Caught (up) in traffic

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How my students see transport and traffic

With social media and the ascendance or popularity of influencers and the like, we have often encountered assessments or opinions about transportation and traffic. While there are those that make sense, there are more that are of the rant variety. The latter include the self-righteous who seem to relish bashing professionals and government officials while not being able to present much in terms of their own accomplishments. I am aware of my students (including research advisees) being aware of these people and I often see them posting their comments on topics, articles and opinions being shared on social media. For most, their comments and posts on social media show they’re being more informed than most, especially about the state of transportation in the country.

Here are some observations and comments from my students:

  1. One of my students asked me about my take on the public transport situation. I replied that it is unfortunate that public transportation has deteriorated the way it has for the past decades. The current state is not due to recent policies or regulations but a product of various policies, regulations and even trends over so many years. My student countered that perhaps the current officials must not make an excuse of the past in failing to act in the present.
  2. I always read about posts that anchor their arguments on the supposed low car ownership in Metro Manila. These are usually followed by calls for taking lanes away from car use for public transport and cycling. While I agree with the latter, I don’t with the former arguments. A student was curious about my statement in one lecture that we need to validate the numbers because what we see on the streets appears to be inconsistent with the notion of low car ownership. There are other ways, she said, to determine vehicle ownership other than the conventional HIS data. We could probably use the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) that is regularly conducted by the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA). This will show if people own motor vehicles as well as how much they spend for transportation.
  3. I asked my students to critique the plans and implementation of airports in the Greater Capital Region (GCR) also known as Mega Manila, and which is larger than the NCR Plus used to refer to Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite. I was not surprised about their assessments as all of them did their homework in the sense that they researched on information and data they could use for their critiques. Most were in favor of developing a new capital airport in Bulacan rather than in Cavite. And many favored the continued operation of NAIA but with reduced air traffic and a different role.

More on these opinions, observations and comments as I try to recall the more remarkable or notable ones.

Have a nice Sunday!

On the benefits of developing and investing in active and public transportation

Here is another quick share of an article with a very relevant and timely topic – the business case for multimodal transport planning:

Litman, T. (July 2022) “The Business Case for Multimodal Transportation Planning,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/117697-business-case-multimodal-transportation-planning?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07142022&mc_cid=03c159ebcf&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 7/15/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Conventional planning tends to undervalue non-auto mode improvements by assuming that each additional mile of their travel can reduce, at best, one vehicle mile traveled. In fact, in many situations they can leverage much larger reductions in vehicle travel, meaning that each additional mile of walking, bicycling, or public transit can reduce more than one vehicle mile … As a result, walking, bicycling and public transit improvements can provide much larger vehicle travel reductions and benefits than is commonly recognized.”

There is a box referred to in the preceding quote. I will not reproduce it here so I leave it up to the reader to go to the original article by Litman to find out how active and public transport can leverage additional travel reductions. Understanding these and the extend by which we can be independent of car-use (referring to non-car travel demand) will allow for a better appreciation, travel-wise and economics or business-wise, of the advantages of developing and investing in active and public transportation infrastructure and services.

How can e-scooters become a safer way to travel?

I’ve shared some articles and opinions about electric scooters. Here is another one that delves into the safety about these vehicles that have become quite popular in the US. Here in the Philippines, they still seem to be in infancy in terms of popularity and to some, are seen as more a novelty and touristy rather than a mode of transport for the typical work trips.

Donahue, B (June 11, 2022) “How to Make Electric Scooters Become a Safer Way to Travel,” Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-06-11/how-to-make-electric-scooters-safer [Last accessed: 6/18/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Dediu believes that in time micromobility will attain critical mass, as other modes of transit have already done, and that infrastructure will come as the user base grows. “We didn’t build airports and then have airplanes show up,” he’s said. “I’m confident, given the history, that we’ll see things like more safe roadways for micromobility vehicles.” “

Scoot-to-work at BGC, Taguig, Metro Manila

It is not really about the vehicle but the environment in which it is being used. One can say a lot about walking, for example, being dangerous but without touching on the why and the how its become a dangerous or risky mode of travel. It’s the lack of infrastructure or facilities as well as the car-oriented environment (that includes archaic laws and other regulations) that make active mobility and micro mobility modes dangerous or risky. If we can address these basic issues, then perhaps we can entice more people to use these modes more often and for the most trips we make everyday.

And don’t forget that these modes are the most fuel efficient! Saves you from the every increasing prices of fuel!

