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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).
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.
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.
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?
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?
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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”?
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.
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.
The research was supported by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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:
firstname.lastname@example.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.