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On the transportation aspects of Antipolo’s pitch for the senate to relocate there

I was browsing Facebook the other day and found an interesting post by the Antipolo City Government’s official account. They posted about the presentation made by the current mayor to the staff of the Philippine Senate, selling the idea for the Senate to relocate from its current location in Pasay City. There are currently two options known to us: Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City and Antipolo City in Rizal Province.

The Antipolo government’s post stated that it only takes 25 minutes between the the Batasan Complex and the proposed site, which is on land owned by the Antipolo City Government. This was probably based on travel time estimate using a tool such as Open Street Map. This though is inaccurate since travel times are affected by various factors and will vary according to time of day, day of the week and even month.

Open Street Map visualization of travel route and time between Batasan Complex and the proposed site for the Senate

 

Google Maps visualization of alternative routes and typical travel times

 

I took the preceding screen captures at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2017 (Friday). Open Street Map’s version can be misleading because it states a travel time assuming practically no traffic (~26 km in 27 minutes or about 58 km/hr in terms of travel speed). Google Maps version is better as it accounts for typical traffic during a certain time of travel (i.e., 10AM). Thus, there’s the more realistic 1 hour travel time for the same distance (about 26 km/hr travel speed). Google’s is based on crowdsourced data and can be customized based on the day and time of travel (e.g., 8:00 AM on a Monday). And I wouldn’t even want to get into the discussion of the accuracy of the claimed 40-45 minutes to/from the airport (i.e., NAIA). Again, anyone with Waze or Google Maps can get more realistic travel time estimates for such trips.

What would be the transport impacts of such a relocation. For one, employees of the Senate (and I am not even considering the Senators and their closest staff here) would have to travel from their residences to the proposed site in Cabading, Antipolo City. Where do these staff live? If they were from Manila and they take public transport, that probably means they would have to take the LRT Line 2 to Masinag and then take a jeepney from Masinag to the site. Line 2 would present the most efficient option in terms of travel time and cost compared to taking a jeepney or van via Cubao. I am not aware of any direct transport services for them although we can speculate that perhaps new routes can be established. The Senate has shuttle buses so these would also be an option for those taking public transport. Car owners will have to travel and converge along Marcos Highway. It is uncertain when the extension to Cogeo will be decided and constructed, if at all.

There is also mention of the plans for Circumferential Road 6 (C-6). However, the reality is that government is taking its time in upgrading the existing sections in Taguig, Pasig and Taytay. The Taguig sections are in a very bad state now after the onset of the wet season. Dealing with the ROW acquisitions necessary for planned C-6 sections is already a big challenge as the areas are already built up or developed (mostly residential subdivisions).

Having the Senate complex in Antipolo will have repercussions on land use/development as well as land prices and rent. It will be located at a relatively undeveloped part of the city and will likely encourage urbanization there. Antipolo should be careful in regulating land development so that the area will not become another Batasan with all the informal settlements and the low density developments around it. There are many opportunities here to develop the area into a showcase government center and that should include planned development for residential, commercial and institutional uses. The housing options should include affordable walk-up apartments as well as medium rise buildings like those by DMCI and Filinvest. It is important to emphasize that options for affordable housing near the workplace cannot be provided in Fort Bonifacio since land and residential unit prices there are already very expensive; forcing most Senate staff to live outside and away from their offices. Such a situation necessitates long commutes and contributes to congestion.

To be fair, there is a good potential for congestion reduction if the Senate relocates to Antipolo. Perhaps the concept of a “New Town” in the proposed site can be developed in more detail. But questions arise: Will this attract major schools, for example, as well as offices such as BPOs? What is definite is that Antipolo will not be the only LGU that will benefit (economically) here but perhaps much of the Province of Rizal, too, as well as the nearby cities of Marikina and Pasig.

Decongestion can happen if:
a) Senate staff decide to move to Antipolo and environs (e.g., Marikina, Cainta, Tanay, etc.).
b) A significant number of staff reside at the proposed dormitories during much of the weekdays, and go home only for the weekends and holidays.
c) Efficient public transport is provided for them and Antipolo constituents along the corridor to be served.
d) Sustainable transport facilities like walkways and bikeways be developed to reduce dependence on motorized transport especially for short distance travel.

In the end, though, I think it will be the Senators who will be making the decision on this matter. Will they be more practical, pragmatic, or insensitive to the consideration of their staffs? Abangan!

Submersible bridge in Montalban

Last May, we went to a zoo in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal. Using Waze for directions to the zoo, the app took us to a submersible bridge across the wide Marikina River from the main highway (M.H. Del Pilar) to the mainly residential area where the zoo was located. Following are photos of the submersible bridge and the newer more conventional bridge located a little further down the highway.

Submersible bridge connecting Barangay San Rafael with Barangay San Isidro

The “all-weather” bridge as seen from the submersible

There are many bridges like this submersible one across the country. Many were built as weirs or dams that could be used as bridges when the water level allowed it but could let water pass above it during wetter days. Incidentally, there’s one along a popular alternative route between Quezon City and Marikina in Tumana. That bridge can be impassable during times of heavy rains.

Opposition to C-6

There had been no significant developments for the Circumferential Road 6 (C-6) not counting the road widening and concreting along the sections at Lupang Arenda in Taytay, Rizal. Meanwhile along its lakeside alignment in Taguig, a 2-lane road has been constructed apparently as part of the widening of the section for what maybe a future 4-lane road with a median island dividing opposing flows of traffic.

img_3866Sign apparently put up by this residential subdivision’s homeowners’ association

img_3865Close-up of the sign shows opposition by the residents to the proposed C6 alignment to pass through their homes.

