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.

MMDA statement on the odd-even scheme

The MMDA released a statement today about the much criticized Odd-Even scheme for EDSA that was floated on mainstream and social media. I will not comment on the statement but instead just reproduce  the post on Facebook here:

What do you think?

Crowdsourcing solutions to traffic problems?

Some government agencies seems to have resorted to crowdsourcing via social media to either find or assess solutions for the worsening transport and traffic problems in Philippine cities, more specifically Metro Manila. This includes posts by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) about various topics ranging from public transport reform to travel demand management (TDM) schemes. From one perspective, the approach can be seen as something like a participatory approach towards finding a solution that is acceptable to most. I say so since the proposals or ideas come from what are supposed to be official accounts of these agencies and thus can be claimed as something that aims to engage the public in discourse towards finding solutions.

Following are screenshots from a public social media account and examples of the responses/comments he got for the post:

What do you think? Did MMDA do its part in analyzing or evaluating their proposal? I suspect that they did not perform an in-depth analysis despite the resources available to them. They do have technical staff and tools to do the analysis. Note that the agency acquired simulation software during the time of Bayani Fernando that they used to justify projects like the elevated U-turns at Kalayaan and the widening of Commonwealth Avenue. Their technical staff have also been training locally and abroad on transportation planning. A crowdsourcing exercise such as this seems more like a “trial and error” approach where those monitoring the responses/comments may opt instead to summarize the responses for the analyses and then determine whether to refine, push through or withdraw the proposal that was floated. I think the MMDA should do its part first (i.e., evaluate the proposal at both macro and micro levels) and then present the pros and cons of their proposal in both quantitative (e.g., improvement in travel speeds and travel times) and qualitative terms (i.e., improved productivity or quality of life for commuters).

Consultation on EDSA decongestion – September 24, 2015

There will be a public consultation tomorrow entitled “EDSA Decongestion Consultation” at the GT Toyota Auditorium at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 1:30 – 3:30PM. The consultation will tackle transport and traffic in Metro Manila but particularly along EDSA. The consultation will be facilitated by the TWG headed by Sec. Almendras who is the cabinet secretary put in-charge of addressing (solving?) the traffic mess in Metro Manila. The TWG includes DPWH, DOTC, DTI, MMDA, LTO, LTFRB, and the PNP-HPG.

This would be a good venue for stakeholders to articulate their concerns as well as offer their ideas towards alleviating transport and traffic problems. Invitations are supposed to have been extended to academic institutions, transport groups and other interested parties. Hopefully, this event will be a productive and constructive one. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game will not get us anywhere.

Capability building for traffic management in Metro Manila

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been on the news lately due to the perceived shortcomings of the agency on traffic management in the metropolis. The current administration has designated the Philippine National Police – Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) to take charge of traffic management/enforcement at six identified choke points along EDSA. EDSA or Circumferential Road 4 has been a battleground of sorts for Metro Manila, representing the capital’s transport and traffic woes with just about all the conceivable problems including severe traffic congestion, high incidence of road crashes and a malfunctioning rail line (MRT Line 3) along the corridor.

The agency was criticized when its head went to Cebu City with a team of enforcement personnel in an apparent effort to augment that city’s traffic personnel. Cebu City has its own traffic management unit in the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CITOM), which has been managing traffic in that city for quite some time now. They have been actually ahead of Metro Manila with their own traffic engineering center already integrated with CITOM way back in the late 1980s. The traffic signals around the city were already under CITOM when Metro Manila’s Traffic Engineering Center (TEC) was still under the DPWH. It was only in the last decade that the TEC was formally transferred to MMDA and modernised to the current modern facility beside the MMDA headquarters at EDSA-Orense St. in Makati City. People observed that Cebu was already ahead of Metro Manila on this part and that the MMDA already had their hands full with Metro Manila’s traffic woes. The joke among major cities is that they were learning about traffic management and enforcement from Metro Manila by checking what the MMDA was doing. They will do the opposite. These cities in on the joke include Cebu, Davao and Iloilo, which are all highly urbanized cities looking to alleviate their own transport and traffic problems before these become the level of Metro Manila’s.

The MMDA has the capacity for traffic management as it has the resources including staff to manage traffic around Metro Manila. It even has people to spare that the agency can deploy to assist or supplement traffic personnel in adjacent local governments (e.g., in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan). However, capacity does not mean capability. And MMDA clearly has limited capabilities despite the resources at its disposal. In fact, their traffic management group should be integrated if not closely working with their planning group. Transport engineering, planning and enforcement should go together, working cooperatively in order to come up with comprehensive schemes and solutions that address problems that are progressive in nature.

The old Transport Training Center (TTC) of the University of the Philippines was established to build both capacity and capability for government agencies that included the then Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG) that was under the then Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (PC/INP) headed by the then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. The PC/INP became the PNP and the CHPG became the Traffic Management Group (TMG) (later becoming the current HPG) but they all trained under the TTC, which became the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS).

The MMDA trained under the NCTS since the 1990s but most of those who did so over the years are now out of the agency and working elsewhere (including those who have migrated to other countries). The remaining training graduates have limited capability and some have quite a bit of overconfidence (this probably is a by-product of the BF era when the agency and its staff were basically taught that they were better than their DPWH and DOTC counterparts and everything they did was right). Mix this with what seems to be confusion about what they need to do and the result is quite amusing.

