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On walkability and walkability scores

I’m sharing a couple of articles on walkability and walkability scores. The first one actually points to the second but provides brief insights about the concept of walkability while the second is a more detailed article on the findings of a study on walkability.

Ionesco, D. (May 4, 2022) “Walkability Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/05/117075-walkability-scores-dont-tell-whole-story?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05052022&mc_cid=c04e3e4dc0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“if cities truly want to be pedestrian-friendly, they need to think beyond the sidewalk…”

The second article is from late April:

Gwam, P., Noble, E. and Freemark, Y. (April 28, 2022) “Redefining Walkability,” urban.org, https://www.urban.org/features/redefining-walkability [Last accessed: 5/7/2022]

To quote from the article:

“To create a more comfortable walking experience, our research points to a few steps DC planners and policymakers can take to increase racially equitable walkability across the city:

  • expand tree cover in the densest parts of the city,

  • increase nonautomotive modes of transportation in central areas,

  • reduce noise pollution,

  • support more equitable access to key resources, and

  • prioritize road design that limits the need for police traffic enforcement.”

While the article puts emphasis on the topic of racial equity, such concept can easily be adapted and adopted for our purposes. For one, it could be interpreted as being inclusive if one is not comfortable with the term “race”.

Don’t miss downloading the technical appendix of their report. This will be very useful to researchers, practitioners and advocates of active transport.

History: article on how jaywalking came to be

I am sharing this article on the invention of jaywalking. It is a very informative articles and gives context to the current situation where cars dominate streets and car-centric policies and infrastructure diminish pedestrians and walking. I’ve always said that history should enlighten us about how it was, how it came to be and what we need to change now if we are to attain a more sustainable transport system that will contribute to improving safety and ultimately, quality of life.

Thompson, C. (March 29, 2022) “The invention of ‘Jaywalking’,” Marker, https://marker.medium.com/the-invention-of-jaywalking-afd48f994c05 [Last accessed: 4/2/2022]

To quote from the article:

“It’s not totally clear who invented the phrase, but it was a fiendishly clever portmanteau. In the early 20th century, the word “jay” mean an uncultured rube from the countryside. To be a “jaywalker” thus was to be a country bumpkin who blundered around urban streets — guileless of the sophisticated ways of the city…
Ever after, “the street would be monopolized by motor vehicles,” Norton tells me. “Most of the children would be gone; those who were still there would be on the sidewalks.” By the 1960s, cars had become so dominant that when civil engineers made the first computer models to study how traffic flowed, they didn’t even bother to include pedestrians.”

The article showed photos of pre-automobile times in the US. Here’s a photo of pre-automobile Manila for context:

And here’s Manila during the American period but with most people walking or taking public transport in the form of the tranvias:

Chaotic as the scenes appear to be, these streets were definitely safer and perhaps saner than what he have now. The challenge is how to re-orient our streets and reclaim it to favor people instead of cars.

On predicting how new developments will affect pedestrians

I’ve been involved in a number of traffic or transport impact assessment (TIA) projects in the past. In these assessments, not much is usually written about the impacts to pedestrians though we make sure that there is a section discussing their needs (e.g., sidewalks, crossings, footbridges). Unfortunately, even with specific recommendations, there is no assurance that the proponent will revise their designs. The typical TIA in the Philippines is undertaken after there have been architectural plans already prepared if not completed. By completed here, I mean they are practically final from the perspective of the client or proponent. The exception it seems is a big mall chain that seems to constantly revise their plans and for which our recommendations are almost always considered and incorporated in design.

I am sharing this recent article on the development of a new traffic model to predict the impacts of new developments on walkers.

Wilson, K. (April 26, 2021) “New Traffic Model Predicts How New Developments Will Affect Walkers,” StreetsBlog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/04/26/new-traffic-model-predicts-how-changes-affect-walkers/ [Last accessed: 5/12/2021]

From the perspective of doing TIAs, I think that there should be a conscious effort of including the needs of pedestrians (walkers) and cyclists in impact assessments. Too often, (and I too am guilty here), there is but a minor mention of their needs and recommendations can be disregarded by both proponents (e.g., little or no change in designs to accommodate pedestrian requirements) and the local government (i.e., no push to make sure pedestrian needs are addressed).

On the tech side, there is a local development that can be used for counting pedestrians and cyclists. The TITAN project funded by the DOST-PCIEERD developed a tool that can count pedestrians and cyclists in aid of studies involving them. Such tools can be useful for data collection regardless of whether there is a new project or a TIA being undertaken.

On making jaywalking legal

Road safety experts and advocates have been calling for more people-friendly streets through design, policy and awareness initiatives embodied in what are usually referred to as 3 E’s – engineering, eduction and enforcement. Among the more contentious issues of road safety is jaywalking, which is defined as a pedestrian walking into or crossing a road while there are designated places or facilities for doing so. Jaywalking is a crime in most cities though enforcement can be lax in many. But while most technical and non-technical advocates of road safety agree that a more people-friendly or people-oriented environment along roads can be attained by decriminalizing jaywalking, the resistance to such a proposal mainly comes from the government and enforcement agencies. It is a bit surprising because even with studies and best practices showing better designs and policies coupled with IECs, the notion of pedestrians crossing the roads anywhere while not castigating motorists deliberately running down or swiping at the pedestrians seem unfathomable or difficult to understand for many administrators or enforcers.

