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Ortigas Ave. Extension choke points

One alternative route for my daily commute is Ortigas Avenue. While there are several choke points along this road, I will focus on those between the Ever mall and Cainta Junction. Congestion is also usually experienced between the Manggahan Bridge and Ever but these are mostly due to traffic interruptions because of vehicles turning to and from the many subdivisions whose access/egress line up along Ortigas Ave.

The Ever mall is already a given as a significant traffic generator in the area. However, there is something about its circulation particularly the flow of vehicles in and out of the complex that detrimentally affects Ortigas Ave. traffic. While through traffic along the eastbound direction should use Ortigas Ave., many opt to go through the wide driveway of Ever in order to bypass the choke point that is the exit driveway of the mall. Many of these exiting vehicles are jeepneys turning left into Ortigas westbound (their routes terminate here and make their turnaround via Ever’s driveway). These effectively block the flow of traffic along Ortigas eastbound especially in cases when the westbound direction is also congested (i.e., due to sheer volume as well as stopping vehicles across the mall).

IMG10279-20150312-1640Vehicles exiting from Ever and turning left to Ortigas westbound

Once eastbound vehicles are freed from the blockage of left-turning vehicles, they have to merge with significant right-turning traffic from Ever that includes buses and mostly through traffic vehicles whose drivers were ‘wise’ to have taken the driveway instead of Ortigas to get through the choke point. The situation results in another choke point right after the first one as the traffic along two lanes of Ortigas eastbound merge with the traffic equivalent to 2-3 lanes turning right from Ever. The total of 5 lanes of traffic squeezing into 2 lanes immediately after is a prime example of a bottleneck.

IMG10280-20150312-1641Narrow eastbound two-lane section – additional space should be expropriated to widen Ortigas at this section

Right after the short 2-lane section is a sudden widening of Ortigas Ave. in front of BF Metals. I have heard it said that this is the ideal road width for Ortigas Ave. considering the volume of traffic passing through this major corridor connecting Rizal province with Metro Manila. There are practically 4 lanes for each direction at this short section so its easy to project these lanes on maps to see what properties would need to be expropriated if the objective is road widening. (Of course, the best option should still be to pursue a mass transit system along this corridor.)

IMG10281-20150312-1641Ideal road width – Ortigas Avenue at its widest is the section across BF Metals. Vehicles here spread out along the many lanes suddenly available. But then people will eventually and immediately realize this is the mouth of a funnel. Note the sign indicating that vehicles are entering the Province of Rizal from this point.

IMG10282-20150312-1641The eastbound section in front of BF Metals is usually parking lot in the evenings. This is due mainly to the 4 lanes almost abruptly constricting into 2 lanes just past BF Metals. Compounding things is the U-turn slot located here where many jeepneys whose routes end at Cainta Junction make their turnaround. Turning vehicles are assisted by “tambays” earning their money by blocking eastbound vehicles to make way for U-turning vehicles.

Finally, there is Cainta Junction itself, which is a signalized 4-leg intersection that handles a tremendous volume of traffic all-day. I am sure that there are efforts for the traffic signal settings to be optimized but more often there is human intervention for traffic management at the intersection. Whether this causes more severe congestion is quite obvious to many travelers going through this intersection. Queues along Imelda Ave./Felix Ave., for example, can reach way past Village East even reaching Vista Verde on a bad day. This only shows that the intersection is already severely saturated and conventional traffic management or signal settings can no longer handle the traffic. Perhaps the next stage of engineering intervention for this intersection is grade separation or the construction of a flyover or two at the intersection. Notably, such a project should including strategic widening along Ortigas Ave in order to balance the number of lanes feeding into and receiving traffic from the intersection.

IMG10283-20150312-1723A view of the traffic approaching Cainta junction – there are only 2 lanes along the eastbound side of Ortigas and public utility vehicles stopping here only exacerbates the congestion along the road.

Is road widening the ultimate solution to Ortigas Ave congestion? I personally don’t think so. As I have mentioned earlier in this post and in previous posts the key is still to come up with a mass transit system to serve this eastern corridor. Yes, there will eventually be a Line 2 along Marcos Highway, the main alternate (or competing?) route to Ortigas but is is obvious that even with a railway line along Marcos Highway and connecting to Aurora Blvd., there will still be an urgent need for a similar capacity line along Ortigas. The buses and jeepneys can no longer handle the demand and their poor levels and qualities of service have given rise to a proliferation of UV Express and pushed people to purchase cars and motorcycles. Congestion can be reduced significantly with a mass transit system along Ortigas. Without this transit system, Ortigas will just continue to be congested even if the entire corridor is widened; except perhaps if it is widened like Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City. I don’t think that is possible and practical.

What’s wrong with Marcos Highway?

