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Some takeaways from a lecture

I lecture from time to time at the Philippine Public Safety College. This is the counterpart of the National Defense College. In the latter graduates are conferred a Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) while in the former, graduates are conferred a Masters in Public Safety Administration (MPSA). It is no wonder that many who take these courses are military or police officers seeking graduate degrees that may later be useful for them after their typically early retirement (military and police officers retire at 56 years old instead of the typical 65 years mandatory retirement for other government employees). There are many civilians who take these programs, too. The MNSA degree actually promotes a person to a high rank as a military reservist. I am not sure about the MPSA degree but graduate degrees like these are useful for promotions in their respective offices.

I lectured recently to a class consisting of two batches of their MPSA program. Each batch consists of uniformed (mostly senior police officers with a rank equivalent to at least a Lt. Col.) and non-uniformed personnel (from various offices and professions including public and private universities, private companies, etc.). I get a lot of questions and comments regarding transport and traffic during my lectures. Some can be out of context or perhaps posed in a smart-aleck fashion but most are well-intentioned. After all, who doesn’t want to “solve” traffic? Among the more notable comments during my recent lecture are as follows (not in any order):

  1. There is a need to have better urban planning for our cities;
  2. Investments for transportation infrastructure need to be shared by government and the private sector;
  3. A holistic approach is required and we cannot isolate transportation or traffic;
  4. There is a need to have a law restricting vehicle ownership (mostly related to parking);
  5. There is a need to invest or allocate more resources to develop other cities to help decongest the larger cities.

Based on my experience having lectured at the PPSC over 5 years, these two batches had more listeners and were more sensible when they posted their comments and opinions on the chatbox (the lecture was via Zoom). There were only a couple of comments with ideas I did not agree with:

  1. Transferring the capital to another location – this seems to be a trendy (read: “nakikiuso”) topic and a very tempting one for discussion but it is not a simple task and has had mixed results in other countries that tried it (e.g., Brazil, Pakistan and Malaysia). Is it worth exploring? Probably.
  2. Cable cars for Metro Manila – I explained that this is still band-aid solution that does not address the roots of the transport problems experienced by Metro Manila. It is not suitable as for one, it will not have the capacity required for regular commutes and, to me at least, it is more a novelty than a solution. Resources would be better allocated elsewhere such as active transport.

Overall, I thought that this most recent lecture generated the best feedback so far from my students. I look forward to more lectures and interactions like this. And perhaps the next one will be face to face.

On getting started on bike commuting

Here is another article on bike commuting. It really is a challenge to get people into bike commuting even if their workplaces or schools are close to their homes. What more for people who have to travel longer distances between their homes and workplaces or schools?

Bassett, E. (December 1, 2022) “The No B.S. Guide to Getting Started Bike Commuting,” Medium, https://erikbassett.medium.com/the-no-b-s-guide-to-getting-started-bike-commuting-5dd0cbb87e5b [Last accessed:

To quote from the article:

“Assume you’re invisible until proven otherwise.

Like every city I’ve lived or ridden in, yours probably paints pictures on the ground and calls them “bicycle infrastructure.” Road designs encourage excess speed; vehicles aren’t meaningfully separated from cyclists and pedestrians; there are conflicting rights-of-way at intersections, driveways, and so forth.

And that is not right. It’s a sad commentary on urban “planning” in most places that anything but car use requires this degree of paranoia. It points to a profound dysfunction that few (with any serious influence) are willing or even interested to change…yet.

But unless or until it improves, the only viable response is to assume you don’t exist in the eyes of whoever’s driving nearby. “If I weren’t here, would they gun it to make a right turn on red?” Well, assume they will. “If I weren’t here, would they merge up there?” You guessed it: assume they will.

This is unquestionably the worst aspect of bike commuting, and if it’s too stressful in your situation, that’s perfectly fine. But in the spirit of a “no-B.S.” guide, I’d be remiss not to drive home a life-saving lesson that all these years of cycling have so deeply ingrained in me.”

The author also states the difference between bike commuting and sports biking including noting the differences in the objectives or goals for each.

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.

 

Another definition of the 15-minute city

We begin 2023 with an informative article defining the “15-minute city”. This is actually an entry in Planetizen’s Planopedia, which contains definitions of fundamental concepts in urban planning:

Ionescu, D. (December 2022) “What is a 15-minute City?” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/definition/15-minute-city?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12292022&mc_cid=ee083e2ee7&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 1/1/2023]

 

I’ve written and shared articles about this concept before. Here are a couple from 2021 where I offered my opinions about the concept as already applied in the Philippines:

https://d0ctrine.com/2021/08/13/on-defining-the-15-minute-city/

https://d0ctrine.com/2021/04/07/didnt-we-already-have-15-minute-cities-and-towns-in-the-philippines/

Examples of legislative actions in support of active transport

While the Philippine government and various local government units seem to be reneging on their commitments to support active transport, other countries have been building on their gains during the pandemic. Here are examples of legislations in New York State that will support active transport through funding of complete streets projects and institutional arrangements for representation of transit dependent individual:

https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-hochul-signs-legislative-package-support-pedestrians-bikers-and-transit-riders