The MMDA recently established an Institute for Traffic Management (ITM) with the intent of providing training for their own staff and those from local government units. This is apparently with the instigation of their consultants who include a few academics  without transport planning and engineering expertise and experience yet dabble in it anyway. I think the ITM is not necessary at this point and it is actually not in the agency’s mandate to provide training programs other than to their own staff.  MMDA should focus instead on capability building. If not under NCTS or other local entities they can probably get the knowledge and skills required to manage Metro Manila traffic elsewhere and abroad. In fact, I would recommend that they explore programs offered by the Land Transportation Authority Academy (LTA Academy) of Singapore. These are professional programs that have been developed in cooperation with leading institutions in Singapore like the National University of Singapore (NUS) that can provide a fresh infusion of knowledge to the MMDA. But attendance in such programs is not an assurance that the agency can be better afterwards. The key ingredient would still have to be an effective and progressive leadership that is not under the influence of politics and is committed to no-nonsense traffic management even without the media covering these activities.

The worst traffic of the year on Dec. 19?

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) issued a statement a couple of days ago in reaction to comments online and offline about how transport and traffic have gone from bad to worse in December and especially in the past week. The agency warned people about the worst traffic congestion of the year happening today, December 19, and media immediately branded it as traffic armageddon. Reactions on social media varied from the hostile, desperate, to resignation about their plight for their commute today.

The worsening congestion this time of year is actually part of a pattern, a cycle of ups and downs in terms of person, freight and vehicular traffic. In our case in the Philippines, we usually expect traffic to be bad during certain times of the year and in many cases along specific routes or roads. During the Undas period (All Saints and All Souls holidays), for example, we expect congestion along the expressways and other major roads connecting Metro Manila to the provinces to its north, east and south. During the first days of classes around June (for most schools), it is also expected that congestion will be severe along roads leading to and in the vicinity of schools, especially the big private schools that generate a lot of private vehicle traffic.

December is usually the worst month for traffic because of the increase in economic activity this time of year as people travel more like to earn a bit more income and for shopping. The end of the year also brings about a lot of culminating or concluding activities for offices and even schools so trip generation tends to increase for all types of trips. However, traffic has naturally increased every year and this refers to person, freight and, consequently, vehicle traffic. And so it is inevitable that transport and traffic becomes worse every year unless a major intervention is made in the form of a mass transit system along a specific corridor.

I am not sure if the MMDA or the DPWH keeps records of daily traffic so that we can have a quantitative basis for this. The LRTA and MRTC should have data on this based on ticket sales and the tollway operators would also have data on this based on their toll collections. Such information can provide a strong indication of which dates are the most likely for severe traffic congestion and perhaps allow for prediction and the provision of ample advice for commuters.

Will today be worse than the past few days and will it be the worst day of the year in terms of traffic? Or will Dec. 22, 23 or even 24 turn out to be worse than today’s traffic? Perhaps the statement from the MMDA is a way of psyching people about what could be the worst traffic of the year. This application of psychology may make people more aware of and therefore conscious about traveling today. This may actually lead to less traffic to the relief of many people. Or this may be a way for the MMDA to escape from blame considering they did make the statement ahead of today and this manner of “I told you so” basically excuses them from the public’s ire.

The return of traffic signals at Katipunan

It’s been more than a decade since the MMDA implemented what was formally called the Grand Rotunda Scheme. To most, it will always be the U-turn scheme that was implemented all around Metro Manila. After seeing what seemed like success along roads like Commonwealth and Quezon Avenue, it was concluded that the U-turns were the answer to Metro Manila’s traffic woes or at least the part that’s blamed on signalized intersections. The perception by many at the time was that traffic signals were not working and caused so much congestion as evidenced by the long queues at intersections. This is not entirely false as intersections with in-optimal settings would definitely bring about congestion especially along corridors or networks where signals are not coordinated. It was, however, a generalization at a large scale and led to more experiments of opening and closing slots in order to determine which would be the most effective combinations. These experiments and their outcomes include drivers becoming more aggressive in order to maneuver ahead of others at the U-turn slots. Weaving has become the norm and in many cases have increased the risk of road crashes.

IMG09196-20140901-0625Traffic signals have been installed and the section of the median island has been removed across Ateneo’s Gate 3. This will become a three-leg intersections once again but I hope the signals will not favor Ateneo over through traffic along C5.

IMG09197-20140901-1339Traffic lights are already installed along the southbound side of Katipunan at the approach to the junction with Miriam College’s Main Gate. This will be a four-leg intersection as across Miriam is B. Gonzales Street that connects to Esteban Abada.

The signals are supposed to be operational starting September 13, which is a Saturday. Perhaps this is to try it out first during that weekend and for the MMDA to do some tweaks before the real deal that is traffic on Monday. But then how can you simulate traffic generated by the two schools in the area except maybe if there is significant enough traffic on Saturday? Did the MMDA or its consultants do some simulation using their computers and the VISSIM software they acquired many years ago? Or will we see more of the experiments as signals are fine-tuned according to the conditions along Katipunan?

We are hopeful that the signals along Katipunan will help improve the traffic along this very busy corridor. The results for sections of C5 from Libis (QC) to Ugong (Pasig) are promising and many people I know have told me that traffic has improved. Of course, this may also be partly due to the one-lane policy the MMDA has implemented for trucks. It’s never just one scheme or measure that will work wonders for Metro Manila traffic. It will always be a combination that will alleviate traffic woes in the metropolis. We’ll soon know what will become of traffic along Katipunan. We should, however, temper expectations at least for the 6:30 – 7:30 AM period during weekdays when traffic peaks in the vicinity of Ateneo and Miriam. The sheer volume of vehicles generated by the schools will overwhelm any system that is put up in the area. Nevertheless, for the rest of the day at least traffic flow should improve when signals are operational once again for Katipunan.