Caught (up) in traffic

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What’s causing traffic congestion along Katipunan?

An article came out today on a popular online news site stating that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) blames the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for the severe traffic congestion that is experienced daily along Katipunan Avenue (part of Circumferential Road 5). The article may be found in the following link:

MMDA: LTFRB to blame for Katipunan traffic

Reading the article, I would like to think that the MMDA likely misunderstood the advisory from the LTFRB extending the “non-apprehension policy” for trucks that have not renewed their franchises. This policy is not the same as the truck ban scheme being implemented in Metro Manila by the MMDA and LGUs. The trucks using Katipunan Avenue during the prescribed period that they are allowed travel along this and other roads are not violating any laws or regulations. Meanwhile, the increase in the volume of trucks can only be attributed to an increasing demand for goods that translate into freight movement. There are very limited alternatives to Katipunan Ave., which is a truck route (note: most of EDSA is not a truck route), and there are few wide roads that can accommodate the volume of trucks carried by C5.

I use Katipunan everyday as it is the main road between my home and my office. I can say that traffic has worsened along this stretch of C5 and one can always see the long queue of vehicles caught in traffic along the northbound side of Katipunan especially from the afternoon to night periods. There are many causes of traffic congestion along Katipunan Ave. and during times when trucks are banned from traveling, it is still congested due to the sheer number of private vehicles using the road. C5, after all, is a major road connecting Quezon City with Pasig, Makati and Taguig, which host major CBDs (Ortigas, Makati and Bonifacio Global City).

In the mornings, much private vehicle traffic is generated by the exclusive schools along Katipunan and the northbound side of the road is usually congested from C.P. Garcia all the way to Blue Ridge. Meanwhile the southbound side is full of vehicles from B. Gonzales (across Miriam College’s main gate) to Tandang Sora. In the afternoons and evenings, traffic congestion is caused mainly by traffic returning from Ortigas, Makati, BGC, etc. to Quezon City and elsewhere where their passengers reside. Road capacity is usually reduced by the parked and standing vehicles that usually occupy a couple or more lanes along Katipunan southbound.

I guess the MMDA would just have to do a better job of managing traffic along this corridor. However, they can only do so much given the sheer volume of private and freight traffic using Katipunan and the limited options for reducing traffic over the immediate to short terms. Only an efficient mass transit system (including walking and cycling for short trips) and a significant mode shift from private to public transport can provide a long term solution to traffic congestion along Katipunan. Until then, congestion along Katipunan will continue to worsen and this will further be exacerbated by the full development and operation of the U.P. Town Center and other high rise developments along the road. Good luck to all of us using Katipunan Ave.!

“Pwede na yan” bikeways?

The recent clamor for bicycle facilities have led to several initiatives in Metro Manila and other Philippines cities (most notable recently is Iloilo) to support the demand for cycling facilities. While Marikina City already has a network of off-street bikeways segregated from motorised traffic, there are few other examples of such facilities elsewhere. The more recent initiatives in Metro Manila involved the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) establishing bikeways in several areas along major roads in the metropolis. I say establish because the MMDA did not construct new bikeways like the ones in Marikina or Iloilo. What the agency did was to designate sidewalks and other existing paths for cycling by painting these over. Unfortunately, these so-called bikeways did not take into consideration the needs of pedestrians with whom cyclists must share this limited space. And so few people use them despite a high profile launch that brought together government officials and NGOs including cycling and mobility advocates and enthusiasts. I guess the big test was really not whether advocates and enthusiasts would really use the bikeways (Don’t count on the officials to use them. They have chauffeur-driven vehicles.). Would the regular commuter use them instead of the roads, despite the risk or dangers posed by motor vehicles?

2014-02-11 16.58.11Commuters waiting for a bus ride along EDSA with suspended bicycle racks behind them. The sidewalks along EDSA have been painted red, designating them for bicycle use. The big question now is how cyclists will interact with pedestrians given the very limited space they should be sharing.

2014-02-11 16.58.18Bicycles hanging on racks attached to the perimeter wall of an exclusive subdivision along EDSA.

