Caught (up) in traffic

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Evidence from Montreal: Building bike lanes to reduce car use

I just wanted to share this article showing evidence of car use reduction (and therefore, car traffic along roads) with the provision of bicycle lanes.

Building Bike Lanes Really Does Get More People Out of Their Cars

The article though cautions readers against generalising or assuming great improvements. Some figures mentioned in the article including the following (I took the liberty of copying and pasting):

  • “A 10% increase in bike accessibility resulted in only a 3.7% increase in ridership.”
  • “…cycling infrastructure also reduced greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 1.7%, a reduction equivalent to converting transit buses to hybrids and electrifying commuter trains.”

These numbers are for the case of Montreal, Canada. Not mentioned are the number of cyclists, vehicle traffic volumes and other pertinent data that are useful in analysis. The article correctly points out the importance of using science (e.g., sound analysis based on good data) in order to convince governments to put up bicycle infrastructure. I would even add that this approach should also be applicable to pedestrian facilities.

Roadworks along Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City

The roadworks along Sumulong Highway continues with drainage work along the sections across Palos Verdes and Cavalier’s Village.  They have cleared a lot of trees along the road’s edge on the Masinag-bound side and only one lane is usable for these sections. This has recently caused several road crashes involving all types of vehicles. While there are obvious shortcomings about the worksite on the contractor’s side, many hardheaded drivers and riders continue to operate their vehicles (read: drive or ride recklessly) as if there are no hazards along the road.

IMG_2238Concrete culverts line the Masinag-bound side of Sumulong Highway

IMG_2240Worksite occupies one lane of the 4-lane/2-way highway. Temporary barriers often encroach upon the single lane available to Masina-bound traffic. This leads to many vehicles encroaching on the opposing traffic lane, violating the double line that states “no overtaking.” Perhaps the contractor needs a refresher or a lesson in proper traffic management and signage for worksites?

IMG_2241Completed sections are not immediately cleared, apparently and likely to have proper curing for the concrete. Notice in the photo that the project includes sidewalk construction. Sidewalks will enhance safety for pedestrians and even joggers or hikers going up and down Antipolo.

IMG_2239Notices are nailed to many trees that will be cut down to give way to highway drainage and sidewalks along the Antipolo-bound side of Sumulong Highway.

On cable cars as a solution to Metro Manila transportation problems

I was asked about my take on the pronouncement about cable cars being a potential solution to Metro Manila’s traffic woes. I say pronouncement because careful qualification of the news articles on this clearly show that this is not yet a proposal. I leave it to the reader to Google these articles on cable cars for Metro Manila.

The first thing that came to my mind are capacity and demand. What would be the capacity for such a system and what could be the demand given that you would have to determine where stations would be. There’s also the fear factor as many people would not be comfortable riding a vehicle so high up in the air and then of course, there’s the wind that will obviously have to be factored in the operation of such cable cars. Suitability is very much an issue here. Perhaps cable cars like the one featured in the news articles are more appropriate for cities like Baguio, Antipolo and Tagaytay? There are very limited applications for Metro Manila even including perhaps possibilities for Ortigas and perhaps Loyola Heights.

I like what my friend, Rene Santiago, said about the cable being one possible answer but not The Answer to Metro Manila’s traffic problems. I am aware of and quite amused by the comments posted on social media about the so-called ‘cable car solution’ as it is definitely not going to make a big impact on Metro Manila transport. I like comments proposing instead improved river transport as well as protected bicycle lanes around the metropolis. These are well-grounded proposals that have been proven elsewhere to be very effective in reducing congestion while mass transit projects are under construction and to be operational in 2 to 3 years time. I think it would be wiser to put your money on bike lanes and even bike bridges than in cable cars.

I was also asked about what should be the first project the new Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade should take on. Metro Manila is still very much a “battleground” for transport and traffic, and there are already projects lined up for implementation like the much delayed MRT 7 and the extension of LRT1. The new administration should strongly support such efforts, whether its via Public Private Partnership (PPP) or public funded. That said, I think the incoming Department of Transportation Secretary should work on an urban mass transport project in one of our major cities. Either Cebu or Davao come to mind as these cities are already also congested and would need to have an urban transit system (rail?) very soon in order to avoid becoming another Metro Manila. There are low-hanging fruits in these cities, for example, with the Cebu BRT ready to be taken on by the new administration for full implementation and Davao already being the subject of public transport studies pointing to it being ripe for a rail transit system.

