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It’s not that simple: the math on vehicle sales and registration

I read the statement of a government official about vehicle sales, and the subsequent responses it got. He cited math and seemingly joked about not being good at it while trying to make sense of the numbers. It is not as easy as he supposes. And I think that is partly why we fail to address the transport problems. For one, we think it is just about road capacities. For another, it may be about public transport supply. These are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined along with so many other factors.

Housing, for one, (i.e., its availability, affordability and location) is among the most important factors that affect or influence how we commute. I have been asking the question about housing affordability in CBDs such as Makati, Ortigas and BGC. Lucky for those who already reside at or near those places but most people working there have to contend with expensive mortgages, leases or rents. How much is a condo unit in BGC, for example? If you have a family of 4, you certainly can’t and won’t opt for a studio unit just because its near your workplace. It’s obvious here that you also would have to consider where your children will be going to school as well as the workplace location of your partner if he or she is also working. No schools for now but imagine how it was and would be once our children go back to physical school. Such facts of life seem lost to many pundits commenting or offering opinions about transportation.

I think to be fair this should also be framed from various perspectives. For example, those vehicle purchases don’t necessarily mean additional vehicles on certain roads. like what one MMDA official claims. These will be distributed across the network of roads, and these will be operating during certain times of the day. Some of these vehicles were purchased by new car owners. Others as replacements to older or unserviceable units (e.g., upgrades). It would be nice to see, for example, the stats from 2008, 2009 & 2010. Thousands of vehicles were doomed by Ondoy in the greater Metro Manila in 2009 resulting in their replacements late that year until 2010. Then there was the boom in sales in the following years as people ventured into TNCs (Uber and Grab). The recent surge in private car use and what seems to be strong sales of these vehicles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is more out of necessity (why do you think people aren’t taking to cycling for their commutes as much as is desired?)

The question why people still prefer to purchase and use their own vehicles has not been answered in the most honest way because different people with their own agenda tend to paint different pictures of the car owner. In some cases, car owners are being portrayed as ‘evil’ while those taking the more environment-friendly modes as ‘good’. Again, it should be obvious that this is not a ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ discussion nor is it something that is black and white. We should pay (a lot of) attention to the grays, which can have so many different shades when it comes to transportation. No one really wins a “holier than thou” exercise where people on opposite sides tend to take hard line stances and close their minds to constructive ideas from either side.

On experiments and crowd-sourcing for solutions

If you didn’t notice, the government (national agencies and local government units) has implemented and successfully employed experimentation and crowd-sourcing to find solutions for transport and traffic problems. In the case of experimentation with traffic, this has been going for a while now but not at the level of those conducted during Bayani Fernando’s stint at the MMDA. At the time, full scale experiments were undertaken as the agency dabbled with the U-turn scheme. The ultimate product of that time are the twin U-turn flyovers at C5-Kalayaan. I say ultimate because it involved both experimentations and traffic simulation, where the latter was used to justify the U-turn flyovers over what was originally proposed as an underpass along C-5. As I recall, the model was not calibrated or validate contrary to the agency’s claims. I say so because I personally saw how the model ran and the presentations were more like demonstration of the software used. Meanwhile, the DPWH at the time made their own simulation models and did the necessary calibration and validation to come up with sound models for other projects including the Quezon Avenue-Araneta Avenue underpass.

Crowd-sourcing, mainly through social media is a more recent approach. It is not an entirely new animal because prior to social media, there were a lot of inter-agency committees that included people from various stakeholders (some invited, some not) who were the primary “sources”. The crown now is larger and perhaps more diverse. Whether this is a conscious or unconscious effort is uncertain. And this can easily be denied or shrugged-off. But in this age of social media, there are just so many enablers or influencers for crowd-sourcing each of whom have their own agenda. Some mainly to promote or prop up the current administration. Some to mainly criticize without offering solutions. And others to invite constructive scrutiny or assessment while also providing options to address problems and issues. It is the latter group whose opinions and recommendations should carry more weight if indeed the administration is fishing for solutions from the so-called crowd.

Consider the following recent examples (not in any order):

a) Closing U-turn slots along EDSA

b) Requiring face masks for all who are outdoors including cyclists

c) EDSA carousel

d) Resumption of public transport with mostly air-conditioned vehicles

e) Bike lanes along major roads

f) Public transport reform (in general)

There are others but the six listed above have been discussed a lot on social media after government picked up an idea or two about them, and implemented each seemingly without conducting due diligence or paying attention to the details including potential glitches. They ended up with mixed results, many very costly (I wouldn’t say disastrous at this point). However, in all cases, they seem to welcome (though at times begrudgingly or feigning resistance) crowd-sourced solutions particularly those from organized groups who are only too happy for themselves to be in the limelight.*

One thing is for sure and that is that there is still a lack of capabilities among government agencies and LGUs when it comes to transportation. Don’t get me wrong. National government and many LGUs have the resources and capacity to address transport problems. However, their capabilities are in question here because they seem to be unable to harness their capacities and resources to come up with sound and suitable solutions. In the end, they appear to buckle under the pressure of their own crowd-sourced schemes only to emerge as manipulators after they are able get what they want with the willing assistance of the naive.

