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Article on people-oriented traffic management

Here’s a quick share on a topic that is also very relevant especially for local government units – traffic management. To quote from the article:

“Today, when the mobility of Filipinos is severely constrained by limited public transport capacity, …and when there is heightened pressure for private vehicle use, there is no better time to re-orient traffic management in the Philippines in order to prioritize inclusive, efficient and environmentally sustainable travel modes. The crucial ingredient is not infrastructure but political will.”

Siy, R.Y. (January 8, 2022) “People oriented traffic management,” Mobility Matters, The Manila Times, https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/01/08/business/top-business/people-oriented-traffic-management/1828593 [Last accessed: 1/8/2022]

The article makes perfect sense as traffic management in the country has always been car-oriented including the strategies, policies, schemes, measures and others that have focused on facilitating private car travel over active and public transport modes. The challenge here is how to bring this up front and an election issue at both national and local levels.

The case for bike lanes

There is a strong push for more bike lanes to be developed along both major and minor roads. Many pop-up bike lanes that were implemented and permanent bike lanes constructed in 2020, mostly during the lockdowns, to address the needs of ‘frontliners’ who opted to bike to work have been retained and even upgraded to adhere to guidelines issued by the DPWH. While these bike lanes are not yet as comprehensive as desired and most are not the protected types, recent developments have threatened their existence and consequently the safety of cyclists (especially bike-to-work) and the promotion of cycling as a primary mode of transport.

Biker with a passenger – angkas is not just for motorcycles but can also apply to bicycles as well

We need to transform our streets where it is possible in order to take advantage of the increasing popularity of cycling that has convinced some people to select cycling at least for their last mile trips and hopefully for the most part(s) of their commute. From a transport planning perspective, we should also determine if these mode shifts can be sustained and perhaps increased with proper integration of public transport and active transport thrusts.

The recent removal of protected bike lanes or barriers that serve to protect cyclists using the lanes in some cities are examples of regression rather than progression. These come as a surprise as these cities have made leaps and bounds so to speak in developing their bike lane networks. Where did the orders to do so originate and are staffs of these cities communicating, discussing and coordinating these actions? Apparently, there are internal conflicts and perhaps, I dare say here, politics involved. It is also possible that within LGUs, the concepts, visions and plans for transportation are not harmonized or understood making one project by one clique unacceptable to another or others. I know from personal experiences that LGU traffic engineering & management and operations staff are often not in synch with their planning counterparts. This is not and should not be a given since both need to collaborate in order to address transport and traffic issues that need more comprehensive and progressive approaches compared to what have been practiced before.

LGUs cannot rely on strategies and tactics that are along the lines of “ganito na ginagawa noon pa” or “ganito na inabutan ko”, which only proves these were ineffective (i.e., why not try other techniques, methods or strategies instead?). Transformations and paradigm changes to solve transport problems cannot be achieved by denying the change, innovation or new ideas required for emerging as well as persistent issues/problems.

Safe streets for children

We have been working with UNICEF and several partner organizations on a project on Child Road Traffic Injury Prevention (CRTIP). The Final Reports for the two pilot cities, Valenzuela City and Zamboanga City, have been submitted and represents over 2 years work including during the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The latter part of project implementation indeed became a challenge as we couldn’t travel and engage face-to-face or conduct field surveys like how we did in the first part of the project. Still, I believe we were able to accomplish much and most of what we initially set out to do. Here are the covers of the Final Reports we submitted to UNICEF and we understand will be officially or formally transmitted to the two cities.

The reports narrate the surveys conducted for 25 schools in Zamboanga and 41 schools in Valenzuela. Each initially had selected 25 schools but Valenzuela pushed for an additional 16 schools midway into the project. The SR4S tool developed by iRAP was used for the assessments of critical areas around the schools. The initial assessments were used to identify interventions to improve safety in these areas and recommendations were submitted for consideration of the cities as well as the DPWH where applicable (i.e., the DPWH has jurisdiction over national roads and improvements proposed along these). While some interventions were implemented, others and many were delayed mainly due to Covid-19.