Finally, there are also the outcomes of research & development work by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). I am referring to the DOST-MIRDC’s road train, AGT and hybrid train projects. The road trains, for example, may be used for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines that are proposed for C5 and Quezon Avenue. I also think it is worth considering for EDSA. BRT is not technology-specific as far as buses go so why not use Philippine-made buses for this? While these are still subject to third party safety and technical certifications, the Transportation Department could lend a helpful hand towards this certification and this could perhaps ultimately lead to building an industry out of these buses and trains.

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On a proposal to redesign bus stops and signs in Metro Manila

Here’s another quick post but it is something that should be picked up by government agencies particularly the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The following link is from Sakay.ph, which conducted a study on their own and came up with this:

A Redesign of Bus Stops and Signage in Metro Manila

The idea is not at all a new one considering you will see such appropriate stop designs and signs abroad. These are good designs that make a lot of sense (See the visuals in the article for you to be convinced). Only, the MMDA and other agencies including local government units are notoriously stubborn when it comes to innovative ideas that challenge the templates that they are used to. Perhaps the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) can also take a look at these ideas considering public transport is regulated by LTFRB and the agency can take a progressive stance in ruling for more uniform bus body designs. Meanwhile, the DPWH is in-charge of most road signs along national roads like EDSA and should also be proactive in the design of signage while also keeping in mind the international standards that we need to conform with. As for the buses themselves, the recommendations underline the need to streamline (read: reduce) the number of buses and players and the rationalization (read: simplify) routes in Metro Manila. Maybe they can start doing the livery for the P2P buses to show how the concept works?

Curiosities of transport services in Metro Manila

There are a few interesting observations we can make out of transport services in Metro Manila and chief among them is the poor quality of service that we can generalize among most if not all modes of public transport available to commuters. This poor quality of service of public transport is what drives many people to aspire to own and drive or ride their own vehicle. Already there has been a surge in motorcycle ownership in Metro Manila and its neighboring towns and cities (collectively Mega Manila) and car ownership is also on the rise. These trends have led to increased congestion along many roads. And we will probably not see a significant improvement until the mass transit projects have all been completed. These include the Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the MRT 7 along Commonwealth, the Line 1 Extension to Cavite, and yes, the capacity improvement of MRT 3. Hopefully, there will also be BRT lines along C-5 and Quezon Avenue to complement the rail transport projects.

The UV Express is actually a response to poor public transport services as it evolved out of the FX taxi services of the 1990s that later mixed with informal van and AUV services. These are actually a precursor of today’s ride sharing modes. Only, in those days when the FX service was born, you didn’t have tools like apps to facilitate your ride. People had to agree about the fares and the destinations from terminals like those in Cubao (Quezon City) and Crossing (Pasig/Mandaluyong).

But let us focus on three services that would not have been attractive if only services by their conventional counterparts were (very) satisfactory and if there was a comprehensive and efficient mass transit network in the metropolis. These are Uber, P2P buses and airport express buses.

Uber offers services much like that of the conventional taxi. Its advantages are mainly having recent model vehicles (not dilapidated ones), a better driver (this attribute is quite subjective), and an app-based system for availing services. Fares are generally more expensive than those for regular taxis. And there is a surge pricing for when congestion is really bad. It has a very good feedback mechanism that allows passengers to evaluate their drivers. However, this wouldn’t have been necessary if taxi drivers in general were more disciplined and courteous to their passengers.

P2P buses operated by Froehlich Tours offers services much like that of conventional buses. Its current advantages over conventional buses are that it operates express services, buses are new, well-maintained, and with drivers that appear to be more disciplined than the typical public utility bus driver. A friend’s take is that P2P’s are the bus equivalent of UV Express. It is not at all necessary if the quality of service of regular buses were much better than it is right now. And I am referring to the practically stop anywhere, recklessly driven and poorly maintained regular buses.