The article is about two legislations:

Legislation (S.3897/A.8936-A) Provides Funding for “Complete Streets” Projects Inclusive of a Holistic Approach to Street Design

Legislation (S.3959-B/A.7822-C) Adds Board Seats to NFTA, RGRTA, CDTA, and Central New York Regional Airport Authority Dedicated to a Transit Dependent Individual

We hope to see something like these at least at the local level. Perhaps if LGUs are able to legislate and implement these, there will be more good practice examples that will compel national government to support active transport development. The latter is actually ironic considering that many plans are supposed to spell out the national government’s commitment to active transport. There are still live memorandum orders and department orders supporting and promoting active transport. Are these also being waylaid? That will be tragic for transportation if we didn’t learn or gain anything from the experiences during this pandemic.

On the impacts of bicycle use

I’ve probably read a lot of posts on social media advocating for bicycle use. Here is another article that provides us with evidence about the impacts of cycling on travel, emissions and health:

Timmer, J. (August 20, 2022) “Here’s What Happens When Countries Use Bikes to Fight Emissions,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/bike-more-curb-global-emissions/ [Last accessed: 8/24/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Globally, adopting a Danish level of bicycle use would reduce annual emissions of CO2 by 414 million metric tons, approximately equivalent to the UK’s emissions in 2015. Boosting that to a Dutch level would eliminate nearly 700 million metric tons, or most of the emissions from Germany in that year.

The researchers also noted that countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have much lower rates of obesity than their peer countries. Based on the known health risks there, they estimate that, globally, we’re already avoiding 170,000 deaths annually due to cycling. Expanding this globally, they found that Denmark-equivalent bicycle use would prevent 430,000 deaths per year. Dutch levels of cycling would prevent 780,000 deaths.

That said, the vulnerability of cyclists to cars poses its own lethal risks. But these aren’t anywhere close to outweighing the benefits from exercise and lower obesity. (They’d add about 90,000 and 160,000 additional deaths per year for the two levels of use.) And if fewer drivers are using cars, there’s a chance that those numbers would come in even lower.

It’s worth noting that these numbers almost certainly underestimate the benefits of shifting to bikes. Bicycles use far fewer resources to produce, and they last longer than most cars. Maintenance is likely to be far less resource-intensive as well. So simply focusing on the use of the bike omits a lot of things that would show up in a detailed life-cycle analysis.

The researchers are certainly correct that there are a lot of locations where weather makes cycling a less-than-ideal option—and the range of places where heat makes it a positively dangerous option is expanding in our changing climate.

But some of the other issues are less severe than they might appear at first. For example, the advent of bicycles with electric assist means that hilly locales aren’t necessarily the barrier they might have been a decade ago. And while a number of countries have large open spaces where cars will remain a necessity, the trend toward urbanization means that most people in those countries will live in places where cycling can be made an option.

So, the biggest barrier is likely to remain the social will to rethink transportation.”

Indeed, social will (as well as political will) is perhaps the biggest barrier in our country. Many people may not agree but the evidence for this is so clear and obvious  that one has to be naive or oblivious to not see it. How else will one explain people sticking to their cars and more readily shifting to motorcycles rather than the bicycle. Of course, there are other factors to be considered and the article actually cites wealth and geography as strong prerequisites in developing a cycling culture. We need to do much more to determine where interventions are needed including land use planning and land development as well as the provision of affordable housing closer to workplaces, schools, shops and other places of interest (Hello 10- or 15-minute cities!).

 

On how traffic enforcement enhances road safety

It seems to be a no-brainer and has always been an assumption to many traffic engineering studies including those employing simulation to determine the outcomes of various scenarios involving transportation. The element that is traffic enforcement, however, cannot be assumed as something uniform across countries, cities, barangays or even individual road sections and intersections (yet we often do assume uniformity and a certain level of strictness).

Here is an article that reports on new research pertaining to how the enforcement of traffic laws makes roads safer:

Mohn, T. (June 8, 2022) “Enforcing traffic laws makes roads safer, new research shows,” Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2022/06/08/enforcing-traffic-laws-makes-roads-safer-new-research-shows/?sh=74b03c97591e [Last accessed: 6/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

“High visibility enforcement of traffic safety laws actually works. When carried out, regulations governing driving have a positive and measurable impact on safety by reducing dangerous behaviors behind the wheel that put road users at risk…

““Enforcement alone will not solve the traffic safety crisis,” Adkins added. “We cannot simply enforce, build, design or educate our way out of this problem. The Safe System necessitates a comprehensive approach for achieving our collective goal of zero traffic deaths, including equitable enforcement that focuses on risky driver choices that endanger all road users.”

The article points to new research published by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The synthesis to that research may be found here while the full report is found here.

Such research and articles are very relevant especially as incidents like the one involving a driver running over an enforcer become viral and bring to the forefront traffic enforcement or the lack of it (some will word it differently – like why many drivers don’t follow traffic rules and regulations). The discussion must continue especially in the context of road safety.

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?