2014-02-11 16.58.46Cyclist using the curb side lane of EDSA – these people run the risk of being sideswiped by buses operating along the yellow (bus) lanes of this busy thoroughfare. It is quite obvious in the photo that there is no space on the sidewalks to accommodate cyclists and even pedestrians. Column for the MRT-3 stations are right on the sidewalks and makes one wonder how this flawed design was approved in the first place. MMDA enforcers usually appear as if they are only bystanders and seem to be generally helpless when it comes to managing traffic.

2014-02-11 17.15.47Workers cycling back to their homes after a day’s work. Many people have opted to take bicycles for their daily commutes even if they have to travel long distances in order to save money that would otherwise be paid as fares for buses, jeepneys, UV Express or tricycles. Note that the cyclists use the outermost lane of the road as the sidewalks pose many obstacles including pedestrians as shown in the photo. Some cyclists though want more than a share of the sidewalk or a lane of the road for their use regarding pedestrians and motor vehicles as nuisance for them. Surely, some pedestrians also regard cyclists as nuisance to walking and would prefer to have the sidewalks for themselves.

Cycling is in a way an emancipation from motorized transport commutes, and savings translate to money they could allocate for other needs of their families. While there are raw data for family expenditures from census surveys, there are few studies and publications focused on transport. It would be  interesting to see how much a typical Filipino family spends for transport in absolute terms as well as a percentage of their total incomes. Such information would be essential for understanding the needs of travelers, especially for daily commutes for work and school (other trips include those for purposes of shopping, recreational, social and others). Long commutes are associated with higher expenses (e.g., in terms of fares or fuel costs) and reducing such costs through shorter commutes should free up money for necessities like food, housing and clothing. Ultimately, this would help solve issues relating to poverty and health, which can easily be related to commuting behavior and characteristics.

It is in that context that transport systems should be planned and implemented carefully along with the housing developments. This underlines the essence of the relationship between transport and land use that has been the topic of discussions for quite some time now that apparently, a lot of people in this country, especially officials and the private sector have chosen to ignore or apply selectively (i.e., according to their own advantage and not really for the general welfare of the public). A transport system is not cycling alone, or roads or railways alone. It is, by definition, a network, a set of interacting, integrated elements and each of these components of the system are essential for it to function well. It is the interaction and integration that are the key elements that we often forget as we advocate one transport mode over others as if they are independent from each other. They are not and we should complement rather than compete in our advocacies for transport so we can finally achieve an efficient, effective system for everyone.

“Sharing the road” – bandwagons and fads? Let’s hope not!

There seems to be a lot of talk about “sharing the road” and the initiatives to have more bikeways. I hope I am proven wrong but it seems to me as if these current programs and projects are more of a fad. A lot of people (and local governments) join the bandwagon with little understanding of what needs to be done. It’s usually because of the good PR they get out of these that they agree to coming up with the token carless street or the haphazardly implemented bicycle lanes. More than PR, some cities are aware of the opportunities that come with such initiatives as international agencies and groups are willing to spend money to support such programs and projects. The question really is on sustainability and doing the right thing not only on initiating things or coming up with programs but on the substance itself. And by substance I mean that programs should also go into the details of designs. Too often, the “pwede na yan” approach is taken and this just won’t do.

2014-02-28 08.31.21The MMDA painted the sidewalks in White Plains and designated them as bikeways, in a way alienating pedestrians.

A vision for what people want to have is there but it is ultimately how the achieve the vision that needs a lot of work. For example, bills are being filed in congress to force the creation of bicycle lanes along major highways. (And mind you there are a lot of similar bills filed in congress that upon closer inspection actually have little substance.) The premise here seems to be that if you build them then people will start cycling. That was not the experience in Marikina, which boasts of the country’s only bikeways network that includes many off-street sections. These bikeways were built at a time when the perception and analysis pointed to a critical mass of cyclists in that city that was thought to be surely the tipping point in terms of non-motorised transport. Nowadays, the same bikeways are used by motorcycles and tricycles and most cyclists we see are not commuters (e.g., cycling between home and work/school) but recreational cyclists. It would take Marikina some effort to promote commuting by bicycles and much effort in enforcement to correct the misuse of the bikeways. The “new” bikeways in Quezon City appear to be poorly conceptualised as the MMDA decided to paint the sidewalks along EDSA northbound without addressing the obstacles like electric posts. Still, it is an effort to put NMT in the consciousness or awareness of the general public (thanks in part to media’s making these news worthy items).