Premium airport buses have recently been introduced and these are operated by Air21, which is a freight forwarding company. It is a service that’s long overdue given the many difficult experiences of people to and from NAIA’s passenger terminals. While an airport limousine bus service should have been provided many, many years ago it also is a reflection of the poor quality of airport taxi services. Airport taxis are expensive and according to many stories circulating can be predatory.

What I am driving at, if it is not yet so obvious, is that many ‘new’ services are actually borne out of crappy services of conventional modes. There are many lessons to be learned here in and lest I be accused of neglecting other Philippine cities, I should mention that Metro Manila presents so many lessons to be learned by other rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the country. At this time we can mention Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and perhaps Clark/Angeles as metropolitan areas to watch in terms of transport system development. Hopefully, there’s a kind of reverse psychology in their approaches to address their transport needs in that they avoid what has been done in Metro Manila. Surely, transport services in these other cities can do better than Metro Manila’s.

Emergence of motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other cities

Motorcycle taxis operate in many Asian cities. In Southeast Asia, in particular, there are formal and legal motorcycle taxi services in cities like Bangkok and Jakarta. These motorcycle taxis are called “habal-habal” in many parts of the Philippines and are accepted modes of public transport particularly in rural areas where roads are not the same quality as those in urban areas. Motorcycles and motor tricycles are the most preferred modes of transport and their characteristics are usually most suitable for such roads.

In Metro Manila, there are motorcycle taxis operating in many locations including Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood City and White Plains. These are basically discrete operations and providers are low key so as not to attract the attention of authorities. Services though are worst kept secrets considering they have a steady clientele. In Pasig City, and I assume other Metro Manila cities as well, there are ‘formal’ habal-habal terminals. I took a photo of one in a low income residential area that was designated as a relocation site for many informal settlers around the metropolis.

IMG_0668Habal-habal terminal in Pasig City near the Napindan Channel where the Pasig River meets Laguna de Bay

A friend at the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CCTO or CITOM) told us that there is a growing number of motorcycle riders offering transport services in their city. These are illegal but are being tolerated in many cases due to the growing demand for their services particularly during unholy hours late at night or in the early morning. I also saw many of these operating in Tacloban and even crossing the San Juanico Bridge to Samar Island from Leyte.

There are also many habal-habal in tourism areas including in island resorts where there is a lack of formal public transport services. This mode is a necessity and so far, there are only rare reports of these vehicles and their riders being involved in road crashes. This is the case despite their being perceived as unsafe modes of transport. I guess they will continue to be popular in rural areas and will quickly become popular should they be mainstreamed in urban areas just like their counterparts in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, the demand is already there and just waiting to be tapped given the horrendous traffic jams that will drive people towards modes they think can allow them to escape traffic congestion.

Towards safer roads: design, respect and education

Fatal crashes involving cyclists have been posted in social media including a recent one involving a mother of two who was run over by a garbage truck that encroached on the on-street/painted bike lane in, of all places, Marikina City. Emphasis on Marikina is made here because it is a city well-known for its comprehensive bikeways network. The network is comprised of segregated and on-street bikeways.

Following are some photos showing examples of good and bad practices pertaining to bikeways design in the Philippines:

IMG03101-20120612-1058

Example of segregated bikeway at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. Cyclists actually share the carriageway lane allocated from the Academic Oval with pedestrians and joggers. They are not physically protected from motor vehicles that can encroach on the bike lane.

IMG03426-20120707-0902

Example of segregated and protected bikeway along Marcos Highway in Pasig City (similar design for the sections in Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) – bikeway is on the sidewalk and cyclists essentially share space with pedestrians despite delineations.

2014-02-11 16.58.11

Example of segregated and protected bikeway/walkway along EDSA in Makati City – note that space to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists is very constricted.

2014-02-28 08.31.21

Example of poor design along White Plain Avenue – the MMDA seems to have designated the entire sidewalk space for cyclists.