We also conducted a survey to determine the commuting characteristics of schoolchildren in both cities. Since most schools were public schools, it was no surprise that most children lived near the schools or within the school district (which is basically the catchment area for these schools). Thus, it also came as no surprise that most schoolchildren came by foot (walking), motorcycles (riding with a parent) or motor tricycle. There’s a lot of information and takeaways from the data but unfortunately, we could get the bigger, more complete picture of Valenzuela City because they selected only elementary schools covering students from Grades 1 to 6. Zamboanga had a more robust data set with both elementary and high schools, covering Grades 1 to 12. The information derived from these surveys were also analyzed and related to the SR4S assessments. The commuting survey results and SR4S assessment are subject of two technical papers presented in the recent EASTS 2021 conference hosted by Hiroshima University.

What’s next? We are now drafting a proposal for a Phase 2 of the project. We hope to continue and reinforce and follow-up on the recommended interventions from Phase 1. We also hope to be able to work on the CRTIP data hub that was only partly completed due to the many constraints faced by that part of the project. I will post here from time to time about some of the outcomes from the surveys and assessments.

Tinkering with decentralization of public transportation planning, franchising and regulations

I recall an informal discussion my colleagues and I had about the then Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) more than a decade ago. We were comparing the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s and DOTC’s structures. DPWH has regional offices but also District Engineering Offices (DEO). These DEOs were practically mini me’s of the DPWH with the District Engineer calling the shots. Under him were a Design Engineer, Planning Engineer, Maintenance Engineer, etc. who were the equivalent at that level of the Bureaus. DOTC didn’t have the equivalent even though there were Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) regional offices. So if there were regional development council (RDC) meetings, the DOTC’s representatives are usually from the regional offices of LTO and LTFRB plus other offices of agencies under DOTC – Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Air Transportation Office (ATO now CAAP) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

I mention these because perhaps one vision for the future is to have something like Metropolitan, City or Municipal Transit Authorities similar to those you’ll find in other countries. And these should have the capacities for route planning and assessment that are currently centralized in DOTr (i.e., Road Transport Division). But perhaps these transit authorities should not only have road based public transport under them but also rail, too. This is especially applicable to metros like MM, the loosely defined Metro Cebu and Metro Davao and other HUCs that maybe ripe for some form of urban rail transport. In some cases, I would even dare include maritime transport as well since modes like the Pasig River Ferry should also be included.

This idea of decentralization is something worth considering as local government units build capacity and capability for public transportation planning, operations and management. Some are already capable though mainly concern themselves with tricycles and pedicabs. These two modes are not under the LTFRB but are arguable the most in number around the country. There are already best practices about their management including those that have been documented in past studies on sustainable transport (e.g., San Fernando, La Union, Quezon City, Olongapo City, Davao City, etc.). Many of these cities are highly urbanized and would need to deal with all public transport and might just be the most knowledgeable and experienced in their jurisdictions. National government should at least identify pilot cities where bus, jeepney and van transport planning, franchising and management (including operations and enforcement) can be devolved or delegated. That is so we can already have an idea how these local transit authorities can be operationalized. Many already have their Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP) so that is a good starting point for LGUs to establish their transit units around.

On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On tricycle capacity in the time of COVID-19

With the current rationalization and modernization of public transport vehicles and services being implemented by the national government, many jeepneys, mostly the conventional or traditional ones, have been unable to ply their routes again. Along some routes, buses have taken over but have been limited in the number of passengers they could carry due to physical distancing restrictions. But these are mostly for routes and roads that carry people between their residences and workplaces that typically are longer distance trips (e.g., more than 4 kilometers one way). For shorter distance trips, the more relevant mode of motorized transport is the tricycle. The conventional trike in the Philippines is one involving a motorcycle with a side car. Side car designs vary around the country with some seating 4 people (e.g., back to back with 2 facing backward) but usually with only two seats inside the cab. one or two passengers can be accommodated behind the driver on the motorcycle.

