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Inappropriate designs for pedestrian overpasses

There was a photo that circulated in social media the last two weeks showing electric and telephone cables coming out of the stairs of a steel pedestrian overpass. It was obvious that the people responsible for both the overpass (MMDA) and the cables (power and phone utilities) did not coordinate their work and so people had to risk electrocution to be able to cross the street at what is assumed to be a busy intersection. Such is an example of unsuitable designs and bad implementation of infrastructure projects; in this case, that of a pedestrian facility. There are many other examples of these flawed execution of projects including electric posts in the middle of lanes after road widening projects, short span pedestrian overpasses that are not utilised by people (preferring to cross at ground level) because the road was narrow in the first place. Many are a waste of resources considering they may not have been required in the first place if careful assessment were made about the situation.

The pedestrian overpass under construction at the Masinag junction (photo below) is a good example of what looks like flawed design. The elevated walkway is narrow and is located right at the corners of the intersection. The width is important here because there are many people usually crossing at Masinag and the overpass can become congested for users. The stairs have not yet been constructed but if past designs of overpasses like this is to be considered, the stairs will likely be steep and therefore difficult to use for senior citizens, PWDs and children. Note, too, in the photo that the bridge already obscures part of the traffic signals previously installed at the intersection. This means the lights would have to be reinstalled or transferred so motorists can clearly see the signals.

IMG09656-20141117-0840Pedestrian overpass under construction at the Masinag junction in Antipolo City

My friends at the DOTC tell me that it is only a matter of time before the Line 2 Extension project is bidded out an construction finally goes underway. Depending on the the final design of the line and end station, there might be a need to revisit the pedestrian overpasses along Marcos Highway. Hopefully, they don’t become like the overpasses along EDSA that had to be raised more due to the elevation of the Line 3 facilities including the catenary for the trains. I’m sure there is a suitable design for pedestrian facilities for crossing the wide Marcos Highway. It only requires careful thinking and creative minds to come together to come up with the appropriate facilities.

Discouraging walking?

We were looking for suitable sites for a traffic survey along Espana the other day and had chosen the pedestrian overpass across Ramon Magsaysay High School as a possible site for a camera to record traffic flow along the avenue. Data from the video will be used to calibrate measurements from other cameras that are part of an intelligent system under development and supported by the DOST-PCIEERD. Those cameras are currently installed at a post at the junctions with Lacson Ave. and Vicente Cruz St. The system will also utilise data from the ASTI’s flood sensors near Lacson and San Diego. What we saw on the footbridge was not exactly a shocker to us as we anticipated the conditions on the overpass. However, we all agreed that the conditions of such pedestrian facilities need to be improved significantly and in such cases as this footbridge, immediately!

IMG08944-20140721-1416Walking to the overpass in front of Ramon Magsaysay with the school on the right.

IMG08947-20140721-1421The overpass was partly flooded from the rains the past few days. The roofing only had the frame so anyone using the overpass on a rainy day would have to use their umbrellas for cover. The MMDA had removed the roofs of many overpasses to discourage vendors and beggars to set up on the overpasses. Spared from the campaign were overpasses that were secured by establishments like those along Katipunan with Ateneo and along Espana with UST. While there are no vendors or beggars on this overpass, it’s quite obvious from the photo that vandals have been busy defacing the facility.

IMG08948-20140721-1421Many open overpasses like this are stinky because they are (ab)used as urinals. Who knows about the composition of these puddles aside from the rainwater during this wet season.

IMG08954-20140721-1433The overpass smelled of poop and that’s simply because there were poop scattered along the overpass. Neglected facilities like this, despite being used by many people (its right in front of a big public school) to cross busy streets like Espana, are often used by vagrants as toilets. Quick thinking and action by one of our staff reduced the stink when he got some soil from the (also neglected) plant boxes in the area to cover the feces that littered the overpass.

IMG08955-20140721-1434NCTS staff setting up a camera while also taking up the conditions at the footbridge.

IMG08956-20140721-1435The stairways to/from the footbridge are quite steep. Such features need to be designed with senior citizens, children and PWDs in mind.

This overpass is located in Manila and is probably used by hundreds of students from the public school beside it aside from the other pedestrians that need to cross Espana Avenue. I think there is an opportunity here for the City of Manila and the specific barangay to improve the conditions of the facility and ultimately contribute to improving quality of life through the improvement of the quality of walking – the most basic of all modes of transport and certainly a strong indicator for a city’s health and vibrance.

The inconvenience of pedestrians

Walking is our most basic mode of transport and yet it seems that we have failed to design facilities that would make us walk more conveniently and comfortably. Many Philippine cities have been developing their transport systems that favor road transport and motorized vehicles while generally neglecting the needs of pedestrians. Metro Manila cities have been quite inconsistent in the way they deal with the needs of pedestrians (i.e., walking) and often pass on the blame to the DPWH. While that agency also is definitely responsible with a lot of issues pertaining to suitable designs of transport infrastructure, I think LGUs should also be responsible and take up the challenges with respect to design of people friendly facilities. There are a lot more local roads than the national roads under the DPWH. And so LGUs, especially the more developed cities have a bigger role in developing their transport infrastructure to be more people oriented.

