Caught (up) in traffic

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Enforcing bus lanes along Commonwealth Avenue

Commonwealth Avenue always seems to be the subject of road safety or traffic discipline initiatives every now and again. Quezon City together with partners in other government agencies like the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) have embarked on another program aimed at reducing the occurrence of road crashes and other incidents along this busy corridor. It actually reminds me of the “traffic discipline zone” designation of Commonwealth not a decade ago and before public transport lanes were physically allocated along the highway.

They are failing miserably if I am to base success on observations of the behavior of drivers of  public transport vehicles alone along this major highway. They get away with a lot of reckless driving including suddenly switching lanes, speeding, and tailgating. There are also cases where vehicles and pedestrians cross the wide highway at points that are prone to crashes. I am not aware of a lot of apprehensions being made of these reckless drivers along Commonwealth except perhaps at the foot of the Tandang Sora flyover where MMDA enforcers seem to be congregating on most days armed with one of two of the agency’s speed guns. But then it seems “business as usual” for the same drivers and riders along the rest of Commonwealth so the initiatives are not effective deterrents against irresponsible road use.

2015-02-01 09.39.02You can always see buses on the wrong side of the road along Commonwealth Avenue especially along the section between Fairview Market and Regalado. They do this to get ahead of other buses and then bully their way to make a stop or turn right at an intersection.

2015-02-01 09.39.15This bus in particular was weaving in traffic, bullying smaller vehicles to give way as it raced other buses along Commonwealth Avenue. Such behavior among public transport drivers is one of the major ingredients for road crashes.

It’s been a year now since the tragic crash involving an out of line provincial bus in the Cordillera. That was partly the result of poor monitoring and enforcement by the LTFRB. While the major reason for the crash was reckless driving (i.e., the driver was allegedly speeding at a critical section of the highway), this could have been avoided if the bus wasn’t operating in the first place. The very same policies along Commonwealth apply to these provincial buses and fatal crashes could’ve been avoided or minimised if the LTFRB can just exercise its mandate effectively.

Lane discipline

Among many peoples’ pet peeves in traffic would probably be the propensity for lane changing among many drivers and riders. This is especially true for wide multi-lane roads like Commonwealth Ave., Marcos Highway and EDSA. While it can be an understandable behaviour for free flowing traffic along long stretches where weaving can be executed safely, lane changes can be quite risky at intersections and may instantly lead to crashes. These are likely the bases for the swerving violations that the MMDA and other traffic enforcers became notorious for issuing for a time.

We chanced upon a scene at the Commonwealth Ave.-Mindanao Ave. intersection in Novaliches where a car seemed to have attempted to cut in front of a bus in order to make a turn but got hit by the bus. From the angle of the collision, it appears that the driver of the car likely maneuvered for a U-turn and made the critical assumption that he could beat the bus for the turn. It was obvious that the bus was in the right position while the car was not. This is often the case for drivers who do not care for positioning themselves along the correct lanes at intersections and seem to rely on their guile to get ahead of others. Such drivers might just be the same ones who would likely do counter-flows also to get ahead of others queued along the right traffic lanes.

IMG09144-20140803-1104White car attempts to make a U-turn right in front of a bus and gets hit by the bus whose driver likely did not notice the white car sneaking in front of the vehicle.

Lane discipline becomes more important with the revival of traffic signals all around Metro Manila. In addition, it is also important for the appropriate lane markings to be placed at intersection approaches. Such markings are supposed to guide drivers where they should position themselves so that they will not block traffic going in another direction. These can also aid in the enforcement of lane discipline as vehicles on the wrong lanes can be apprehended. This was the case in Cebu City in the 1990s when the city adopted the SCATS traffic signal system, which employed detectors embedded on the pavement along the approaches to intersections. These detectors helped determine whether there is demand for a particular movement (left, through or right) and so requires lane discipline for the system to work effectively. –

The return of traffic signals at Katipunan

It’s been more than a decade since the MMDA implemented what was formally called the Grand Rotunda Scheme. To most, it will always be the U-turn scheme that was implemented all around Metro Manila. After seeing what seemed like success along roads like Commonwealth and Quezon Avenue, it was concluded that the U-turns were the answer to Metro Manila’s traffic woes or at least the part that’s blamed on signalized intersections. The perception by many at the time was that traffic signals were not working and caused so much congestion as evidenced by the long queues at intersections. This is not entirely false as intersections with in-optimal settings would definitely bring about congestion especially along corridors or networks where signals are not coordinated. It was, however, a generalization at a large scale and led to more experiments of opening and closing slots in order to determine which would be the most effective combinations. These experiments and their outcomes include drivers becoming more aggressive in order to maneuver ahead of others at the U-turn slots. Weaving has become the norm and in many cases have increased the risk of road crashes.