*Some of these are true advocates who have worked hard to make transport better for all while others are the bandwagon types (nakikisakay lang) who are content dropping key words that now sound cliche at every opportunity. I leave it up to my readers to determine which are which. 🙂

On designing street for bicycles

There have been a lot of discussion both online and offline about coming up with bike lanes for Metro Manila. Already, there are examples of pop-up bike lanes in some cities while others have had bike lanes and bikeways constructed years ago (e.g., Marikina and Iloilo). While agencies like the DPWH and MMDA have formed technical working groups (TWG) for bike facilities, the perception is that these are moving too slowly (dragging?) and have not produced any gains in so far as design recommendations or guidelines are concerned. Just how important are such guidelines and perhaps at the beginning, context setting, to come up with suitable designs incorporating cycling (and walking) rather than the usual car-centric set-ups? Here’s another article I am sharing that argues for these street designs:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “The most important bike technology is…street design”, medium.com, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/the-most-important-bike-technology-is-street-design-401c94065b5c [Last accessed: 7/26/2020]

People biking to work along the Marcos Highway bridge’s painted bike lane

On the proposed single bus route along EDSA

A friend posted this on social media as news came out about the government’s statement on its considering a single bus route for EDSA. EDSA, of course, is Circumferential Road 4 and perhaps the busiest road in Metropolitan Manila in terms of volumes of people and vehicles traversing this road. Public transportation along EDSA is mainly by buses and the MRT Line 3. Line 3’s capacity is already diminished despite the high demand for it mainly because of the number of train sets that are currently in operation. Buses, meanwhile, are split among the many routes converging along much of EDSA. These routes are shown in the map on the left where you can see the overlapping routes that have various end points.

 

Of course, it is best to read the Final Report of this study. That way, one is able to see the overall context for this section that is part of the concluding part of the report. I recall that the consulting team from UP was able to map the routes of other public utility vehicles like jeepneys and UV Express from that time. Perhaps the DOTr still has a copy somewhere? The NCTS Library in UP Diliman is currently closed so one may have to search the internet first for a copy of the study or perhaps snippets of it here and there. Perhaps related to this is a proposal to revive (or maybe the right word is ‘resurrect’?) the now defunct Metro Manila Transit Corporation or MMTC that used to dominate EDSA and other major roads in direct competition with the few private bus companies during its heydays as well as the jeepneys.

On road crashes involving trucks

We were almost late for our flight the last Friday of November because of a road crash involving at least one truck at the intersection of Sales Bridge and the SLEX East Service Road.

Here was our first view of the crash site showing one streetlamp post almost hitting the pavement if it weren’t for the wires holding it at its position. Waze wasn’t much help as there was only a simple description of a major crash reported. How serious it was wasn’t stated. 

A tow truck and a forklift were already on site to help remove the truck that hit the post.

Pedestrians continued to cross the intersection with some glancing quickly at the sight of the vehicles involved in the crash and clearance operations. MMDA enforcers were in the area to herd people away from the area.

An enforcer looked like he was taking photos, video or both of the clearing operations.

When we arrived in the area, we only saw this truck that was apparently the one that hit the post. The damage to the truck indicated that it likely slammed into another large vehicle. However, that other vehicle was no longer in the area.

Another look at the truck involved in the crash

The post obviously was in a precarious position and effectively blocked the path of vehicles that were to turn left at the intersection. Many of these vehicles including ours were heading to the airport.

There seems to be a lot of crashes involving trucks lately. I say so based on my personal observations including passing by crash sites where trucks have been the main vehicles involved. It would be good to see the statistics of truck involvement in road crashes including the typical locations (i.e., black spots), frequency and severity of the crashes. This would correlate with the maintenance and how these trucks are being driven. Too often, we read or hear about trucks losing their brakes or drivers losing control. There are clearly maintenance and driver behavior issues here that need to be addressed if we are to improve safety in relation to these large vehicles.