IMG08867-20140627-0807Pedestrians can no longer cross at-grade at the intersection of Quezon Avenue and Araneta Avenue. Note the vendor in the photo (with umbrella) crossing counter-flow with his pedicab full of plastic merchandise. The cyclists in the photo are risking their lives and limbs in crossing the intersection.  Fortunately for them, there seems to be no traffic enforcers around to apprehend them. The “yellow box” has been replaced by a “red box” in many intersections including this one.

IMG08868-20140627-0808The pedestrian overpass at Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. as seen from the sidewalk along the Q.C.-bound side of Quezon Ave. The sidewalks are often obstructed by vendors but fortunately the overpass itself is not clogged by vendors unlike other overpasses.

2014-06-26 12.22.40This overpass along EDSA is the outcome of pedestrian crossings being only an afterthought (some would say aftermath) of the EDSA MRT design. It is an example of the “pwede na yan” (this will do) attitude of many engineers and architects when it comes to transport systems.

All of the above examples are found in Quezon City. That city is among the most wealthy cities in the country and there have been a lot of transport-related developments in the past few years that are more people oriented. These include the construction of sidewalks, overpasses and underpasses outside those typically under the MMDA. However, there are still a lot to build and may I say correct in order to promote walking and other non-motorized transport in the city. Quezon City and other cities can be walkable cities and walkability should not be limited to CBDs that are often (and again) passed on to the private sector for development. LGUs should not be too dependent on what the private sector can offer in terms of infrastructure for walking and cycling. There are not many responsible private companies out there who would commit resources towards walkable and cycling-friendly developments. Often they are tempted to maximize space for buildings, even sacrificing space for parking and motor vehicles, and ultimately at the expense of the general public. This is where LGUs, and not even national government, comes in to put things into order. However, the caveat here is that LGUs should have a plan to guide them in development and again, there are few LGUs that have this capability and capacity to plan and implement such plans. And here is where national agencies like the DOTC and the DPWH can provide help to LGUs given their resources and expertise.

On walkability

There is an increased awareness for walking and cycling these days thanks to the increasing number of advocates and the aggressive and persistent campaigns for people to take up these modes of transport instead of the motorised forms. In the Philippines, the joke has been for people to have the propensity to ride a jeepney or tricycle even for short distance trips that elsewhere would be considered walkable. Why is it like this? Are Filipinos really lazy? Or is it a matter of not having the facilities for people to be able to walk safely and comfortably? I believe it is the latter case that discourages people from walking. There is the fear that you can get sideswiped by errant vehicles driven by reckless drivers or riders. There is also the impression that you can get injured from uneven paths or incur unwanted exposure to the elements (e.g., heavy rains, floods, punishing heat, etc.).

An important thing for this advocacy for walking would be to promote good, sound design and not just making walking an afterthought for streets. I have seen and heard a lot about sharing the road but for the wrong reasonings and without understanding the pre- or co-requisites for successful programs for walking and cycling. I would like to think that atop the list of pre- or co-requisites would be a good public transport system. We currently don’t have that in Metro Manila and it is difficult to cite exceptions around the metropolis given the poorly planned transit stations where transfers between modes are inefficient and definitely not seamless. However, standalone examples of walkable places and facilities can be seen around Metro Manila. I feature some of them below:

2014-05-16 06.34.0430th Street in Bonifacio Global City is a good example of how roads in urban areas should be developed. Note the wide spaces provided for walking and cycling and the limited space (4 lanes) for motorised traffic. I just hope that the wide pedestrian spaces are not intended for future widening of roads for motorised traffic. During early mornings and evenings you will find many joggers along this road and around Bonifacio High Street – proof that the environment is conducive enough for such activities.

IMG07896-20140316-1737On the ground, 30th Street looks every way walkable with the trees providing the shade (and oxygen) to make walking an attractive option anytime of the day. 

IMG07897-20140316-1738Pedestrian crossings should be clearly marked and in the case of BGC, even those at signalised intersections are painted as zebra crossings (more appropriate for unsignalised crossings) instead of the standard parallel line markings. Unfortunately, whatever may be the case for these cross walks, most motorists seem to be unaware of the rule that once a pedestrian steps on the cross walk, then motorists should give way to the pedestrian. Motorists should also slow down upon approaching a cross walk – something not commonly seen in the Philippines.

IMG07902-20140319-0930Atop a typical pedestrian overpass – I took this photo at an overpass along C-5, which is an example of the more recent overpasses constructed in Metro Manila. Previously, there were a number of issues regarding overpasses constructed during the time when Fernando was MMDA Chair including slippery steel floorings, low railings and steep stairways (i.e., not friendly to senior citizens and persons with disabilities). This overpass has a more sturdy design and the railings provide users with a sense of safety. Stairs are also less steep than those of previous ones.

More on walkability in future posts!