New model trikes include the models endorsed by the Asian Development Bank for the e-trike project that is laid out like a small jitney with benches seating 3 to 4 people on one side (total 6 to 8 passengers) and the popular tuktuk designs that seat 3 people at the back. With the quarantine restrictions in place, conventional trikes can only take one passenger inside the sidecar and none behind the driver. Tuktuks can seat 2 behind the driver but with a barrier (usually a plastic curtain) between the passengers.

 

Conventional or traditional trike with plastic sheet between the driver and the passenger (in the side car).

Tuktuk-type trike with plastic sheet between the driver (in front seat) and passengers in back seat. The back seat allows for 3 people seated together but due to distancing requirement

I have been informed by a former student that certain e-trike models (e.g., BEMAC model e-trikes) are allowed to carry 4 passengers, 2 each on the benches behind the driver who is on the front seat. That still means less passengers than they could usually carry. This would seem to be part of the new normal and will be the set-up for the foreseeable future until perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and people get vaccinated. Then, health protocols may be eased to allow for the full seating capacities of public transport vehicles.

On car-shaming and reducing car use

Here is another article I am sharing (re-sharing?). I have seen or read a lot of posts on social media about how we should not go back to the car-centric traffic before the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and its variations. I do agree with this point. However, I take reservation about how some people seem to be resorting to car-shaming rather than be more proactive and progressive about coming up with strategies and/or plans that I hope would be evidence-based or supported by valid data. As the article states, “it takes more than car-shaming to change car use”:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “It takes more than car-shaming to change car use”, Medium, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/it-takes-more-than-car-shaming-to-change-car-use-107e28ccb2cf [Last accessed: 4/29/2020]

A key message from the article: “People are most open to changing their travel habits during major life events, such as a move. But even a well-timed message isn’t enough.” Perhaps the opportunity is here now to reform our transportation system. But that will take a lot of will or effort from all sectors most especially the national agencies (e.g., DOTr, DPWH) and local governments who have the authority and responsibility to implement changes. These changes include the assignment of exclusive lanes for bicycles, public transport and logistics while restricting car use. There are also other elements that need to be in place as we transition into the so-called “new normal” and so there will be a lot going on among the sectors or parties collaborating or interacting for transportation. Hopefully, there are context-sensitive strategies that will be adopted and implemented in order for everyone to transition more efficiently and effectively. And as they say…life goes on.

On Pasig’s ordinance promoting and supporting the use of bicycles

I am posting a couple of LGU issuances that would be good references to other LGUs as we all tread along through these quarantines, curfews and lockdowns (or whatever it is they call it these days). First off is the Ordinance from Pasig City. The city has been in the news quite frequently for the very progressive, responsible and active handling of the situation led by its popular mayor Vico Sotto. His policies and programs are claimed to be based on data or information on his constituents that his team is using with much efficiency. This shows us how data analytics can prove useful in times of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The ordinance also shows a grasp of realities for transport and the so-called “new normal” that people have been talking about once we transition out of the quarantines and lockdowns.

 

I guess it begs the question if Pasig is also coming out with a formal policy or statement regarding other modes of transport such as tricycles, jeepneys and buses. They did allow tricycles for a while until national government told them to cease tricycle operations citing health issues while not really delving into details to find a way to improve people’s mobility during these times. Meanwhile, other LGUs specifically one that is close to the President’s heart has defied the very same orders from national agencies to restrict tricycle operations as public transport. I will post that issuance next…

What the DPWH says about the installation of ads including those masquerading as signs

So what does the DPWH say about signs and their installation? The DPWH in their Highway Safety Design Standards (Part 2: Road Signs and Pavement Markings Manual) states the following:

 

It’s plain and simple and yet we find a proliferation of ads masquerading as signs and entities such as the MMDA and LGUs not properly (or strictly) implementing the provisions of the DPWH manual. It is also sad to see practitioners actively trying (and succeeding) to circumvent this provision in the DPWH manual.

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.