IMG09196-20140901-0625Traffic signals have been installed and the section of the median island has been removed across Ateneo’s Gate 3. This will become a three-leg intersections once again but I hope the signals will not favor Ateneo over through traffic along C5.

IMG09197-20140901-1339Traffic lights are already installed along the southbound side of Katipunan at the approach to the junction with Miriam College’s Main Gate. This will be a four-leg intersection as across Miriam is B. Gonzales Street that connects to Esteban Abada.

The signals are supposed to be operational starting September 13, which is a Saturday. Perhaps this is to try it out first during that weekend and for the MMDA to do some tweaks before the real deal that is traffic on Monday. But then how can you simulate traffic generated by the two schools in the area except maybe if there is significant enough traffic on Saturday? Did the MMDA or its consultants do some simulation using their computers and the VISSIM software they acquired many years ago? Or will we see more of the experiments as signals are fine-tuned according to the conditions along Katipunan?

We are hopeful that the signals along Katipunan will help improve the traffic along this very busy corridor. The results for sections of C5 from Libis (QC) to Ugong (Pasig) are promising and many people I know have told me that traffic has improved. Of course, this may also be partly due to the one-lane policy the MMDA has implemented for trucks. It’s never just one scheme or measure that will work wonders for Metro Manila traffic. It will always be a combination that will alleviate traffic woes in the metropolis. We’ll soon know what will become of traffic along Katipunan. We should, however, temper expectations at least for the 6:30 – 7:30 AM period during weekdays when traffic peaks in the vicinity of Ateneo and Miriam. The sheer volume of vehicles generated by the schools will overwhelm any system that is put up in the area. Nevertheless, for the rest of the day at least traffic flow should improve when signals are operational once again for Katipunan.

Re: traffic congestion along Katipunan

Yesterday was a holiday in Quezon City so most offices and schools were closed. It was not a holiday elsewhere so through traffic along Katipunan Avenue would have been “normal.” This is assumed especially for trucks that have been blamed as the cause of the severe congestion. I was curious about how traffic would be with the holiday in QC and through traffic could practically be “isolated.” There still was significant traffic generated by establishments like restaurants and cafes along Katipunan. It was a regular weekday and not like it was a Sunday. Following are photos that were taken around 2:00 PM when the truck ban is not enforced in the area.

IMG09162-20140819-1328Free-flowing traffic along the section across from the UP Town Center – There were no long queues at the approach to the Katipunan-C.P. Garcia intersection. 

IMG09163-20140819-1331Free-flowing traffic along Katipunan across from Ateneo – the two universities generated few private car traffic yesterday during a period when there’s usually a lot coming in and out of the campuses due to the dismissals in the early afternoon.

IMG09164-20140819-1332Free-flowing traffic along the Katipunan-Aurora overpass – in the early afternoons, the northbound side of Katipunan is usually full of vehicles mainly private cars and trucks. While there were many trucks yesterday, their numbers were not enough to cause traffic jams.

I think the traffic situation yesterday provided a clear picture that the major traffic generators along Katipunan are mainly the reason for traffic congestion along the stretch from Blue Ridge to Balara. These are mostly the schools (Ateneo, Miriam and UP) that generate so much private vehicle traffic on weekdays and Saturdays. Sundays are different because there’s no school nor work at offices on this day. With the QC holiday, the through traffic was still there owing to work and school in other cities (e.g., Residents of QC would still have to travel to Makati or Ortigas if their workplaces are located there. Similarly, students residing in QC whose schools are in the University Belt in Manila would have to travel.). This means there is really a need to understand why there is congestion and what causes it. A lot more effort is needed for this understanding and to ultimately reduce traffic congestion along this stretch of C5. Pointing fingers among agencies and simply putting the blame on one sector of traffic (e.g., trucks) will not get us anywhere. The solution will require strong cooperation among stakeholders and will definitely be not a painless undertaking for many.

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.

Walking vs. cycling?