Three examples from Marikina’s bikeways are shown below:

Mkna Bikeways3Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway on either side of a two-way road [Note: This is basically the design along the street where the crash in Marikina occurred.]

Mkna Bikeways2Painted, segregated bikeways on the carriageway along a one way road

Mkna Bikeways1Segregated and protected bikeway off the carriageway along Sumulong Highway

Granted that the ideal set-up would have segregated or protected bikeways that are designed properly, we take a look at two other very important elements that are not at all as technical as design and planning of bikeways – respect and education.

Education is an important aspect of driving. Many Filipino drivers are poorly educated in terms of traffic rules and regulations, road design as well as local policies pertaining to transport and traffic. As such, there is a tendency for many drivers to disregard rules and drive/ride aggressively and recklessly. This must change and it starts with reforms in the way licenses are issued to all types of drivers including perhaps stricter certification systems for truck drivers and public utility vehicle drivers. Traffic education should also be integrated into the academic curricula of schools starting at a very young age. Road safety parks are one way to promote traffic education for kids.

Respect is partly derived from education but is also related to attitude. No matter how much driver or road user education or skill you get if you have a bad attitude, you will still have the tendency to be reckless or irresponsible with your actions on the road. One way to curb bad attitudes on the road and to educate road users (particularly errant drivers and riders) is strict traffic enforcement. Many cities already have CCTVs installed at major intersections that allow law enforcement units to be able to monitor traffic behavior and perhaps zoom in to determine driver and vehicle information including license plate numbers.

The crash that killed the single parent in Marikina is not so much as an issue one whether we need segregated and protected bikeways but is more an urgent need to assess the state of traffic education and enforcement in this country.

Articles on the crash and calls for reforms may be found in this link.

 

Readings for the new year

I wrote late last year about how the Christmas and New Year holidays allow me to catch up on some readings. These are mostly contemporary articles on transport and other topics rather than whole books (though I just finished one by George RR Martin during the semester). That post with three articles may be found in this link:

Some interesting readings on traffic engineering

I open the year with another post with a couple of interesting articles. One article reports on the newly opened bicycle ‘autobahns’ in Germany. ‘Autobahns’ basically refer to expressways or freeways. The new facilities for cycling represents what many will term as a paradigm shift for a country well known for its excellent automobiles. The concept of an expressway for bicycles actually makes sense in terms of safety and as a way to eliminate many if not all the factors that tend to discourage people from using bicycles for longer distance commutes. These do have the potential to reduce car usage (and traffic congestion) and ultimately also reduce pollution and fuel consumption. I am interested about the designs of these structures as the designs are also key to the development of similar infrastructure elsewhere including, hopefully, the Philippines.

Germany opens first stretch of bicycle ‘autobahn’

Another article is more thought provoking in the sense that it delves into labor and legal issues surrounding Uber and other ride sharing companies. These issues are valid and need to be discussed thoroughly not just in the US but elsewhere where ride sharing services have proliferated and profited. Many of the points pertaining to labor and compensation are valid, and I would like to think that these extend to the franchising issues that have been raised against ride sharing, which ultimately have implications on their business model. The legalese may be a turn-off to many who would argue that companies like Uber and Grab provide them with a good quality of service. But then that begs the question of whether they would have the same view if taxis were better than what they are now.

Road warrior: Is Uber ripping off its drivers?

Happy New Year and happy readings!

 

Manila’s bus experiment

Manila recently banned provincial and city buses from entering the city stating this is because many of them do not have franchises and/or terminals in the city. Those without franchises are the ones labeled as “colorum” or illegally operating public transport vehicles, which really don’t have a right to convey people in the first place. It’s become difficult to catch them because many carry well-made falsified documents. But it’s not really an issue if the LTFRB, LTO and LGUs would just cooperate to apprehend these colorum drivers. The LTFRB and LTO are under the DOTC, and so the agency is also responsible for policies and guidelines to be followed by the two under it. LGUs (and the MMDA in the case of MM) are tasked with traffic enforcement and so they can apprehend vehicles and act on traffic violations including operating without a franchise.

