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Before Active Transport Week concludes this weekend, I would just like to share this collage from one of our staff at the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman. It is about the Master Plan developed for the three metropolitan areas in the country – Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. I will share more details about this soon including a link or links to where you can download a copy of the plan.
The project concluded recently with the submission of the Final Report but most important is the Master Plan document that can serve as a reference for further development of bike lanes in the metropolises. I’ve seen the Master Plan and many of its provisions and recommendations can easily be adopted or is replicable in other cities and municipalities in the country. Perhaps, there should be a National Master Plan?
It seems to be a no-brainer and has always been an assumption to many traffic engineering studies including those employing simulation to determine the outcomes of various scenarios involving transportation. The element that is traffic enforcement, however, cannot be assumed as something uniform across countries, cities, barangays or even individual road sections and intersections (yet we often do assume uniformity and a certain level of strictness).
Here is an article that reports on new research pertaining to how the enforcement of traffic laws makes roads safer:
Mohn, T. (June 8, 2022) “Enforcing traffic laws makes roads safer, new research shows,” Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2022/06/08/enforcing-traffic-laws-makes-roads-safer-new-research-shows/?sh=74b03c97591e [Last accessed: 6/10/2022]
To quote from the article:
“High visibility enforcement of traffic safety laws actually works. When carried out, regulations governing driving have a positive and measurable impact on safety by reducing dangerous behaviors behind the wheel that put road users at risk…
““Enforcement alone will not solve the traffic safety crisis,” Adkins added. “We cannot simply enforce, build, design or educate our way out of this problem. The Safe System necessitates a comprehensive approach for achieving our collective goal of zero traffic deaths, including equitable enforcement that focuses on risky driver choices that endanger all road users.”
Such research and articles are very relevant especially as incidents like the one involving a driver running over an enforcer become viral and bring to the forefront traffic enforcement or the lack of it (some will word it differently – like why many drivers don’t follow traffic rules and regulations). The discussion must continue especially in the context of road safety.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recently announced that the agency was studying options for a new number coding scheme under its Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). UVVRP is basically a travel demand management (TDM) program focused on vehicle use restraint. In this case, private vehicles, particularly cars, are the target of volume reduction. Here’s a graphic from their Facebook page:
The schemes are not really new as these were also considered before. Are the conditions new at all? Are we assuming things changed due to the pandemic? Or will there just be a return to the old normal in terms of traffic congestion? Here are some past writings on the topic including a 3-part series I wrote back in May 2011:
- From Odd-Even to UVVRP…and back
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Part 1
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Part 2
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Conclusion
I think many of the arguments I made in those more than decade old articles hold or apply to the present. Even with the increasing popularity of active transport in the form of bicycle facilities appear to have not made a dent to the transport problems in the metropolis. Many questions abound and I have seen and read comments pointing to the many transport infrastructure projects currently ongoing around Metro Manila as proof that transport and traffic will be improving soon. Transportation in general may indeed improve once the likes of the Metro Manila Subway, Line 7, Line 1 Extension, and the PNR upgrades come online (i.e., all operational) but we have yet to see their impacts outside the models created to determine their potential benefits. Will they be game changers? We do hope so. Will UVVRP be needed in the future when these mass transit lines (including others in the pipeline) are all operational? Perhaps, but a scaled down version of this TDM scheme might still be needed and may suffice if people do shift from their private vehicles to public transportation. The fear is that most people eventually taking the trains would be those who are already commuting using road-based public transport like buses, jeepneys and vans. If so, the mode share of private transport will not be reduced and those traffic jams will remain or even worsen. Maybe we should be discussing road pricing now?
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.
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. 🙂
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
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.
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.
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.
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.