Suffering and salvation for transport and traffic

I shared the following photo on social media with the label “Kalbaryo at Kaligtasan”:

Cyclist pedaling ahead of cars queueing along the C5 ramp towards BGC

The label or title has double meaning. Conspicuous in the photo is the image of the Crucifixion atop what is a small shrine along Circumferential Road 5 across and facing SM Aura. The image appears to be a reminder or symbol of suffering but with the superimposed image of traffic congestion, alludes to the suffering endured by motorists on a daily basis. The “kaligtasan” or salvation part of the photo is in the form of the cyclist or the bicycle (I really have to explain that, right?) that offers an alternative or even hope for those who seek it. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that active transport in the form of walking or cycling is part of the solution to the transport problems we are experiencing. Public transport, of course, is touted as an ultimate solution but the reforms and infrastructure required are and will take time to implement, and these are already encountering problems leading to further delays or ineffectiveness.

The case for bike lanes

There is a strong push for more bike lanes to be developed along both major and minor roads. Many pop-up bike lanes that were implemented and permanent bike lanes constructed in 2020, mostly during the lockdowns, to address the needs of ‘frontliners’ who opted to bike to work have been retained and even upgraded to adhere to guidelines issued by the DPWH. While these bike lanes are not yet as comprehensive as desired and most are not the protected types, recent developments have threatened their existence and consequently the safety of cyclists (especially bike-to-work) and the promotion of cycling as a primary mode of transport.

Biker with a passenger – angkas is not just for motorcycles but can also apply to bicycles as well

We need to transform our streets where it is possible in order to take advantage of the increasing popularity of cycling that has convinced some people to select cycling at least for their last mile trips and hopefully for the most part(s) of their commute. From a transport planning perspective, we should also determine if these mode shifts can be sustained and perhaps increased with proper integration of public transport and active transport thrusts.

The recent removal of protected bike lanes or barriers that serve to protect cyclists using the lanes in some cities are examples of regression rather than progression. These come as a surprise as these cities have made leaps and bounds so to speak in developing their bike lane networks. Where did the orders to do so originate and are staffs of these cities communicating, discussing and coordinating these actions? Apparently, there are internal conflicts and perhaps, I dare say here, politics involved. It is also possible that within LGUs, the concepts, visions and plans for transportation are not harmonized or understood making one project by one clique unacceptable to another or others. I know from personal experiences that LGU traffic engineering & management and operations staff are often not in synch with their planning counterparts. This is not and should not be a given since both need to collaborate in order to address transport and traffic issues that need more comprehensive and progressive approaches compared to what have been practiced before.

LGUs cannot rely on strategies and tactics that are along the lines of “ganito na ginagawa noon pa” or “ganito na inabutan ko”, which only proves these were ineffective (i.e., why not try other techniques, methods or strategies instead?). Transformations and paradigm changes to solve transport problems cannot be achieved by denying the change, innovation or new ideas required for emerging as well as persistent issues/problems.

Back to the old normal?

As traffic continues to worsen after, The MMDA has reinstated the number coding scheme albeit from 5:00 to 8:00 PM on weekdays for now. This is in recognition of the worsening traffic congestion brought about by people returning to their workplaces and the easing of travel restrictions across the entire population. People are now moving about as can be seen in transport terminals and commercial areas (e.g., shopping malls, markets, etc.). With the return of severe traffic congestion, it begs the question whether we are back to the ‘old normal’.

Jeepney with 4 ‘sabit’ passengers

I thought the photo above pretty much describes how it was before Covid-19. The problem is that this photo was taken earlier today and we are still technically in a pandemic. Does the photo show the people’s renewed confidence in using public transportation? Or is it a matter of necessity (i.e., commuters having no choice but to risk it in order to get to their workplaces or home)? If they had motorcycles, these people would likely use them instead of taking the jeepney. I will also dare ask why don’t they bike instead? They seem able bodied enough to try cycling instead. Is it because their commuting distances are long? Or are there other reasons that evade us? If these are the same reasons and Covid-19 is not a major factor for their choice, then perhaps we are back to the ‘old normal’ and have not progressed significantly despite claims by various groups that we are experiencing a paradigm shift in favor of active transport. All the more that we need to urgently revisit and reassess how transport should be in order for us to transition to a more sustainable future.

On defining the 15-minute city

I have shared articles and briefly written about the concept of the 15-minute city on this blog. Here is another discussing how a 15-minute city is defined:

(February 8, 2021) “Defining the 15-minute city,” Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2021/02/08/defining-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 8/10/2021]

Here is an image from the article:

Again, it is important to contextualize these concepts. I share these as references and topics for discussion. Of course, I have my own opinions about this and I have written about those in previous posts. I guess in the Philippine context, we can include the pedicab or non-motorized three-wheelers in the discussion. These are also very popular modes in many cities and municipalities despite their being also prohibited along national roads like their motorized counterparts. It would be nice to have more visuals in the form of maps that show travel times for essential destinations or places like hospitals, markets, grocery stores, workplaces and, of course, homes. I assume there is at least someone, somewhere who perhaps have made multi-layer maps of this sort and attempted to related them along the lines of this concept of a 15-minute city (or perhaps the even older “compact cities”).