Those without terminals are both city and provincial buses. For city buses, this can be because they  “turnaround” in Manila and operators do not feel the need to have a formal terminal. For example, G-Liner buses plying the Cainta-Quiapo route will stop at Quiapo only to unload Quiapo-bound passengers, and then switch signboards and proceed to load Cainta-bound passengers as they head back to Rizal. There is very little time spent as the bus makes the turnaround. It’s a different case for provincial buses, whose drivers should have the benefit of rest (same as their vehicles, which also need regularly maintenance checks) after driving long hours. Thus, if only for this reason they need to have formal, off-street terminals in the city. Following are photos I took near the Welcome Rotunda en route to a forum last Friday.

IMG06490-20130726-0752Commuters walking to cross the street at the Welcome Rotunda to transfer to jeepneys waiting for passengers to ferry to Manila.

IMG06491-20130726-0752Commuters and cyclists moving along the carriageway as there are no pedestrian or cycling facilities in front of a construction site at the corner of Espana and Mayon Ave.

IMG06492-20130726-0752Advisory for buses coming from Quezon City

IMG06493-20130726-0752 Commuters waiting for a jeepney ride along Espana just after the Welcome Rotunda

IMG06494-20130726-0755Some pedestrians opt to walk on instead of waiting for a ride. Manila used to be a walkable city but it is not one at present. Many streets have narrow sidewalks and many pedestrian facilities are obstructed by vendors and other obstacles.

So, is it really a move towards better transport systems and services in Manila or is it just a publicity stunt? If it is to send a message to public transport (not just bus) operators and drivers that they should clean up their acts and improve the services including practicing safe driving, then I’m all for it and I believe Manila should be supported and lauded for its efforts. Unfortunately, it is unclear if this is really the objective behind the resolution. Also, whether it is a resolution or an ordinance, it is a fact that the move violates the franchises granted to the buses. These franchises define their routes and specify the streets to be plied by buses. Many LGUs in the past have executed their traffic schemes and other measures intended to address traffic congestion, without engaging the LTFRB or at least ask for the agency’s guidance in re-routing public transport. Of course, the LTFRB is also partly to blame as they have not been pro-active in reviewing and optimizing PT routes.

One opinion made by a former government transport official is that this is just a ploy by the city to force bus companies to establish formal terminals in the city. This will require operators to secure permits, purchase or lease land and build terminals. And so that means revenues for the city and perhaps more traffic problems in the vicinity of the terminals just like what’s happening in Quezon City (Cubao) and Pasay City (Tramo).

Transport planning is a big part of the DOTC’s mandate and both the LTO (in charge of vehicle registration and driver’s licenses) and LTFRB (in charge of franchising of buses, jeepneys and taxis) look to the agency for guidelines and policy statements they are to implement. Meanwhile, LGUs have jurisdiction over paratransit like tricycles and pedicabs. In the case of Manila, these paratransit also include the “kuligligs,”  3-wheeler pedicabs that were fitted with engines and have been allowed (franchised?) by the city to provide transport services in many streets. Unfortunately, most LGUs do not have capacity nor capability for transport planning and so are limited or handicapped in the way they deal with transport (and traffic) issues in their jurisdictions. We have always maintained and promoted the stand that the DOTC should extend assistance and expertise to LGUs and the LGUs should also actively seek DOTC’s guidance in matters pertaining to transport. There needs to be constant communication between the national and local entities with cooperation leading to better, more suitable policies being formulated and implemented at the local level.

Who’s to blame?

I first saw this report about one motorist driving his car straight into a flooded section of a street in Quezon City on GMA 7’s prime time news program 24 Oras last night. I also saw it again on New TV 11’s State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Friends and former students have posted the video from GMA 7 as well as from YouTube. The guy blamed everyone including the MMDA, the media and the tambays in the area for not warning him about the flood. He never even thought twice about getting angry and virtually berating everyone else. Perhaps it would have served him better if he had an ounce of common sense in him that could have spared him (and his car) from the incident. Now, he is all over the net thanks to the viral video of him spreading around and showing everyone else what many of us have become. He’s practically a poster boy for citizens who do nothing except blame everyone else.

The GMA7 news report may be found here.