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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.

Article on how cities can rapidly expand bike networks

With the increasing popularity of bicycles for utilitarian use (e.g., bike to work, bike to school, etc.), the need for strategies, programs and projects to support cycling has become more urgent. This is mainly to sustain the increase of bicycle use and partly to enhance the safety of cyclists. Here is an article that discusses how cities can rapidly expand bike networks:

https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/how-can-cities-rapidly-expand-access-cycling-infrastructure

To quote from the article:

“Our research points to several key recommendations for other cities hoping to expand their cycling infrastructure and encourage a more rapid shift toward biking and away from cars.
– Local governments can lead the implementation of a large-scale expansion of cycling infrastructure if local leaders can commit to ambitious, quantified mileage goals that will help structure how capital dollars are spent.
– Local implementation goals should include metrics related to increasing equity, particularly for people of color and those with low incomes. Although the Final Mile program increased the number of miles of cycling infrastructure, it did not directly prioritize the people who could benefit most from improvements.
– Philanthropic funders interested in supporting climate-friendly infrastructure should ensure their funds help hold local policymakers accountable to achieving their commitments instead of funding infrastructure projects directly. They can also encourage collaboration between cities and nonprofit advocates while working to fill local capacity gaps, such as through engineering consultants.”

Bike lane at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, Metro Manila

Article on evaluating transport equity

Here is another quick share of an article on transportation equity:

Litman, T. (February 2, 2022) “Evaluating Transportation Equity: ITE Quickbite,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/02/116058-evaluating-transportation-equity-ite-quickbite [Last accessed: 2/4/2022]

Transportation equity is a very relevant, very timely topic as people in the Philippines are just beginning to understand and weigh the advantages of having more efficient transport in the forms of active and public transport over private vehicles.

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 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.

Is it really a golden age for railways in the Philippines? Or is it just a great catch-up?

The government and many railway fans in the Philippines have dubbed the construction and rehabilitation of railway lines as a “golden age of railways in the Philippines.” Many, especially those who have aspired for railway development in the country agree with this monicker.

But is it really a golden age or are we just playing catch-up due to the backlog of railway projects in the country? Rehabilitation, after all, means there was a period of deterioration, even neglect by the government (i.e., across several administrations starting from Marcos) that led to poor or discontinued services.

A “golden age” is defined as “a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished.” Indeed, by definition we can qualify the current one as such but let me point out the facts from history that railways development in the country (both long distance and urban transit) started in the late 1800s before the revolution that led to declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in 1898, and while many of our revolutionary leaders were abroad, mainly in Europe where I’m sure they took the trains and trams to move about. Here’s a link to the website developed by a research program in the University of the Philippines that focused on mass transit development in what is now the Metro Manila area:

Website for the UP-EIDR program on railways development in Metro Manila

Since railway development in the late 1800s started from scratch, perhaps the current development is more of a “second” golden age for railways, and not ‘The’ golden age for railways. This wouldn’t have happened or won’t be necessary if we rehabilitated the tranvia after WW2 or allocated resources to preserve and maintain the PNR and other lines like how our Southeast Asian neighbors did to their own railways. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have enviable railways including preserved, operational steam locomotives that are now practically moving museum pieces. But since we are into catching-up and there’s been significant progress on this end, perhaps the right term shouldn’t be “Golden Age” but “Renaissance”. It’s actually quite a catchy phrase “Railway Renaissance,” if you bother to consider it.

PAREX or PARES?

Much has already been written and said about the proposal by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) to build an elevated expressway atop (or along the banks) of the Pasig River. The project is called the Pasig River Expressway or PAREX. Although it has caught the attention of the public quite recently, the idea or concept is something that was already brought up and studies even before SMC took it up. I recall seeing this concept and even discussing about this with a close friend who was involved in modeling the traffic for an elevated highway along the Pasig River during the PNoy administration for the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The MMDA then was chaired by someone who is now a senator of the country. There was apparently no opposition then for this project that probably was dismissed or shelved as it had no takers at the time. Fast forward to the present and the concept was picked up or somehow fell into SMC. The latter did some work on it, pitched it to government and, one way or another, got it approved. Being a major project under a high profile company pitched to a government that went by its “build, build, build” slogan, it wasn’t so difficult to get this hyped.