Another look at the ‘avoid, shift and improve’ framework

The transport and traffic situation during this pandemic has revealed a lot about what can be done and what needs to be done about transportation. Discussions about what and how people visualize their ideal or acceptable transportation system reminded me of the backcasting concepts and the tools. The following diagram is sourced from the SLoCaT homepage: https://tcc-gsr.com/global-overview/global-transport-and-climate-change/

Examples (i.e., non-exhaustive list) of avoid, shift and improve measures

Note the overlaps among the three? Do you think its possible to have a measure that’s avoid, shift and improve at the same time?

Note, too, that if we contextualize this according to the Covid-19 pandemic, these measures even make more sense rather than appear like typical, ordinary measures we have about transportation. The pandemic revealed many weaknesses or vulnerabilities of our transportation system. We are presented with the opportunity to address these and implement certain measures that would have met with a lot of opposition before but can probably be rolled out now such as public transport priority schemes and protected bike lanes. “Work from home” is not really new since the concept has been proposed and implemented before but not as widely as was required by the pandemic situation. So perhaps we should take advantage of this forced reboot of sorts for our transportation system to be able to implement this A-S-I framework.

On car ownership and car use vs. public transport use

Here is another quick share of an article regarding car ownership and car use vs. public transport use. It is written in the first person as a the author relates her experience and what contradictory feelings she’s had with the decision to acquire and use a car.

Noor, D (June 21, 2021) “Buying a Car Improved My Life. It Shouldn’t Have.” Gizmodo, https://gizmodo.com/buying-a-car-improved-my-life-it-shouldnt-have-1847106068 [Last accessed: 7/10/2021]

I think many people in the Philippines (not just Metro Manila or other highly urbanized cities in the country) have similar experiences. They really don’t want to get a car or a motorcycle but their circumstances and the conveniences have outweighed their initial stand. Why do we need to have our own private vehicle anyway? Is it because its difficult to get a ride using public transport? Is it because of the quality of the ride? Is it due to health or safety-related reasons? In that last question, perhaps the fears of getting infected by Covid-19 present a overwhelming justification for car use and not just car ownership.

We also have to distinguish between vehicle ownership, car ownership and car use. ‘Vehicle ownership’ is a more general term that should include both motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Thus, if you have don’t have a car but instead have a bicycle, you are still a vehicle owner. Of course the term is more widely applied to motor vehicle owners but we need to expand this and distinguish between motor and non-motor vehicle ownership. Otherwise, let’s just be specific about the vehicle. ‘Car ownership’ is not equal to or does not correspond with car use. It is possible that one owns one or more cars or vehicles but does not use them at least for his/her regular commute. People in Singapore, for example, have cars. The same for people in Japan. However, most of these car owners choose to take public transportation most days. In their case, owning a car may not have improved their lives considering the excellent public transport services they have and requirements for people wanting to own cars in those places. Elsewhere, such as the Philippines, owning and using a car may provide better transport options depending not the circumstances of the person(s), even considering the costs of ownership and operations.

Article on the new mobilities

Here’s a quick share of an article on what is described as the new mobilities:

Litman, T. [June 30, 2021] “Planning for New Mobilities: Preparing for Innovative Transportation Technologies and Services,” Planetizen.com, https://bit.ly/2U99Hlw [Last accessed: 7/3/2021]

What exactly are these new mobilities? To quote from the article:

“New Mobilities

  1. Active Travel and Micromobilities. Walking, bicycling, and variations, including small, lower-speed motorized vehicles such as electric scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes.
  2. Vehicle Sharing. Convenient and affordable bicycle, scooter, and automobile rental services.
  3. Ridehailing and Microtransit. Mobility services that transport individuals and small groups.
  4. Electric Vehicles. Battery-powered scooters, bikes, cars, trucks, and buses.
  5. Autonomous Vehicles. Vehicles that can operate without a human driver.
  6. Public Transport Innovations. Innovations that improve transit travel convenience, comfort, safety, and speed.
  7. Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Navigation and transport payment apps that integrate multiple modes.
  8. Telework. Telecommunications that substitutes for physical travel.
  9. Tunnel Roads and Pneumatic Tube Transport. New high-speed transport networks.
  10. Aviation Innovation. Air taxis, drones, and supersonic jets.
  11. Mobility Prioritization. Pricing systems and incentives that favor higher-value trips and more efficient modes.
  12. Logistics Management. Integrated freight delivery services.”
Cyclist along Circumferential Road 6 carrying a washing machine