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Vaccine passports anyone?

As the Philippines, relaxes protocols to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it is interesting to note that other countries have not let down their guard. And the latter includes nations that have been quite successful in dealing with the pandemic. Many countries have also received the vaccines and have started inoculating their populations. These received the doses ahead of the Philippines and have now vaccinated a significant % of their population according to their respective prioritization schemes.

But even as countries have started vaccinations, the question remains whether a vaccinated individual can now move around or travel as if it were pre-pandemic conditions (the old normal). Here’s a nice article to read as the topic of unrestricted (or restricted, depending on your take) comes up in discussions including those leading to certain policies to be formulated by governments:

Fisher, M. (March 2, 2021) “Vaccine passports, Covid’s next political flashpoint,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/europe/passports-covid-vaccine.html [Last accessed: 3/4/2021]

On the need for more public spaces

Here’s a quick share of an article discussing the pandemic’s exposing the need for more public spaces:

Ionescu, D. (February 5, 2021) “The Pandemic Revealed Public Space as ‘Essential Infrastructure'”, Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112044?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02082021&mc_cid=4fac9821d0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/9/2021]

Quezon City is lucky to have the Quezon Memorial Circle, Parks and Wildlife and the University of the Philippines Diliman campus but it needs more public spaces given its size. UP should not technically be regarded as a public space as it is a school first and just happens to be blessed with a spacious campus. Pictured above is its academic oval with the Sunken Garden to the right.

Public spaces include parks and other open spaces that serve as breathing spaces or lungs for our cities and municipalities. A lot of people complained about being cramped up during the lockdowns and are now going out (others quite recklessly) even with the specter of Covid-19 still about us. In many old towns around the country, there are plazas and of course fields where people can go to while maintaining safe physical distancing. We certainly lack for these especially in highly urbanized cities. Rizal Park and its surrounding areas including Intramuros are not sufficient for dense Manila. In Taguig, you see a lot of people taking walks or exercising along the C5 service road. Its good that they actually have a linear park in Lower Bicutan and maybe parts of BGC where people can “decompress” from their cramped conditions where they reside but again, these may not be enough. Cities and municipalities need to allocate or build more public spaces. These should be deliberate developments to create such spaces (even small playgrounds scattered around a city would be a good start) for everyone’s well-being.

On using a car for transport in the time of COVID-19

We start the month of February with a very informative articles from the New York Times about car use and the spread of Covid-19. There have been a lot of discussions or discourse, even arguments, about private car use or shared vehicles (e.g., Grab) as people have apparently chosen these over public transport in many parts of the Philippines. For one, there is still a limited supply of public transport as government tries to take advantage of the situation to implement their rationalization and modernization programs.

The following article is from the US but the principles presented particularly about air flow and the potential spread of the virus inside a car are factual and apply in a general manner to other situations including ours. It is important to have an appreciation of the science behind air circulation and how it relates to the potential infections.

Anthes, E. (January 16, 2021) “How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/16/health/coronavirus-transmission-cars.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2021]

The common misconception appears to be that using private vehicles automatically helps spread the coronavirus. The science tells us it is not as simple as that (i.e., using your own vehicle will lead to your and your family being infected). While private vehicles are not the proverbial suit of armor vs. Covid-19, their proper use might give better chances compared to crowded and/or poorly ventilated public utility vehicles. Walking and bicycles, of course, are most preferred but that’s a topic for another article. 

On airline travel in the time of Covid-19

I haven’t been on a plane since February 2020. That is almost one year next month. I have friends though who have traveled by air recently. They had to follow certain protocols before departing and upon arrival at their destination. These include testing for the virus and observing quarantine especially upon their return to Metro Manila and prior to returning to their respective homes. Fortunately, all have been testing negative for Covid-19 and were able to come home safely.

Here is an interesting article on air travel, particularly how airlines and airports are handling passengers during this time when processes need to consider the prospects of getting infected by Covid-19:

Marshall, A. (January 21, 2021) “The Art and Science of Boarding an Airplane in a Pandemic,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/art-science-boarding-airplane-pandemic/ [Last accessed: 1/26/2021]

I am anxious about being required to travel for a project we are currently doing for a major city in Mindanao. While our clients have been very understanding about our health concerns, it might be inevitable for some of us in the project team to travel by March 2021 to present the findings and recommendations of our study. I will continue to update myself about travel guidelines in preparation for that likely travel.

On the plastic barriers for jeepneys

The minimum requirements for conventional jeepneys prior to their returning to operations include the installation of barriers so as to have physical separation between passengers. Ideally, such separation should be a distance of at least one meter, which was initially relaxed to ‘one seat apart’, and then further relaxed to just the barrier separating passengers. You see various designs installed in jeepneys. I posted a couple in an earlier post showing examples of customized and DIY barriers. Here is another that looks like there was more effort involved in the making of the plastic barriers:

 Specially made plastic barriers with messages and graphics on social distancing printed on them. 

Jeepney drivers are obliged to reject or unload passengers not adhering to the protocols including those refusing to wear face masks and shields while commuting using public transportation modes. I assume that they are really doing this for their and their passengers’ safety and well-being.

