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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?

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

How many bike lanes can you make with…?

Someone in a social media group subscribe to posted about the future Bataan – Cavite interlink bridge that will cost 175.7 Billion Pesos for 32.15 kilometers (~5.465B PHP per km). That’s a lot of money but is understandable for a major infrastructure project that will required much state of the art engineering and construction for its implementation. I casually mentioned that it was a nice project but belongs to those I’d classify as “nice to have but not really necessary or urgent at this time.” Others were more direct in saying it was another “car-oriented” project. The price tag is quite hefty and a similar amount could have been used for other, more urgent projects around the country that could benefit more people than this bridge. So for the sake of discussion, let’s try to estimate how much of another project can we make out of the estimated cost for such a bridge.

Perhaps among the more popular items due to the pandemic are infrastructure and facilities for active transportation (i.e., walking and cycling). Many cities have initiated projects that encourage more walking and cycling in order to promote healthier lifestyles as well as to reduce car dependence. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the US estimates that bike lanes can be developed for $5,000 to $50,000 per mile depending on various factors and conditions. That’s 150,000PHP to 1.5M PHP per kilometer at 48PHP : 1 USD. [Ref: https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/saferjourney1/library/countermeasures/10.htm] Using these numbers we can easily estimate how many kilometers of bike lanes we can produce for 175.7 B pesos. That simple division exercise will give us from 117 thousand (at 1.5M/km) to 1.171 million (at 150k/km) kilometers of bike lanes. For comparison, the Philippine national highway network is 32,932 kilometers. The numbers could mean bike lanes could laid out for the entire national road network with much to spare for provincial, city and municipal roads for connectivity. Funds can even be allocated to improve pedestrian facilities! This begs the question then of how such resources can be used in a more comprehensive manner to benefit a lot more people. From the bragging point of view, won’t such a bike lane network be more impressive than one bridge?

What else can you think about that can be funded by amounts similar to the Bataan – Cavite Bridge or other projects you can tag as “nice to have but not really necessary or urgent”?

On the transformation from car-oriented to people-oriented streets

I saw this article shared by a friend on social media and share it here as an interesting piece providing ideas and the thinking or attitude required if we are to transform our streets:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “4 ways to go from “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”, Medium, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/4-ways-to-go-from-streets-for-traffic-to-streets-for-people-6b196db3aabe [Last accessed: 9/30/2020]

It is actually interesting to see how this plays out in Philippine cities. The ‘honeymoon’ or ‘grace’ period from the lockdown to the ‘normalization’ (read: going back to the old normal) of traffic might just have a window and this is closing for active transport. National and local officials, for example, who seemed enthusiastic and quickly put up facilities for active transport have slowed down efforts or even stopped or reneged on their supposed commitments. The next few weeks (even months) will show us where we are really headed even as there are private sector initiatives for active transport promotion and integration.

Reference on Bicycle Facility Preferences and Increasing Bicycle Trips

There are many references that are free for downloading. These include the latest publications from the National Academies Press that includes outputs from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. I am sharing here and posting also as a reference for me to return to a new publication from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program:

NCHRP Research Report 941: Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips by Watkins, Clark, Mokhtarian, Circella, Handy and Kendall.

https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25792/bicyclist-facility-preferences-and-effects-on-increasing-bicycle-trips?utm_source=NASEM+News+and+Publications&utm_campaign=79720e1f2f-NAP_mail_new_2020_05_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&goal=0_96101de015-79720e1f2f-106035917&mc_cid=79720e1f2f&mc_eid=ac92e6afc0

The research was supported by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…

A little bit of history – on how the US interstate highway system came to be

Here’s one of those quick shares that I usually post here. I am a bit of a history buff and mixing that with transport will likely lead to a post like this. Here is a short article about an event in the history of the US Army that happened 100 years ago:

editor@aashto.org (2019) Celebrating Highway History: The US Army’s 1919 Cross-Country Convoy, aashto.org, https://aashtojournal.org/2019/07/12/celebrating-highway-history-the-u-s-armys-1919-cross-country-convoy/ [Last accessed: July 12, 2019]

The article was particularly interesting for me because of two items: the road conditions and the man behind the US inter-state highway system. It took them a little over 2 months to cross the continental US because of poor road conditions. Many people have no sense of history and appreciation of what has been accomplished over the years and how difficult it was to travel at the time. I haven’t done the cross country trip but I have close friends who’ve done it and are thankful for the generally good roads they could use for the experiential road trip. Meanwhile, the person in the article – then Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower – is a man who made his mark in history at first as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the European Theater in World War 2, who would later on become President of the US. I read elsewhere that the US interstate highway system was designed so aircraft may use them as runways in cases when the US were at war and the enemy had bombed their airports and airfields (just like what the Japanese did in the Pacific).

Do we have similar accounts for our roads and bridges in the Philippines? Were there key persons who may or may not be larger than life figures instrumental in developing our road infrastructure with their vision and leadership (Marcos doesn’t count because of his bogus military record and corrupt regime)? It would be nice to compile these and perhaps it should be a collaboration between the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Historical Commission (NHC). They could even get the history departments of local universities involved for us to understand the evolution of transportation in this country.

Build, build, build, and the cost of pursuing legacies among our leaders

Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?

We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.

Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.

That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.

Another look at the San Juanico Bridge

We have an ongoing project with the City of Tacloban and recently we went around the northern part of the city where many relocation sites were established after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). After doing our fieldwork, we decided to cross the San Juanico Bridge into Samar island where we were told there’s a nice restaurant sitting atop a hill in the town of Sta. Rita.