I remember an episode in an old series, The West Wing, where White House staff had to meet with various proponents of renewable energy. The very same proponents advocated for the RE they thought should get the  most attention, and therefore funding support from the government. They ended up criticising each other’s advocacies, even pointing to the flaws of each and basically putting each other’s proposals down. The POTUS (ably played by Martin Sheen) had to intervene and scolded these people for working against each other rather than working together to push a common RE agenda.

This is pretty much where we are now with many proponents of sustainable transport initiatives. People and certain groups would advocate for walking, cycling, BRT, rail transit, etc. as if these are exclusive from one another. The results have often been haphazard facilities such as entire pedestrian facilities being painted and designated as bikeways and regular bus services being mislabeled as BRT. I have some friends who insist that cycling is the way to go simply because they cycle between their homes and workplaces, not fully understanding that this mode is not for everyone especially with the various issues in urban sprawl affecting our choices of residence. Clearly, what is good for one person is not necessarily applicable to everyone else, and that is why we should have options for travel or commuting. These options would have to be integrated, complementary, affordable and people and environment-friendly.

 

IMG08759-20140609-1012The MMDA fenced off entire stretches of sidewalks and painted the pavement red to designate them as bikeways. This basically alienates pedestrians and while the wire mesh fence has its benefits from the perspective of safety, it also effectively constricts the space that cyclists and pedestrians have to share. Note also the trees and poles that pedestrians and cyclists would have to evade or risk injury.

IMG08799-20140610-1657Along EDSA, the same treatment of fences and coloured pavements was applied ahead of Temple Drive/Corinthian Gardens. The space is just too constrained for sharing given the trees and poles and then you have the smoke belching buses adding to the misery of people using these facilities.

 

While there have been some quick wins for pedestrians and cyclists, it seems to me that many if not all do not seem to be as sustainable as we want them to be. Many cases are classic for their being “pwede na yan.” There is no innovation in design or no design involved at all much like what we typically see as best or good practices abroad. Marikina still has the best examples so far for integrated bikeway and walkway design though there are many examples of good pedestrian facilities around including those in Makati and Bonifacio Global City (I tend to resist saying Taguig because that city practically has no say in how BGC is developed.). Quezon City (along Commonwealth) had a little promise and the UP Diliman campus but perhaps that can be realised with the rise of a new CBD in the North Triangle area. Of course, we look forward to developments in Iloilo City what with the bikeways being constructed along the long Diversion Road. Still, I believe that there should be a conscious effort not just from the private sector but from government agencies, especially the DPWH, to come up with new designs and guidelines that LGUs could refer to. That agency so far has not measured up to the expectations of many for it to take a lead in revitalising our roads so that facilities can be truly inclusive and environment-friendly.

“Sharing the road” – bandwagons and fads? Let’s hope not!

There seems to be a lot of talk about “sharing the road” and the initiatives to have more bikeways. I hope I am proven wrong but it seems to me as if these current programs and projects are more of a fad. A lot of people (and local governments) join the bandwagon with little understanding of what needs to be done. It’s usually because of the good PR they get out of these that they agree to coming up with the token carless street or the haphazardly implemented bicycle lanes. More than PR, some cities are aware of the opportunities that come with such initiatives as international agencies and groups are willing to spend money to support such programs and projects. The question really is on sustainability and doing the right thing not only on initiating things or coming up with programs but on the substance itself. And by substance I mean that programs should also go into the details of designs. Too often, the “pwede na yan” approach is taken and this just won’t do.

2014-02-28 08.31.21The MMDA painted the sidewalks in White Plains and designated them as bikeways, in a way alienating pedestrians.

A vision for what people want to have is there but it is ultimately how the achieve the vision that needs a lot of work. For example, bills are being filed in congress to force the creation of bicycle lanes along major highways. (And mind you there are a lot of similar bills filed in congress that upon closer inspection actually have little substance.) The premise here seems to be that if you build them then people will start cycling. That was not the experience in Marikina, which boasts of the country’s only bikeways network that includes many off-street sections. These bikeways were built at a time when the perception and analysis pointed to a critical mass of cyclists in that city that was thought to be surely the tipping point in terms of non-motorised transport. Nowadays, the same bikeways are used by motorcycles and tricycles and most cyclists we see are not commuters (e.g., cycling between home and work/school) but recreational cyclists. It would take Marikina some effort to promote commuting by bicycles and much effort in enforcement to correct the misuse of the bikeways. The “new” bikeways in Quezon City appear to be poorly conceptualised as the MMDA decided to paint the sidewalks along EDSA northbound without addressing the obstacles like electric posts. Still, it is an effort to put NMT in the consciousness or awareness of the general public (thanks in part to media’s making these news worthy items).

