Caught (up) in traffic

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Responding to the transport impacts of road crashes

Last March 9, traffic was terrible along Marcos Highway and roads connecting to it including Imelda Avenue and Sumulong Highway due to a truck that slammed into the scaffolding of the Line 2  Extension across the Sta. Lucia Mall, and barely missing the newly constructed column supporting the girders and elevated tracks of Line 2.

[Photo not mine but sent by an officemate who was glad to have taken his motorcycle that day instead of commuting by car.]

Following are comments I captured from Waze as I tried to get information about the traffic situation:

It is very clear from travelers’ comments that most were frustrated and many were angry about what seemed to be a very slow response from authorities in clearing the crash site and getting traffic to move faster. I myself wondered how a crash like this with its impacts manifesting in severe congestion along major roads was not dealt with as urgently as possible by so many entities that were not without capacity to act decisively. The front liner should have been the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and there were at least four local government units directly affected by the congestion: Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo. Surely, these LGUs could have done more if the MMDA couldn’t, in order to resolve the problem? If the availability of heavy equipment was an issue, weren’t there available equipment from Line 2 contractor, DMCI, or perhaps from the construction sites nearby (Ayala is constructing a huge mall near the area.)? Surely, they could lend a payloader or mobile crane that can remove the truck or at least help unblock the area?

I finally decided to turn back and work from home instead that day. Later, I learned that authorities had to stop traffic along Marcos Highway around 11:00 AM in order to tow the truck and clear the area for traffic to normalize. I hope this serves as a lesson in coordination among government entities and that future incidents like this will not results in a “carmaggedon” like Friday’s congestion. One thing that also became obvious is that travelers passing the area are all dependent on road-based transport and the primary reason why a lot of people were affected by the crash. The expanded operations of the Line 2, whenever that will be, will surely change transport in these areas and for the better.

Where exactly will the Line 2 Extension stations be?

A good friend asked me about where the two additional stations of the Line 2 Extension will be. Most articles state that there will be a station at Masinag and at Emerald but since work on the stations has not commenced then many are still speculating on the final locations and how the station will be laid out with respect to the elevated tracks. However, if you look closely, you will see something like a hint to where the stations and their platforms will be laid out. Following are two photos; each showing features of the elevated tracks that taper off at what looks like the start and end points for the stations.

emerald-sta-l2Future Emerald Station in front of Robinsons Metro East?

masinag-sta-l2Future Masinag Station across SM City Masinag

Another observation and particularly at Masinag is how tall the structure seems to be. The platforms appear to be already at the 4th level if you compare the elevated tracks to the pedestrian overpass that represents the 2nd level. It seems that the Masinag Station will be quite a tall one and invites more questions from observers especially prospective and current users of Line 2. Perhaps it will be 4-storey building with commercial spaces for shops and restaurants? How massive will this structure be? Will there be a  connection with SM other than via the existing pedestrian overpass? How will the inter-modal needs be addressed by the station design? Will there be more parking or maybe park-and-ride facilities? Hopefully, these questions can be answered soon.

Updates on the Line 2 Extension: What’s next?

Marcos Highway is part of my regular commuting route and so I have been able to observe the progress of the construction of the elevated tracks for the extension of Line 2. The contractor, DMCI, is nearing the completion of their part of the project. Unfortunately, the stations and the electrical/power systems for the extension have not been bidded out by the DOTr and so there are not a few doubts whether the extension will be operational by 3rd quarter of 2017, which is the original completion date for the whole project. The construction of the two stations alone are expected to take some time and also will have a big impact on transport and traffic despite the construction sites being more concentrated around the stations at Emerald and Masinag. Here are a couple of photos showing what it looks like along Marcos Highway.

line-2-ext-17jan2017DMCI has almost completed clearing the stretch of Santolan to Masinag of their equipment. The barriers that delineated their work space are mostly gone, freeing up a lane each along either side of Marcos Highway. This has eased traffic along this major thoroughfare connecting Metro Manila to the east.

img_3823The pedestrian overpass across Vermont Royale has been retrofitted so the center section passes under the Line 2’s structure.

Timing is of the essence for the two additional stations of Line 2. As I said, the projected completion and start of operations was 3rd quarter of 2017. Of course, the last quarter of this year would still be most welcome but further delays mean more losses on the part of commuters and, overall, the government. Perhaps it was a mistake for the previous administration to have not included the stations in the package that DMCI eventually got and now has almost completed? Maybe the current administration should expedite the remaining parts of the Line 2 extension. This should prove how serious the current government is with its promises for better public transport (i.e., mass transport).

Road and drainage works along Soliven Avenue, Antipolo City

Traffic has been quite terrible for people living along the Marcos Highway corridor and it doesn’t help that one option via Marikina is also currently congested. I am talking about the stretch of Sumulong Highway between Masinag and Soliven Avenue, which is currently being rehabilitated with drainage and pavement works. The work seems to be progressing but not as fast as most commuters would want it to be. Complicating things are more serious road and drainage works along the Antipolo section of Soliven Avenue. This has rendered the street to become one-way and from what I have seen, work here is proceeding much more slowly (perhaps excruciatingly for those residing or working along this stretch). Following are photos I took of Soliven Avenue from the intersection with Sumulong Highway to the border with Marikina City where Soliven Ave. becomes Lilac Street. I won’t put any labels anymore and let the photos speak for themselves.