Cities like Pasig and Taguig like to show-off Ortigas Center and Bonifacio Global City, respectively, as their faces when in fact the cities have not done much in their original cores. The running joke is that the real Taguig is not the areas to the west of C-5 but the old Taguig, which is to the east. This Taguig is the one plagued by narrow streets and the proliferation of tricycles. It was not so long ago that a former mayor imposed e-tricycles on BGC (where they were not suitable) while not doing much to lift a finger in the mayhem of tricycles in old Taguig (e.g., along Gen. Luna). As for Pasig, you just have go along the Pasig River and the Manggahan Floodway to see what it has accomplished so far in those areas.

There are no quick fixes to the transport and traffic problems our cities are facing. In the case of Metro Manila, much is at stake for the long-delayed mass transit projects. And the DOTC’s announcements of projects being formulated or proposed are no longer taken seriously as they have not delivered on any of these despite 4 years of this current administration. For other cities, it is important to learn the hard lessons from the experience of Metro Manila. There is also a need for a drastic change in transport and traffic policies in our cities. Iloilo, for example, has built an expensive bike lane along Ninoy Aquino Avenue (Diversion Road) and has marketed its Esplanade as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Yet the city has not acted on the clamour to revisit the overpasses along Gen. Luna (Infante and Jalandoni flyovers). The latest information I got from the city is that there are issues in the design of the bikeway along the Diversion Road as the surface (they used pavers) is not suitable for cycling. It seems, also, that the city and cyclists were not consulted by the DPWH when the bikeway was designed and constructed resulting in many cyclists using the Diversion Road itself for traveling. This last example is a lesson for our local governments and national agencies that they need to cooperate with each other and turfing has no place in transport and traffic if we are really serious about bringing solutions to problems we encounter everyday.

Some thoughts on the issues on bus bans and terminals in Metro Manila

I had originally wanted to use “Clarifying issues on bus bans and terminals in Metro Manila” as the title for this post. However, I felt it was too strong a title, and one that would be more appropriate for a government agency like the MMDA or DOTC, or an LGU like Manila. More than fault-finding and criticizing government agencies and local governments, I believe we should take a closer and more objective look at the issues (or non issues?) pertaining to the Manila bus ban and the opening of the southwest provincial bus terminal for Cavite-bound buses. Following are my comments on issues raised the past weeks about the two initiatives.

Issue 1: There were no or few announcements about the implementation of the bus ban in Manila and the southwest terminal in Cavite.

Comments: While the bus ban in Manila came as a surprise to many, the move was actually a consequence of a Manila City Council resolution. Normally, such resolutions would take time to implement and would entail announcements for stakeholders. Though we will probably never know the truth or who is saying the truth about the resolution and its implementation, it is likely that bus operators already knew about the implications but decided to call Manila’s bluff and play the media and public appeal cards rather than comply with Manila’s requirements for franchised buses and terminals as they have done before in other issues like fuel prices and fare hikes.

I find it difficult to believe that the MMDA did not do its part in announcing the opening of the southwest terminal. Perhaps people thought the announcement was over a very short period? Or maybe people didn’t mind the announcement and are also at fault for paying no or little attention to the announcement? If so, then the public is also partly to blame for disregarding the announcement from the MMDA, assuming the agency won’t push through with its initiatives to implement central terminals for buses. Next up will be another southern terminal at Alabang and a northern one near Trinoma.

Issue 2: Poor transfer facilities and services including a lack of pedestrian facilities between the bus terminal and transfer point, and lack of public transport like jeepneys to ferry passengers to their destinations.