Here is a nice article that argues for decriminalizing jaywalking:

Schmitt, A. and Brown, C.T. (October 16, 2020) “9 Reasons to Eliminate Jaywalking Laws Now,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/jaywalking-laws-don-t-make-streets-safer.

Of course, there’s another angle or perspective there in the article since it was written from the context of the current situation in the US. All the reasons, however, are valid and should be taken up seriously in a country like the Philippines where there is also a push for more people-friendly transportation that includes our roads and all its users.

Pedestrians first!

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) released a new tool for assessing walkability and presents good practice examples from many cities around the world. The tool can be used to assess and/or compare your city, a neighborhood or a street with others. Here is the link to the ITDP’s tool:

https://pedestriansfirst.itdp.org

There is an introductory article that came out recently from Planetizen about this tool:

Litman, T. (October 16, 2020) ‘Pedestrians First’ Measures Walkability for Babies, Toddlers, Caregivers, Everyone. Planetizen. https://www.planetizen.com/node/110876?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10192020&mc_cid=1736ec624f&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1

On the transformation from car-oriented to people-oriented streets

I saw this article shared by a friend on social media and share it here as an interesting piece providing ideas and the thinking or attitude required if we are to transform our streets:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “4 ways to go from “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”, Medium, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/4-ways-to-go-from-streets-for-traffic-to-streets-for-people-6b196db3aabe [Last accessed: 9/30/2020]

It is actually interesting to see how this plays out in Philippine cities. The ‘honeymoon’ or ‘grace’ period from the lockdown to the ‘normalization’ (read: going back to the old normal) of traffic might just have a window and this is closing for active transport. National and local officials, for example, who seemed enthusiastic and quickly put up facilities for active transport have slowed down efforts or even stopped or reneged on their supposed commitments. The next few weeks (even months) will show us where we are really headed even as there are private sector initiatives for active transport promotion and integration.

On the benefits of shared roads during the pandemic

There is evidence, and they are increasing, for the benefits of shared roads. Here is another quick share of an article supporting that:

Brown, M (2020) “Shared-use roads improve physical distancing, research shows,” Medical Xpress, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-shared-use-roads-physical-distancing.html%5BLast accessed: 7/30/2020]

With the situation in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila appearing to be worsening rather than improving, national and local governments should take heed of the evidence for shared-use roads and the importance of active transport to ensure people’s mobility will not be hampered. This is particularly important for our frontliners and other essential workers if we are to survive this pandemic.

On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.

 

Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

Whatever happened to those ‘enhanced’ pedestrian crossings?

Before the lockdowns, a lot of people seem to have become excited with what a private company did as part of their PR campaign (I’m certain about this because their ads feature these.). That is, they painted on the existing pedestrian crossings in Antipolo City along major roads such as Sumulong Highway and the Sumulong Memorial Circle. While coordination with the LGU was done, there seems to be none with the DPWH considering these are national roads and any matter concerning them are under the agency’s jurisdiction through their District Engineering Office. The following photos were taken prior to the lockdown and as you can see (if you were objective) there’s nothing really notable about them though they appear to enhance the existing crosswalks.

The artwork is practically invisible to motorists especially those on cars whose drivers’ eyes are lower than those driving SUVs, jeepneys, buses or trucks (i.e., larger and taller vehicles).

 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety. 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety and you can check on this by doing either a quick or even an extensive search for literature proving significant impact. I guess the key here is to also install other devices such as a speed table or rumble strips for motorists to feel that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. Also, perhaps instead of just painting on the crosswalks, they could have painted so as to widen the crosswalk. Then they could have increased the visibility for pedestrian crossings. That said, they should also have used the standard paints for these facilities that make them visible at night and could have been more resistant to weathering. 

Level of Service (LOS) and social distance for pedestrians

I was reviewing materials for my classes now that the latter have been suspended and we are switching to online teaching. I came upon the topic of level of service (LOS) for pedestrians – for walkways and sidewalks to be exact. Following is the LOS table for walkways and sidewalks (platoon-adjusted) with my note, and an illustration of walkway LOS thresholds with my annotations. The recommended minimum social distance is 1 meter. That translates to a space of 3.14159 square meters if we assume a circular area around a person.

Platoon-adjusted means people are moving and grouped according to the speed of a lead person or persons dictating their walking speed.

 

I annotated the illustration to show the minimum pedestrian spacing, the ideal spacing, and situations when the desired social distance is not achieved.

The big question now is if we can achieve the minimum given the mostly inferior pedestrian facilities we have in the country. Do you know of any areas where this can be achieved? BGC? Trinoma? MOA? UP Diliman Campus? Iloilo City’s Esplanade?