I haven’t heard or read about anything new or updates about C-6. It seems to be tied to other projects including a proposed elevated tollway along the shores of the Laguna de Bay. The alignment though to the north seem to be unresolved and will definitely be a big concern for many developed residential areas including those in the Province of Rizal.

Calamba-Binangonan boat ride

A niece posted on social media about a boat ride she took from Calamba, Laguna to Binangonan, Rizal. I immediately became curious about this as this presented an alternative mode of transport across the Laguna de Bay that could significantly cut travel time between major towns in Laguna and Rizal. Perhaps a boat ride could also cut substantial minutes between these provinces and Manila if only there was a direct connection or service with the Pasig River Ferry. I learned that it cost 50 pesos for a 45-minute trip from Calamba and Binangonan. Both the cost and the travel time are significantly less than what it would take via land and the roads connecting the two towns. I would estimate that the travel time using the South Luzon Expressway, Circumferential Road 6, Eastbank Road and Manila East Road would probably take more than 2 hours and the tolls alone will cost much more than 50 pesos. And this was via private transport. It would be longer and more expensive using public transport considering also that a person would have to make several transfers to travel between Calamba and Binangonan.

img_3465Outrigger ferrying people and goods across the Laguna de Bay (photo courtesy of Zarah Bombio)

The boats are practically the same ones that ferry people to and from Talim Island and my niece mentioned that there is a regular service of at least one boat every hour. Certainly this option should be considered by transport planners as they think of alternative modes for more efficient travel.

Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

Improvements to alternative route between Rizal and Makati

I finally got another look at the conditions along the alternate road to Highway 2000 and C-6 Extension a couple of weeks ago while en route to Bonifacio Global City. Traffic along Ortigas Ave. is usually terrible these days even during the weekends due to the road and drainage works between Cainta Junction and Brookside. I am glad to say that there have been significant improvements to the section of Don Hilario Cruz Ave nearest to the Manggahan Floodway and beside the Megawide plant. There have been significant developments, too, along C-6 Extension in the Lupang Arenda area of Taytay, Rizal. Here are some photos of the area.

2015-11-14 10.18.11Don Hilario Cruz Ave., the road beside the Megawide plant and parallel to Highway 2000, is being improved with half the carriageway already prepared for paving. The other half appears to be graded is being used by vehicles.

2015-11-14 10.19.21A roller runs along the base layer of the road that’s being paved. These sections were usually muddy and full of craters during the wet season and very dusty and still full of potholes during the dry season.

2015-11-14 10.26.24Sections of C-6 Extension at the Lupang Arenda area have been widened and the expropriated lands are now being transformed into paved roads. The original sections have been overlayed with asphalt to improve their ride-ability.

2015-11-14 10.27.33Another section in Lupang Arenda shows finished PCCP for the eastbound side of C-6.

2015-11-14 10.28.26Another photo of C-6 extension. Once the finished lanes are usable, authorities will probably divert traffic there so they could also pave the rest of the road.

Travelers between Rizal and Makati/Taguig will benefit the most from the improvements along these roads. These will increase road capacity as well as travel speeds along this route. Now, if only authorities can also improve C-6 itself in Taguig…

On the severity of traffic congestion along Ortigas Avenue and the necessity of a mass transit line

With the worsening congestion along Marcos Highway due to the construction of the LRT Line 2 Extension to Masinag, I have been using Ortigas Avenue as an alternate route to go home. Granted, the stretch from the Park Place gate near Cainta Junction and Brookside is currently undergoing roadworks elevating that entire section (which is prone to flooding), and this is the main cause of much congestion as fewer lanes are usable to traffic. However, what is perceived to be relief from traffic once the project is completed will eventually and surely revert to a very congested Ortigas Avenue.

Traffic congestion along Ortigas Extension is primarily due to a dependence on road transport, particularly private vehicles, by people living along Ortigas Ave. and the roads feeding into it. The Manila East Road, for example, passes through the most populous towns of Rizal outside of Antipolo City. The dependence on road transport (especially private vehicles) is due to limited options for public transport. There are buses, jeepneys and UV Express but these, too, contribute to congestion due to their increased numbers and limited capacities given the high demand for public transport. Among the infrastructure proposed along this corridor is an overpass along Ortigas Ave. at Cainta Junction. A mass transit system has also been required along this corridor for a very long time but for some reason, such infrastructure has not been provided.

2015-10-10 17.20.46Severe traffic congestion along both directions of Ortigas Avenue Extension

2015-10-10 17.23.15Congestion stretches all the way along the Manila East Road

2015-10-17 18.25.14Night-time traffic congestion at the Tikling Junction

There is a proposal for a mass transit system along this corridor. Following are references to the project:

From the PPP Centre: https://ppp.gov.ph/?ppp_projects=ortigas-taytay-lrt-line-4-project

From CNN Philippines: http://cnnphilippines.com/metro/2015/07/22/neda-approves-naia-lrt-ppp-projects.html

I found it quite odd that the stations are not referenced according to the more common place names for the locations. For example, ‘Bonifacio Avenue’ should be ‘Cainta Junction’ and ‘Leonard Wood’ should be ‘Kaytikling Junction’. Nevertheless, this is the least of our concerns pertaining to transport and traffic along this corridor.

Perhaps the conditions are ripe now to finally implement transport infrastructure projects along this corridor. The proposal and approval of a rail transit line by NEDA means the corridor has the national government’s attention. The local government leaders along this corridor are also more progressive and aggressive than their predecessors. These include a very dynamic mayor in Cainta and the former governor-turned mayor in Antipolo. A collaboration towards better transport among these two LGUs alone would be influential and instrumental to improving travel along Ortigas Avenue.