Opposition to the PAREX comes from a broad mix of professionals, environmentalists and civil society groups who questioned not just the idea or concept but the process that led to government practically giving the green light for this project. Some have countered that perhaps, instead of PAREX there should be PARES. PARES would be a Pasig River Esplanade, inspired by the Iloilo River Esplanade. Maybe this is a better option. Maybe we could even have a tramline along the river if the ROW permits it. Or, perhaps instead of an elevated expressway (with the BRT and bike lane add-ons that were obviously included to soften the image of the tollway) there can be a elevated monorail along the Pasig River. This can be designed to have a minimal footprint and could certainly have branches such as one along the Marikina River. These two options alone provide alternatives that SMC should at least consider and study very well. The options might give the company a way to save face (literally and figuratively).

On car ownership and car use vs. public transport use

Here is another quick share of an article regarding car ownership and car use vs. public transport use. It is written in the first person as a the author relates her experience and what contradictory feelings she’s had with the decision to acquire and use a car.

Noor, D (June 21, 2021) “Buying a Car Improved My Life. It Shouldn’t Have.” Gizmodo, https://gizmodo.com/buying-a-car-improved-my-life-it-shouldnt-have-1847106068 [Last accessed: 7/10/2021]

I think many people in the Philippines (not just Metro Manila or other highly urbanized cities in the country) have similar experiences. They really don’t want to get a car or a motorcycle but their circumstances and the conveniences have outweighed their initial stand. Why do we need to have our own private vehicle anyway? Is it because its difficult to get a ride using public transport? Is it because of the quality of the ride? Is it due to health or safety-related reasons? In that last question, perhaps the fears of getting infected by Covid-19 present a overwhelming justification for car use and not just car ownership.

We also have to distinguish between vehicle ownership, car ownership and car use. ‘Vehicle ownership’ is a more general term that should include both motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Thus, if you have don’t have a car but instead have a bicycle, you are still a vehicle owner. Of course the term is more widely applied to motor vehicle owners but we need to expand this and distinguish between motor and non-motor vehicle ownership. Otherwise, let’s just be specific about the vehicle. ‘Car ownership’ is not equal to or does not correspond with car use. It is possible that one owns one or more cars or vehicles but does not use them at least for his/her regular commute. People in Singapore, for example, have cars. The same for people in Japan. However, most of these car owners choose to take public transportation most days. In their case, owning a car may not have improved their lives considering the excellent public transport services they have and requirements for people wanting to own cars in those places. Elsewhere, such as the Philippines, owning and using a car may provide better transport options depending not the circumstances of the person(s), even considering the costs of ownership and operations.

Inter-island bridges in the Philippines – Nice to have but not necessary at this time?

A news article came out yesterday, reporting on the shelving of several inter-island bridge projects as well as the progress of only 3 projects include the Panguil Bay Bridge. Many of these projects have been conceptualized a long time ago but were being fleshed out through various feasibility studies.

Bridges fall down the BBB priority list

I’ve written before about these bridges, and had a healthy discussion among friends about the merits and demerits of such infrastructure when there are other, more urgent projects that would probably have higher impacts. One friend was involved in studying the connection between Panay and Negros islands, and had concluded that the cost can be justified by the economic benefits brought about by the bridge. I disagreed, stating the costs could cover modern urban transit systems at least in the major cities of Iloilo and Bacolod.

With limited resources and the likelihood of these projects being funded from various foreign loans make them unpalatable since these will mean more debt for the country. Also, these projects will benefit fewer people compared to other transport projects including modernizing public transportation and building bike lane networks. The latter kinds of projects are for daily commuters whereas the bridges are more for occasional travelers. What do you think?

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?