On congested tollways during the pandemic

I finally was able to go on a long road trip yesterday as friends invited us to go on an excursion to Quezon to a prominent pottery artist’s place in the town of Tiaong. I first thought we would be going via the backdoor of Rizal since we were already in Antipolo but it turned out that it would be faster via the tollways route. Both Google and Waze recommend our route via C-6, SLEX and STAR to get to our destination. It could have been longer via the Manila East Road but which is a more scenic route. While it took us only 2.5 hours to get to our destination, it took an additional hour on the way back. Part of it was the congestion along the national highway between Tiaong and Sto. Tomas, Batangas but I was also a bit surprised about the congestion along SLEX on the way back (photo below) but saw that this was mainly due to vehicles filing towards the Skyway ramp in Alabang.

There was the expected congestion at the toll plazas as vehicles still need to slow down. It is not like the seamless, structure-less system in Singapore where their sensors can detect vehicles running at high speeds. The toll barriers are still there and the channels for one are relatively narrow. Then, there are travelers that seem hard in understanding that there are specific booths for cash payments. Also, there were occasions when the barriers did not lift immediately for one reason or another. That tends to slow down the processing of queued vehicles – a problem that my undergraduate students could probably take on after their lessons in queuing theory.

On the burdens of car dependence

Here is a quick share today. This is another excellent article from Todd Litman who makes a great argument for why planning should move away from its being car-centric and contribute towards a significant reduction in society’s dependence on cars.

Litman, T. (December 15, 2020) “Automobile Dependency: An Unequal Burden,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111535?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12212020&mc_cid=e746a044a3&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 .

Much have been said and written about this topic in many platforms including social media but in many of these, I noticed that the discussion often deteriorated into hating or shaming exercises rather than be convincing, constructive arguments for reforms in planning and behavior and preference changes in transport modes. Litman is always very fair and comprehensive and employs evidence or facts in his articles that should be clear for most people to understand. I say ‘most people’ here because there are still many who are among those considered as “fact-resistant”. Happy reading!

On maximizing seating capacities of public transport

The restrictions for physical distancing for public transport seems to be easing. The reason for this statement is the observation that passengers of public utility vehicles are no longer one seat apart (less than the ideal 2m distance between people but deemed sufficient with physical barriers installed in the vehicles). If allowed to be seated next to each other (of course with some sort of physical barrier between them), the set-up will increase the allowed passenger capacities of PUVs to at least their seating capacities. Conventional jeepneys will be able to seat the 16 to 20 passengers their benches are designed for and buses, depending on their sizes and seating configurations may seat perhaps 40 to 60 passengers. That doubles or even triples the number of passengers that can be carried by each vehicle from the time these were allowed to resume operations after the lockdowns.

Plastic barriers separate passengers seated beside each other

Not all physical barriers are designed and installed to provide whatever protection passengers can get from them. The photos above for a G-Liner bus seems to be the more desirable design as the barriers are practically like curtains. I have seen token plastic barriers installed in jeepneys. I wonder if these even went through some approval process of the DOTr, LTFRB or local government unit. Such inferior designs do not help the cause of promoting public transport use over private vehicles.

More parks and trees = longer lives

Here is an article about a topic that seems unrelated to transportation but is actually strongly related to it. We already know about the benefits of tree-lined boulevards and parks as lungs of a town or city. The following article discusses the benefits and advantages of having more parks and trees.

Yanez, E. (November 19, 2020) “More Parks, Longer Lives,” Parks and Recreation, https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2020/december/more-parks-longer-lives/

I suddenly recall what were tree-lined national highways across the country. Many of these trees were cut down to give way to road-widening projects of the national government through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)., Nevermind that the widening was not really required in many if not most cases, and that the trees were never replaced or was there ever an effort to do so. The results have been disastrous in terms of the environments along these roads. Transport systems can also be developed with parks and trees in mind; especially if active transport were the focus of the development. Surely parks and trees will enhance the environment and encourage more people to walk or cycle. This should translate into better overall health and wellness for people.

Walk, walk, walk

When I was living in Japan in the late 1990s and again in the early 2000s, I recall walking a lot every day. I felt healthy then not just because I thought I ate well but I had a lot of exercise, too. I consciously walked and jogged in the mornings and/or afternoons depending on the weather. And my commute included walks between my train station and the university. The following article seems to support what should be a healthy lifestyle without gym time.

Okumura, K. (November 6, 2020) “How Japanese People Stay Fit for Life, Without Ever Visiting a Gym,” Medium.com, https://kokumura.medium.com/how-the-japanese-exercise-to-stay-youthful-be2d6105e6e6.

I tried to estimate the number of steps I took on average each day. It seems I could easily make more than 10,000 steps everyday as I usually walk more than 6,000 steps for my commute and the typical walks in and around campus (including lunch time strolls with friends). My morning and afternoon walks can match this 6,000 steps. These can even be more during weekends when I’m out in the city or in Tokyo to be with friends. These steps seem nothing then and I loved to walk around partly to keep my sanity while studying there.

When I was visiting researcher later at another university, my step count was about the same if not higher. The only difference perhaps between Yokohama and Saitama was that I had a bicycle when I was in Saitama. The bicycle increased my range and I took the bicycle lent to me by friends to dome groceries or explore the nearby wards. Those were the days, I guess, that I wished I still have now in terms of more active transportation.