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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?

Comments on current transport issues – Part 1

I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.

· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?

Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.

· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?

As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.

· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?

I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.

· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?

I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.

Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.

More comments in the next year!

 

 

Safety guides for pedestrians and cyclists

Here are a couple of references/resources for pedestrian and cycling safety. These are guidelines and countermeasure selection systems that were developed under the Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation:

These guides are designed to be practical and should be helpful to practitioners/professionals, policymakers as well as researchers. These would be people looking for references to use in designing or revising (correcting?) existing conditions or situations in order to enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists who are among the most vulnerable of road users.

On the Tandang Sora flyover’s closure

The signs announcing the closure of the Tandang Sora flyover along Commonwealth Avenue are doing the rounds of social media. So are the traffic management plans (i.e., the re-routing maps for the area) that are being shared by many and soliciting a variety of reactions. The reactions are often angry or sad for those likely affected by the closure and the re-routing via Luzon Avenue, Congressional Avenue and Philcoa. The demolition of the flyover to give way to the future MRT-7 station will definitely lead to traffic congestion and longer travel times to a lot of commuters, whether using public or private transportation. However, there are only few comments so far about the impacts on pedestrians. Will the pedestrian footbridges be demolished, too? Will they be redesigned or replaced considering the high volume of pedestrians crossing this major intersection? Following are photos taken underneath the Tandang Sora flyover as we waited to make a U-turn. These show the pedestrian footbridges in the area that allow people to safely cross the wide Commonwealth Avenue.

View of the steel truss footbridge that goes underneath the Tandang Sora flyover

There are many signs installed on the footbridge including the speed limit for Commonwealth Avenue and a reminder to fasten seatbelts. Others are directional signs including those designating the lanes for public utility vehicles and motorcycles.

There is another steel footbridge that is of more recent design and construction connecting to the old truss bridge. This allows pedestrians to continue on to cross Tandang Sora. This example is actually one that invites questions pertaining to design. Why have two distinct designs instead of building on the previous one? Another case of “pwede na iyan” ?

Here’s another view of the two footbridges – one spanning Commonwealth and the other across Tandang Sora. Will these be demolished, too, to give way to the MRT-7 station? And will the MRT-7 Station design include a provision for non-passengers to cross Commonwealth and Tandang Sora? This seems to be the most logical way to design the station; integrating pedestrian (and cycling) needs to the infrastructure. But then again, that remains to be seen and perhaps someone can share the design of the Tandang Sora station for this to be scrutinized.