Traffic along the eastbound direction of Marcos Highway in the late afternoons to evenings have worsened particularly for the section stretching from Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City to Imelda Avenue in Cainta. It takes me at least 45 minutes just to traverse that section and then just under 30 minutes the rest of the way to my home in Antipolo. In addition, there is the traffic along Katipunan, which can be quite unpredictable despite the traffic signals now installed at two major intersections near Ateneo and Miriam. The congestion along Marcos Highway is usually due to several factors:

  • Rush hour(s) traffic – the sheer number of vehicles during the afternoon/evening peak is enough to cause traffic congestion along Marcos Highway. This is no longer for an hour but for a period usually spanning about 4 hours (5 to 9 PM). It’s become so bad that I am no longer surprised when I go home late some nights to find out it’s still congested at certain points (usually Santolan and Ligaya) past 9 PM.
  • People occupying the road – commuters waiting for a ride along Santolan, Ligaya and Metro East/Sta.Lucia often occupy not just one but 2 to 3 lanes of Marcos Highway. This drastically reduces road capacity. For some reason, the MMDA and LGU traffic enforcers could not persuade them to clear the carriageway or at least encroach only on the outermost lane.
  • Errant road public transport – loading and unloading operations of jeepneys and UV express happen in the middle of the road. This is partly due to the fact that people already occupy 1 to 3 of the outermost lanes of the road. It is also partly due to driver behaviour as many PUV drivers are unruly. These are also maybe because the enforcers are not doing their jobs managing traffic and apprehending those violating rules and regulations whether driver or pedestrian.
  • Major trip generators – there are already 4 malls along Marcos Highway (SM Marikina, Robinsons Metro East, Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall, and SM Masinag) and a 5th is already under way with Ayala constructing a mall at Ligaya. These will attract and produce significant traffic with vehicles generally contributing to congestion in the direct vicinity of the malls but spreading along all major roads. Unfortunately, Marcos Highway is one if not the only access road that these malls have.

A lot of people using their own vehicles live in areas served by Marcos Highway including those beyond Masinag and Cogeo. There are so many subdivisions and other residential areas in these parts east of Metro Manila that vehicles from these residential areas alone can cause sever congestion at Masinag Junction. But this should not come as a surprise given that there is no efficient mass transport system in these areas, which are served primarily by jeepneys and tricycles. Obviously, the quality of service of existing road public transport encourages people to get their own vehicle. And obviously, too, the solution is in a project that is considered “bitin” – LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan. The extension project has long been delayed and could have a significant impact on transport and traffic once it is constructed and becomes operational.

The past two weeks, I have proceeded to take C-5 and turned to Ortigas Avenue Extension on my way home. Surprisingly, traffic has not been bad at Cainta junction and I have only occasionally encountered congestion at the section in front of the BF Metals plant where jeepneys turning around tend to block traffic during their maneuvers. I estimate that I average just under an hour on this route, a savings of 30+ minutes from my original home-bound route via Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway. I figure that I will most likely keep using this route as traffic will continue to worsen along Marcos Highway in the run-up to Christmas.

Practicable road sharing in Antipolo

As there are increased calls for more bikeways, we try to look at some good examples of what I’d call “practicable” road sharing. I term it “practicable” because it is something doable or is already being done or practiced. I tried to find a few good examples of practicable road sharing to show that it can be done and usually if all road users respect each others’ right to use the road. This respect can be developed over time and requires some familiarity for each users behaviors. Of course, there will always be abusive or disrespectful people on the road including drivers of different types of vehicles.  Reckless or unsafe driving is not limited to public transport or truck drivers. There are also many unruly private vehicle drivers who endanger the lives of others whenever they are on the road. Then there are the motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians – all road users and also with bad apples or “pasaway” among them.

Road sharing happens everyday in Antipolo City in the Province of Rizal. Along Ortigas Avenue and Sumulong Highway – the two main routes to and from Antipolo, you will see motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians sharing what are mostly 4 lane, undivided sections of the two major roads. Antipolo is a very popular destination for cyclists so even during weekdays you will find a lot of people cycling up and down the mountain roads even during the night time and very early mornings. While many are recreational riders, many, too, are doing this for health. I would bet that a good percentage might be biking to work or school but there are no hard statistics to show this (topic for research?).

IMG08713-20140528-0722Motorists and cyclists “sharing the road” along Sumulong Highway

 Sharing the road shouldn’t be too difficult. However, road users need to have respect for each other’s right to use the road. I have observed many instances where one or more road user types are guilty of “disrespect” and tend to hog the road as if making a statement that “i am king of the road” rather than “i have the right to use the road.” Here are among my pet peeves:

1. Slow moving trucks or jeepneys hogging two lanes and not giving way to other vehicles to pass them.

2. Jeepneys and private vehicles racing up or down the mountain roads and overtaking even in perilous sections (i.e., those already identified as prone to crashes).