Comments: I think it’s quite clear that the MMDA and LGUs are at fault here. Despite the construction and scheduled opening of the southwest terminal, there have been limited effort in improving pedestrian facilities. Such facilities needed to be in place prior to or upon the opening of the southwest terminal and requiring all provincial buses to terminate at the facility instead of continuing to Metro Manila. People-friendly facilities could have helped people in adjusting to the new policy though walking from 100 to 200 meters is certainly not for all, especially during this rainy season. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) would have specific needs that could have been addressed from day one of operation of the terminal. One approach to “bridge the gap” between the terminal and where people could take city bus and jeepney rides could have been to modify some city bus and jeepney routes to make these closer to the terminal. Ideally, the terminal could have been an intermodal facility providing efficient, seamless transfers between modes of transport.

In the case of Manila, the jeepneys were already there with routes overlapping with buses but their numbers and capacity could not cope with the demand from the buses. Since the main objective of Manila was to weed out colorum buses, it could have coordinated with the LTFRB to check the registration and franchises of buses rather than generalizing among all buses. Perhaps Manila just wanted to make a big statement? But then this was at the expense of the riding public, which obviously got the attention of many including the media. Coordination among agencies and LGUs, however, has not been a strong suit for these agencies, and this thought leads us to the next issue.

Issue 3: Lack of coordination among LGUs and agencies in implementing transport schemes.

Comments: This issue is an enduring one and has been the topic of discussions, arguments and various fora for as long as we can remember. On one hand, the DOTC and the LTFRB should provide guidelines and guidance to local governments on transport planning and services. The agencies should be proactive in their engagement of LGUs in order to optimize transport services under the jurisdiction of national agencies and local governments. On the other hand, LGUs must accept the fact that most if not all of them are ill equipped or do not have the capacity nor capability to do transport planning much less addressing issues regarding public transport. Citing the Local Government Code and its devolution of local transport to LGUs everytime there’s a transport issue certainly won’t help LGUs solve their problems.

Issue 4: Terminals required for city buses in Manila.

Comments: There should be a terminal for city buses in Manila but not a terminal for each company. There should only be one or maybe two terminals where buses can make stops prior to making the turnaround for the return trip. There is actually a terminal in Manila, which the city can start with for city buses. This is the one just beside the Metropolitan Theater and near City Hall, which can be utilized by city buses. It is also close to the LRT Line 1 Central Station so the facility can be developed as a good intermodal terminal for land transport.

Issue 5: Colorum or illegal public transport vehicles in Manila

Comments: This is actually a problem not just for Manila but for the rest of Metropolitan Manila and the rest of the country. The colorum problem is there for both conventional and paratransit services as there are illegal buses, jeepneys, UV express, multicabs, taxis, tricycles and pedicabs everywhere. Many of these are allegedly being tolerated by national agencies and local governments with many allegedly being fielded or owned by public transport operators themselves.

In most cases, the best time to evaluate a traffic policy or scheme is NOT during its first days or weeks of implementation but after a significant time, say at least a month, after it was implemented. This is because the stakeholders, the people involved would take some time to adjust to any scheme or policy being implemented. This adjustment period will vary according to the magnitude or scope of the scheme/policy and can be quite “painful” to many who have gotten used to the old ways. Usually, a lot of comments and criticisms are quite emotional but it is clear that the collective sentiment is the result years or decades of poor transport services and fumbling by government agencies. Transport in Metro Manila is already quite complicated with routes overlapping and services competing with each other for the same passengers. Perhaps it is time to simplify transport while also in the process of optimizing and rationalizing services. I have written about this in this previous post.

More transport issues in Manila will come about should the city train its attention on other modes of transport including jeepneys, UV express vehicles, tricycles, pedicabs and kuligligs. If the city is really intent on reforming transport services within its jurisdiction, it should consider the needs of all stakeholders and especially and particularly the riding public. Transport should be inclusive, people-friendly as well as environment-friendly and there are many good practices in other cities that Manila could refer to and study for adaption and adoption for the city. If it is successful in improving transport, then perhaps Manila could be the country’s model for transformation from being the “Gates of Hell” to being a “Portal to Heaven” to residents and visitors alike.