Despite the rains, we managed to get some photos of the breathtaking views. Among these were this photo of the bridge as seen from Samar. Leyte and Tacloban are behind the bridge.

It is said that the part of the bridge on the Samar side has that distinctive ‘S’ shape while the Leyte side is a simple ‘L’ form. Trucks are weighed before they get on the bridge and the DPWH maintains a weigh station for this purpose before the Samar end. I didnt notice any from the Leyte side. Perhaps this is because most loaded trucks come via Samar rather that from Leyte?

Traffic along the San Juanico is usually light. This is despite the route being part of the eastern spine or nautical highway that is also part of the Asian Highway network. This leads me to suspect that similar (but longer and more expensive) bridges proposed for connecting other islands are unnecessary and cannot be justified when compared with other more urgent infrastructure projects including those that wil address urban congestion and promote improved mobility. The latter are more urgent and meaningful than massive structures that fewer people will use and benefit from.

On the transportation aspects of Antipolo’s pitch for the senate to relocate there

I was browsing Facebook the other day and found an interesting post by the Antipolo City Government’s official account. They posted about the presentation made by the current mayor to the staff of the Philippine Senate, selling the idea for the Senate to relocate from its current location in Pasay City. There are currently two options known to us: Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City and Antipolo City in Rizal Province.

The Antipolo government’s post stated that it only takes 25 minutes between the the Batasan Complex and the proposed site, which is on land owned by the Antipolo City Government. This was probably based on travel time estimate using a tool such as Open Street Map. This though is inaccurate since travel times are affected by various factors and will vary according to time of day, day of the week and even month.

Open Street Map visualization of travel route and time between Batasan Complex and the proposed site for the Senate

 

Google Maps visualization of alternative routes and typical travel times

 

I took the preceding screen captures at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2017 (Friday). Open Street Map’s version can be misleading because it states a travel time assuming practically no traffic (~26 km in 27 minutes or about 58 km/hr in terms of travel speed). Google Maps version is better as it accounts for typical traffic during a certain time of travel (i.e., 10AM). Thus, there’s the more realistic 1 hour travel time for the same distance (about 26 km/hr travel speed). Google’s is based on crowdsourced data and can be customized based on the day and time of travel (e.g., 8:00 AM on a Monday). And I wouldn’t even want to get into the discussion of the accuracy of the claimed 40-45 minutes to/from the airport (i.e., NAIA). Again, anyone with Waze or Google Maps can get more realistic travel time estimates for such trips.

What would be the transport impacts of such a relocation. For one, employees of the Senate (and I am not even considering the Senators and their closest staff here) would have to travel from their residences to the proposed site in Cabading, Antipolo City. Where do these staff live? If they were from Manila and they take public transport, that probably means they would have to take the LRT Line 2 to Masinag and then take a jeepney from Masinag to the site. Line 2 would present the most efficient option in terms of travel time and cost compared to taking a jeepney or van via Cubao. I am not aware of any direct transport services for them although we can speculate that perhaps new routes can be established. The Senate has shuttle buses so these would also be an option for those taking public transport. Car owners will have to travel and converge along Marcos Highway. It is uncertain when the extension to Cogeo will be decided and constructed, if at all.

There is also mention of the plans for Circumferential Road 6 (C-6). However, the reality is that government is taking its time in upgrading the existing sections in Taguig, Pasig and Taytay. The Taguig sections are in a very bad state now after the onset of the wet season. Dealing with the ROW acquisitions necessary for planned C-6 sections is already a big challenge as the areas are already built up or developed (mostly residential subdivisions).

Having the Senate complex in Antipolo will have repercussions on land use/development as well as land prices and rent. It will be located at a relatively undeveloped part of the city and will likely encourage urbanization there. Antipolo should be careful in regulating land development so that the area will not become another Batasan with all the informal settlements and the low density developments around it. There are many opportunities here to develop the area into a showcase government center and that should include planned development for residential, commercial and institutional uses. The housing options should include affordable walk-up apartments as well as medium rise buildings like those by DMCI and Filinvest. It is important to emphasize that options for affordable housing near the workplace cannot be provided in Fort Bonifacio since land and residential unit prices there are already very expensive; forcing most Senate staff to live outside and away from their offices. Such a situation necessitates long commutes and contributes to congestion.

To be fair, there is a good potential for congestion reduction if the Senate relocates to Antipolo. Perhaps the concept of a “New Town” in the proposed site can be developed in more detail. But questions arise: Will this attract major schools, for example, as well as offices such as BPOs? What is definite is that Antipolo will not be the only LGU that will benefit (economically) here but perhaps much of the Province of Rizal, too, as well as the nearby cities of Marikina and Pasig.

Decongestion can happen if:
a) Senate staff decide to move to Antipolo and environs (e.g., Marikina, Cainta, Tanay, etc.).
b) A significant number of staff reside at the proposed dormitories during much of the weekdays, and go home only for the weekends and holidays.
c) Efficient public transport is provided for them and Antipolo constituents along the corridor to be served.
d) Sustainable transport facilities like walkways and bikeways be developed to reduce dependence on motorized transport especially for short distance travel.

In the end, though, I think it will be the Senators who will be making the decision on this matter. Will they be more practical, pragmatic, or insensitive to the consideration of their staffs? Abangan!