Cities like Pasig and Taguig like to show-off Ortigas Center and Bonifacio Global City, respectively, as their faces when in fact the cities have not done much in their original cores. The running joke is that the real Taguig is not the areas to the west of C-5 but the old Taguig, which is to the east. This Taguig is the one plagued by narrow streets and the proliferation of tricycles. It was not so long ago that a former mayor imposed e-tricycles on BGC (where they were not suitable) while not doing much to lift a finger in the mayhem of tricycles in old Taguig (e.g., along Gen. Luna). As for Pasig, you just have go along the Pasig River and the Manggahan Floodway to see what it has accomplished so far in those areas.

There are no quick fixes to the transport and traffic problems our cities are facing. In the case of Metro Manila, much is at stake for the long-delayed mass transit projects. And the DOTC’s announcements of projects being formulated or proposed are no longer taken seriously as they have not delivered on any of these despite 4 years of this current administration. For other cities, it is important to learn the hard lessons from the experience of Metro Manila. There is also a need for a drastic change in transport and traffic policies in our cities. Iloilo, for example, has built an expensive bike lane along Ninoy Aquino Avenue (Diversion Road) and has marketed its Esplanade as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Yet the city has not acted on the clamour to revisit the overpasses along Gen. Luna (Infante and Jalandoni flyovers). The latest information I got from the city is that there are issues in the design of the bikeway along the Diversion Road as the surface (they used pavers) is not suitable for cycling. It seems, also, that the city and cyclists were not consulted by the DPWH when the bikeway was designed and constructed resulting in many cyclists using the Diversion Road itself for traveling. This last example is a lesson for our local governments and national agencies that they need to cooperate with each other and turfing has no place in transport and traffic if we are really serious about bringing solutions to problems we encounter everyday.

Off-street parking along Tomas Morato

Not too long ago, the Quezon City government constructed off-street parking slots throughout the city. These included spaces along major roads such as Visayas Avenue, Mindanao Avenue, Quezon Avenue, West Avenue and Timog Avenue. Tomas Morato as well as the streets connecting to it were also included in the project, which benefited many people, whether they be car-users or taking public transport. I took a couple of photos last week as the wife picked up some food at a panciteria along Morato. It was early an early afternoon so traffic was free-flowing and many parking spaces are available along the avenue. Morato is well known for having many restaurants and cafes lined up along either side of the street and during their off-periods, Morato would usually be an easy drive.

Morato1The off-street parking spaces along Tomas Morato are free and are not allocated for any specific establishment. In practice though, the spaces in front of certain restaurants, shops, banks, etc. are “reserved” by their staff for their customers/clients.

Morato2Many newer establishments along Tomas Morato have no provisions for off-street parking for their clients. This means the burden for parking continues in being passed on to the local government and, likely, at the expense of taxpayers.

I still believe that establishments that are required under law to provide at least the minimum number of parking spaces as per national building code should be made to compensate for the city’s construction of parking spaces to solve on-street parking issues along streets like Morato. I understand that they pay local taxes but that is an entirely different requirement that is not related to their being required to provide parking spaces for their customers/clients. It’s really a matter of doing the right thing for both city and these establishments but such cases are often muddled and are not tackled as the general public is usually not interested in these somewhat unpopular topic of parking.

Cubao Aurora

Cubao is one of the busiest areas in Metro Manila where a lot of public transport routes converge. It is a major transfer point for road and rail transport particularly near the junction of three major roads – EDSA, Aurora Boulevard, and E. Rodriguez Avenue, which is only a few meters from EDSA. I took a few photos when I was in the area one time and here they are:

2013-12-22 16.26.56EDSA and Aurora Boulevard intersect at ground level. There is, however, an underpass along EDSA bypassing the at-grade intersection. Shown in the photo are the two rail transit lines passing through the area – EDSA MRT 3 at the 2nd level and LRT Line 2 at the 3rd level.

2013-12-22 16.29.00After crossing EDSA, eastbound jeepneys approach the LRT 2 Cubao Station, which is beside the Gateway Mall of the Araneta Center. Traffic along this section of Aurora Blvd. is typically slow as jeepneys bound for different destinations in the east congregate here. Meanwhile, on the other side of EDSA, the same situation is experienced as jeepneys line up along informal terminals on the street. This usually leads to congestion and low throughput along Aurora at the intersection.