Despite this incident and the resulting traffic jam, the MMDA enforcers didn’t seem to know how to go about managing the flow of traffic in the area and wanted to reroute every vehicle intending to turn left at Sales towards the airport to Pasong Tamo Extension! This resulted to more confusion and many not to take heed of the enforcer waving at us to head for more congestion after what we experienced. Clearly, this was a case where the motorists knew better than to follow errant enforcers. In these times, you wonder if the MMDA’s enforcers were capable of managing traffic after road crash incidents like this.

On Tikling Junction traffic (mis)management

There was an uproar among commuters when Taytay installed traffic signals at the rotunda at Tikling Junction. The junction is the intersection of Ortigas Avenue Extension, which continues towards Antipolo, the Manila East Road, which connects many of Rizal Province’s towns, and Leonard Wood Road, which leads mainly to residential areas in Taytay. There is another road that is close to the junction, Cabrera Road, that qualifies the intersection to be an offset type. However, vehicle coming in and out of Cabrera Road mainly are with respect to the Manila East Road.

Traffic signals as seen from the Manila East Road approach to the rotunda

Traffic signals as seen from the Ortigas Ave. Ext. leg approach from Antipolo

The horrendous congestion last Thursday was due to the settings of the signals that forced most vehicles to stop even though there were movements that were not in direct conflict with others (e.g., through traffic along Ortigas Ave. Ext. from Antipolo towards the direction of Valley Golf/Cainta and right turning traffic from Ortigas Ave. Ext. to Manila East Road). The results were vehicles backed up all the way to Cainta Junction along Ortigas Avenue Extension and SM Taytay along the Manila East Road. We were able to experience the slight congestion the following day (Nov. 1) when we descended to Tikling from Antipolo. Congestion was slight probably because of the significantly reduced traffic due to the holidays.

I thought, based on experiences at this junction, that the traffic signal settings somewhat mimicked the style applied by Taytay traffic enforcers when they manually manage traffic at the intersection. Too often, they apply the “buhos” system where they try to let through all vehicles they see queued per approach. The outcome of this, of course, is longer stopped times to all other vehicles from the other legs resulting in longer and longer queues that become unmanageable especially during the peak hours (i.e., when vehicle arrivals are highest at the intersection). Basically, what happened last October 31 was that the “buhos” traffic enforcers were replaced by the machines (i.e., traffic signals) that employed the same system only this time there was no opportunity for some flexibility for movements that had none or the least conflicts at the intersection.

Mixed messages for commuters?

I had spotted buses (or perhaps its just the same bus?) for a P2P service between Antipolo and Ortigas Center bearing what appears to be a statement for improving the quality of life of commuters. Many have been suffering and continue to suffer on their daily commutes starting from difficulties getting a ride to very long travel times. The term “dignity of travel” comes to mind, which a colleague coined many years ago to describe

P2P buses at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Place Antipolo

Whoever thought of this probably meant well; thinking about improving quality of life. The choice of words though may convey a different message as “driving” is in all caps and usually associated with a different, less appealing activity to sustainable transport advocates. I think they should have chosen “improving” instead of “driving” here.

 

This is somewhat similar to a much earlier post of mine showing SMRT buses in Singapore with ads promoting Uber and how it was supposed to complement public transport. That, of course, was a bit of a stretch in the city-state, which already has excellent public transport compared to elsewhere, and already complemented by very good taxi services.

Yesterday, there was a nationwide transport strike and depending on which side you are on, the reality is that we are still far from having more efficient public transport. But that’s another story and hopefully, I get to write about it in the next few days.

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.

The need for speed (limits)?

My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.

While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.

I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns,  high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.

Pavement distress along C-5 due to the truck lane policy

I frequently use Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), which is known by many names according to the MMDA, the DPWH and the LGUs it passes through. One thing I always notice is the deteriorating or deteriorated pavement, particularly along the lane designated for use by trucks. The MMDA had instituted and implements a policy requiring large trucks to use one lane of C-5 during times when the truck ban is lifted (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM). Smaller trucks are allowed to use other lanes.

The result has been a long platoon of large trucks along the designated lane of C-5 and this concentration of load on the highway has caused faster pavement deterioration for that lane. This is especially evident when the pavement surface is of asphalt concrete. Flexible as it is, the concentration of load has led to obvious pavement deformation as shown in the following photo.

For Portland cement Concrete pavement (PCCP) cases, I would presume that there is also significant damage and the distresses (e.g., cracks) can be linked to this concentration of load. This situation and the conditions for loading likely have detrimental implications on maintenance costs for C-5 and is probably an unintended consequence of the MMDA’s policy. It would be interesting to quantify the impacts of this truck lane policy, whether it has contributed to improve traffic flow along the major thoroughfare, and whether the maintenance costs have risen (and by how much) from the time the policy was implemented.