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Hopefully, these road and drainage works can be completed very soon and would allow for the alleviation of traffic along these roads and the alternate route between Antipolo and Quezon City via Marikina. Such will also help ease congestion along Marcos Highway.

Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

Line 2 to be transformed into a BRT? Definitely not a good idea!

There are news reports stating that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is considering replacing the LRT Line 2 with a BRT instead. I think this is not something worth considering at this point since the construction of the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is already underway. Also, there is the fact that Line 2 is the only heavy rail system among the three LRT/MRT lines in Metro Manila. It has the potential to have the highest capacity among the three as well as the potential to have the highest ridership especially after the extension is complete and the two additional stations are operational.

With lots of people requiring public transport beyond Masinag, the question is not whether to convert Line 2 into a BRT but instead what services can be provided for a more efficient system for Rizal and Marikina. I took the following photos along my commute from Antipolo to Quezon City. Note the number of people waiting for public transport along Marcos Highway.

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These are people who would typically take jeepneys or UV Express for their commutes. It is obvious from my regular observations that jeepneys and UV Express cannot cover the demand for public transportation and my opinion is that it is high time to introduce a higher capacity and more efficient mode in order to encourage people to keep taking public transport and to encourage those taking private transport to shift to PT.

A BRT service can be connected to Line 2. Since the Line 2 extension to Masinag is scheduled to be completed next year and be operational by third quarter of 2017, a bus service can already be piloted between Santolan and several end points. Four for consideration would be Cogeo, Antipolo Simbahan, Marikina and Cainta.

  • Cogeo should be a no-brainer given that there is already demand there and this is growing rapidly with all the subdivisions being developed in this area.
  • For Antipolo Simbahan, perhaps the final stop need not be at the shrine but at Robinsons Antipolo.
  • For Marikina, there can be three lines – one branching from Ligaya where there is a major Ayala development, a second at Gil Fernando and another at Masinag. These may terminate at the city center, perhaps in the vicinity of the Rodriguez Sports Complex, which is near the Marikina City Hall and public market.
  • The last line could traverse Felix Avenue (Imelda Avenue) and may terminate at Cainta Junction where commuters can transfer to transport along Ortigas Avenue Extension.

Surely, pilot services can be provided where limited stops or express services can be experimented on to see what clicks in terms of ridership. It would be nice to get feedback about such services and hopefully there will be champions for these bus services. Note that such services terminating at Santolan means that there should be terminal facilities in that area. Former MMDA Chair and now Marikina Congressman Bayani Fernando has developed an area precisely for an eastern transport terminal and so bus services present a good opportunity for this terminal to be a busy one. Maybe BF can champion these bus services? And perhaps the Antipolo and Cainta (paging Mayors Ynares and Nieto!) can also push for these services as commuters from these would stand to benefit the most from a good transport system.

Eastern transport terminal in Marikina City

I noticed the roadworks near SM Marikina beneath the Marcos Highway Bridge. These are part of what is being developed as an Eastern Transport Terminal. Although there is a sign there announcing the location as a terminal it is more a garage for UV Express vehicles and jeepneys that eventually proceed to the LRT Line 2 Santolan Station to get passengers.

The terminal is a pet project of former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Bayani Fernando or BF. His company’s and his name is on a couple of signs proclaiming he gets it done. BF is now a newly minted congressman, having won the seat for the First District of Marikina City. In an upset of sorts, the former congressman who vacated this seat (after the maximum 3 terms), Marcelino ‘Marcy’ Teodoro, defeated incumbent mayor Del De Guzman who was running for a 3rd and final term. The development of the terminal actual started during BF’s stint as MMDA Chair where he conceptualized a terminal near SM Marikina and Santolan Station. Unfortunately, it did not materialize as he had planned with Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) flooding the area (and devastating much of Metro Manila and neighboring areas) and BF eventually exiting the MMDA to run for Vice President the following year.

The terminal will probably be completed but there are currently few public transport including provincial routes terminating at Santolan. Most jeepneys, for example, are bound for Cubao with the opposite trip ends in various towns of Rizal. Eastbound buses do not pass through Marcos Highway but instead take the older route through Ortigas Avenue and Antipolo and Teresa. It would take some effort to re-route these or perhaps there can be new routes via Marcos Highway? Provincial routes to the north and south are currently concentrated in Pasay, Cubao and Manila. It makes sense to decongest Cubao and have some buses have their terminal instead at Marikina. However, that means loading Aurora Boulevard, C5 and perhaps the FVR Road (Riverbanks) with additional bus traffic. Those impacts need to be evaluated and I am sure countermeasures can be developed for this transport terminal to work.