appease those calling for active transport facilities?

On experiments and crowd-sourcing for solutions

If you didn’t notice, the government (national agencies and local government units) has implemented and successfully employed experimentation and crowd-sourcing to find solutions for transport and traffic problems. In the case of experimentation with traffic, this has been going for a while now but not at the level of those conducted during Bayani Fernando’s stint at the MMDA. At the time, full scale experiments were undertaken as the agency dabbled with the U-turn scheme. The ultimate product of that time are the twin U-turn flyovers at C5-Kalayaan. I say ultimate because it involved both experimentations and traffic simulation, where the latter was used to justify the U-turn flyovers over what was originally proposed as an underpass along C-5. As I recall, the model was not calibrated or validate contrary to the agency’s claims. I say so because I personally saw how the model ran and the presentations were more like demonstration of the software used. Meanwhile, the DPWH at the time made their own simulation models and did the necessary calibration and validation to come up with sound models for other projects including the Quezon Avenue-Araneta Avenue underpass.

Crowd-sourcing, mainly through social media is a more recent approach. It is not an entirely new animal because prior to social media, there were a lot of inter-agency committees that included people from various stakeholders (some invited, some not) who were the primary “sources”. The crown now is larger and perhaps more diverse. Whether this is a conscious or unconscious effort is uncertain. And this can easily be denied or shrugged-off. But in this age of social media, there are just so many enablers or influencers for crowd-sourcing each of whom have their own agenda. Some mainly to promote or prop up the current administration. Some to mainly criticize without offering solutions. And others to invite constructive scrutiny or assessment while also providing options to address problems and issues. It is the latter group whose opinions and recommendations should carry more weight if indeed the administration is fishing for solutions from the so-called crowd.

Consider the following recent examples (not in any order):

a) Closing U-turn slots along EDSA

b) Requiring face masks for all who are outdoors including cyclists

c) EDSA carousel

d) Resumption of public transport with mostly air-conditioned vehicles

e) Bike lanes along major roads

f) Public transport reform (in general)

There are others but the six listed above have been discussed a lot on social media after government picked up an idea or two about them, and implemented each seemingly without conducting due diligence or paying attention to the details including potential glitches. They ended up with mixed results, many very costly (I wouldn’t say disastrous at this point). However, in all cases, they seem to welcome (though at times begrudgingly or feigning resistance) crowd-sourced solutions particularly those from organized groups who are only too happy for themselves to be in the limelight.*

One thing is for sure and that is that there is still a lack of capabilities among government agencies and LGUs when it comes to transportation. Don’t get me wrong. National government and many LGUs have the resources and capacity to address transport problems. However, their capabilities are in question here because they seem to be unable to harness their capacities and resources to come up with sound and suitable solutions. In the end, they appear to buckle under the pressure of their own crowd-sourced schemes only to emerge as manipulators after they are able get what they want with the willing assistance of the naive.

*Some of these are true advocates who have worked hard to make transport better for all while others are the bandwagon types (nakikisakay lang) who are content dropping key words that now sound cliche at every opportunity. I leave it up to my readers to determine which are which. 🙂

New WHO publication on transport in the context of COVID-19

I’m just sharing the new publication from the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) – Supporting healthy urban transport and mobility in the context of COVID-19:

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240012554

The brief document contains recommendations for travelers and transport service providers. It is a compact, concise reference for everyone as we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID-19.

What if Rizal today was the same province it was back in the day?

I write this as a super typhoon is bearing down on us this 1st of November. I found this map on the internet without attribution to the original source. It shows a still-born Metro Manila with only four local government units: Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City and San Juan.

Map of Rizal province in the 1960s

What if instead of the Metro Manila we have now, Rizal retained the towns (that eventually became cities) that were transferred to what became the National Capital Region (NCR)? These are Navotas, Malabon, Caloocan, Marikina, Pasig, Pateros, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Paranaque, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Valenzuela was taken from Bulacan Province. Pasig was the capital of the province (Yes, that’s why there is Capitolyo and the Rizal Provincial Capitol used to be in Pasig where you now have Capitol Commons. Surely, the political landscape could have been different though one could argue that certain families would have still held sway in cities/towns where they have their routes. Imagine, the governorship of the province would have been a coveted post but not by the the current holders but likely by personalities from the more progressive and densely populated cities. Governance would have been different, too, as Rizal would have both highly urbanized and rural areas. Perhaps certain undesirable politicians could not have emerged due to the dynamics of a province with highly urbanized cities? What’s your take on this “what if”?

On making jaywalking legal

Road safety experts and advocates have been calling for more people-friendly streets through design, policy and awareness initiatives embodied in what are usually referred to as 3 E’s – engineering, eduction and enforcement. Among the more contentious issues of road safety is jaywalking, which is defined as a pedestrian walking into or crossing a road while there are designated places or facilities for doing so. Jaywalking is a crime in most cities though enforcement can be lax in many. But while most technical and non-technical advocates of road safety agree that a more people-friendly or people-oriented environment along roads can be attained by decriminalizing jaywalking, the resistance to such a proposal mainly comes from the government and enforcement agencies. It is a bit surprising because even with studies and best practices showing better designs and policies coupled with IECs, the notion of pedestrians crossing the roads anywhere while not castigating motorists deliberately running down or swiping at the pedestrians seem unfathomable or difficult to understand for many administrators or enforcers.

Here is a nice article that argues for decriminalizing jaywalking:

Schmitt, A. and Brown, C.T. (October 16, 2020) “9 Reasons to Eliminate Jaywalking Laws Now,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/jaywalking-laws-don-t-make-streets-safer.

Of course, there’s another angle or perspective there in the article since it was written from the context of the current situation in the US. All the reasons, however, are valid and should be taken up seriously in a country like the Philippines where there is also a push for more people-friendly transportation that includes our roads and all its users.