3. Tricycles taking up the middle lanes and maneuvering anywhere.

4. Cyclists taking up the middle lanes or sometimes the entire two lanes of any direction preventing other road users to pass them.

5. People crossing anywhere along the road especially at blind sections (curves) where sight distance is limited.

There are practically no pedestrian sidewalks along most of Ortigas Extension and Sumulong Highway so pedestrians would have use the carriageway. As there are a significant number of people walking (e.g., students, workers, and even joggers or walkers), motorists and cyclists need to be careful not to hit these people. The same people, however, need to be aware of these vehicles and should exercise caution, always being alert as they use the road properly. Ultimately though, I would like to see walkways built along Ortigas and Sumulong especially since there is already an increasing demand for walking especially during the summer months when Antipolo holds its fiesta and a lot of people go on pilgrimages on foot to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.

There is practicable road sharing in Antipolo because most road users are already familiar with each others’ behavior and accept each others’ presence and rights on the road. These road users are likely residents of Antipolo or nearby towns or regular visitors to the city. They are “nagbibigayan sa daan.” The “pasaway” people are likely the newer ones who seem to think that the way they drive or ride (i.e., unsafe) elsewhere is the norm. Of course, that goes without saying that familiarity with the roads and its users also breed risk takers who think they already know the road and have the skill and experience to drive like crazy. Here is where effective enforcement (e.g., timely apprehensions and reminders) and engineering (e.g., traffic signs and pavement markings) comes in to address the gaps in safety in order to reduce if not totally eliminate crash incidence along these roads.

The need for mass transit to the east of Metro Manila

I wanted to use a title stating “the demand for mass transit to the east of Metro Manila” but the word “demand” for me seemed a bit technical (I associated it with the supply and demand concepts for transport.) and would need some numbers to support it. So I settled for the word “need” instead of “demand” so I could be flexible (i.e., more qualitative) with the way I wrote this article. “Need” is a more pedestrian term that can easily be understood and imagined, and there is no lack for images of this need for more efficient and higher capacity modes along the main corridors to the east of Metro Manila. The main corridors are Ortigas Avenue and Marcos Highway, which have the highest road capacities among other roads (i.e., higher capacities than A. Bonifacio Avenue in Marikina, the Batasan-San Mateo Road, or C-6/Highway 2000). These are also the corridors along which most public transport services may be found. Such connects the eastern towns (e.g., Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo, etc.) to the transport hubs of Cubao and Crossing, which are major transfer points for many people taking public transport. Of course, there are UV Express services from these eastern towns that go directly to CBDs like Makati and Ortigas.

You can observe the crowds at Katipunan and Santolan Stations of the LRT Line 2 as well as the people waiting for their ride home along Marcos Highway. I have observed that there are also lots of people along Ortigas Avenue from Tikling Junction to C-5 who religiously and patiently wait for their rides to school, office or home. This happens everyday and this regularity seems to be a never-ending sacrifice of time and patience. These people do not have much of a choice except taking whatever public transport is available to them. Many probably can afford to have a car or already have a vehicle in their household. Unfortunately, that vehicle is not usually enough for their commuting needs and so they are captive users of an inefficient public transport system (there are some who question if what we have can really be called a system).

 

IMG08724-20140603-1814People waiting for a ride in front of Robinsons Metro East along Marcos Highway in Pasig City – these have occupied 3 lanes of the highway as they position themselves for the next available jeepney. There is a UV Express terminal at the mall and another at the nearby Sta. Lucia mall but these are not for the destinations these people are going to.

News that the LRT Line 2 Extension from Santolan to Masinag would finally be constructed was initially met with speculation. Such news have been circulating for so many years but no actual work could be seen along Marcos Highway to convince people that the project was underway. Now, that the soil test samplings have been completed, people are anxious about the actual construction of the extension. I think this is a project long overdue and the question that needs to be answered is if the line needs to be extended further, perhaps until Cogeo. I believe there is a tremendous market for this mass transit system along this corridor where a lot of residential subdivisions and relocation sites have sprouted over the years. The DPWH recognised this as a high capacity corridor and is already widening the road from Masinag to Cogeo.

Hopefully, the Ortigas Ave.-Manila East Road corridor can also have its own mass transit line. The regular bus services along this corridor is no longer sufficient and operations are not so efficient despite what appears as competition among 2 bus lines. There had been a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line proposed for this corridor but there seems to be no progress towards the realisation of that project. Whichever of rail or BRT would be the option for the corridor though, it doesn’t take a genius or too many consultants to determine the need for a good mass transit line along this corridor. When that will be is a question with an answer that is still up in the air. Perhaps the local governments of Rizal, especially the province, should push for such transit systems. The governor and mayors should champion such systems that will definitely benefit their constituents and translate into real revenues for their LGUs from the certain business that will come along these corridors.