2013-12-22 16.31.19Jeepneys tend to linger under the LRT 2 station and occupy practically all the lanes with most jeepneys deliberately moving at snail’s pace as they try to get passengers. This is the case along both directions of Aurora Boulevard, which makes one wonder why many people don’t take the LRT instead. Of course, for eastbound passengers, the answer is simply that the LRT ends at Santolan Station in Pasig (along Marcos Highway and just after the Marikina River). Most passengers would rather take a single, direct jeepney ride from Cubao to their destinations rather than make the difficult transfer at Katipunan (for Marikina-bound passengers) or Santolan (for Rizal and Pasig-bound commuters).

I wanted to take some photos during the night time one time we were passing under LRT 2 along Aurora Boulevard near the Gateway Mall. The area wasn’t well lighted though so all the photos didn’t come out right. This blight is similar to the situation along the LRT Line 1 corridor stretching from Caloocan to Pasay, and affecting areas along Taft Avenue and Rizal Avenue. The areas including the rail superstructure are so dirty mainly because of the emissions from road vehicles, particularly jeepneys, buses and trucks with surplus and generally poorly maintained engines. Hopefully, the local governments and MMDA can address problems of bright with a campaign to install pocket and hanging gardens like the ones already along EDSA. The plants, if cared for properly, will surely help improve both air quality and aesthetics in these areas darkened by design and soot.

Christmas season traffic jams

Traffic jams are a common occurrence in most cities. In some they are predictable, usually during peak hours in the morning and the afternoon or evening. These peak periods may range from less than an hour or stretch to a couple or even longer hours depending on the characteristics of the area. In many cases, congested are main corridors (Commonwealth, Ortigas, Marcos Highway, McArthur Highway, SLEX, etc.) leading to or from the city center or central business district (e.g., Makati, Ortigas, Cubao, etc.). In Metro Manila, it can be a corridor connecting CBDs like EDSA or C-5.

2013-12-10 19.40.11Traffic congestion along the northbound side of Circumferential Road 5 seems much worse this December though it is always bad from the late afternoon to late night on weekdays. Congestion is usually worst along the stretch between Bonifacio Global City and Pasig River though it is also usually bad along the stretch from Ortigas Ave. to Eastwood in Quezon City. Traffic along the southbound side is usually bad in the mornings especially in the Pasig area.

IMG07554-20131221-1124Traffic congestion along Tramo on the way to the airport – traffic can really be bad in the vicinity of airports during this season but then the way the terminals of NAIA are situated and the conditions along airport roads also contribute to the congestion. For example, along Tramo in Pasay City you will find a lot of bus terminals and informal settlements. There are tricycles and pedicabs operating in the area, and parked vehicles along the road that reduce capacity. I always wonder what local authorities are doing to address these issues considering NAIA is our prime gateway to the world.

Unfortunately, the Christmas season in the Philippines is perhaps the longest in the world so Christmas traffic starts to build up in September (the first of the ‘ber’ months). Worst are days in December when everyone seems to be at their busiest. Aside from the work being done due to deadlines at the end of the year, there are shopping mall sales and Christmas parties.

So how do we know if December is indeed the busiest month of the year in terms of traffic? What evidence can we show as proof to this long-standing perception that is accepted as fact by many? I was asked these questions in a recent interview but unfortunately, I didn’t have the figures to show that December indeed is the busiest month in terms of traffic. Unfortunately, too, our government agencies do not conduct data collection to determine traffic volumes throughout the year so what you can get from the DPWH is Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT). Perhaps the evidence is with our toll operators, which conduct daily counts through their detectors and their toll booths. The cumulative volume of vehicles per month can be derived from data on tolls collected to validate the notion that December is highest in terms of traffic volumes.

Meanwhile, there might also be video evidence from the cameras installed by the MMDA and other local governments monitoring traffic. Footage taken from January to December can be compared to show which months are the busiest. Taking this to another level, image processing software for traffic are now available or can be developed to determine vehicle volumes from video.

It is reasonable to argue that indeed December is the busiest and we experience more traffic congestion during this month as there are more activities, especially those related to shopping, during this month. Ask anyone on the street and surely they will say that traffic and commuting is worst this time of year but many will also say they aren’t really complaining given the situation of other people (e.g., those affected by the earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu, and those affected by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in the Visayas). For many, this is still a season for joy and we generally don’t let traffic get in the way of happiness.

Merry Christmas to all!