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On electric vehicles and road safety

Electric vehicles are still basically motorized vehicles and should be treated so on the roads. While the previous models were slow and small, many of the newer ones coming out of the factories have similar performance features (e.g., speed, power, etc.) and dimensions as conventional vehicles. Many conventional models have electric or hybrid variants as companies attempt to attract customers using their tried and tested models and brands. BMW, for example, has electric sedans that are practically the same in interiors and exteriors with their conventional models. It is not surprising that vehicle safety researchers are now studying how electric vehicles fit into the road safety conundrum. I am sharing this brief but informative article that describes the efforts of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of the US in studying the EVs and safety:

Tucker, S. (December 27, 2022) “How electric cars are creating new challenges in car safety,” MarketWatch, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-electric-cars-are-creating-new-challenges-in-car-safety-11671646057?mod=technology [Last accessed: 12/29/2022]

To quote from the article:

“It’s comforting to know that EVs will face the same tests as gas-powered cars. But the fact that the IIHS worried it might need to build new equipment to accommodate them illustrates something important.

At the rate the auto industry is modernizing toward EVs, almost all of us will be driving them someday. But there will inevitably be an overlap period when some cars on the road are electric, and others are gas-powered.

In an accident, weight matters…

Crash tests can only estimate the likelihood of injury to someone inside the tested car. They can’t predict injuries in the other car. And we’re all about to share the roads with other cars that dramatically outweigh ours.”

 

On guerilla tactics in urbanism – guerilla crosswalks

I am sharing this article on guerilla crosswalks in the US. It is interesting as communities or groups concerned with road safety decided to put up interventions (in this case crosswalks) in order to address safety concerns pertaining to pedestrian ROW along roads. In most if not all countries, pedestrians are limited where they may cross and there are jaywalking laws and penalties that are now being regarded as car-centric policies that need to be revised to favor pedestrians more than motor vehicles.

Zipper, D. (December 1, 2022) “The Case for Guerrilla Crosswalks,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-12-01/when-crosswalks-go-rogue [Last accessed: 12/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

Such acts of unsanctioned “tactical urbanism” are of a kin to many other DIY street interventions, such as pop-up bike lanes. But they are not without risks. Affluent communities could have more residents willing to volunteer time and resources, for example, even though pedestrian deaths are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. “The locations identified by guerrilla crosswalk activists may or may not coincide with where the planners and engineers have identified as highest need,” said Sam Zimbabwe, the former director of Seattle DOT.

But in Los Angeles, the Crosswalk Collective spokesperson said that the group is “always mindful of who has access to safety installations and who doesn’t,” adding that all its crosswalks to date have been sited in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of Central and East Los Angeles.

Zimbabwe also noted the limited benefits of paint on faster roads (which the Federal Highway Administration has documented): “Particularly on multilane arterials, only marking a crosswalk without deploying other tools does not address the ‘multiple threat’ problem, where one driver stops but the driver in another lane does not.“ (The Crosswalk Collective spokesperson agreed, saying that the group rejects proposed locations due to safety concerns “all the time.”)

But in the right setting, unauthorized street infrastructure additions can lead to one of two outcomes — and both are constructive. One possibility is that the city removes it, in which case media attention and resident backlash put pressure on local officials to be more responsive to safety requests. (That coverage may also compel more residents to join street safety groups).

The other option is that city officials take the hint and accept what residents have built. Eight years ago, Seattle transportation planner Dongho Chang won the enduring appreciation of local cyclists when he responded to a pop-up bike lane first by thanking activists for their passion, and then by making the bike lane permanent. Now working with the Washington State Department of Transportation, Chang does not share Seattle DOT’s rigid opposition to guerrilla crosswalks. “It would be good to acknowledge the effort that was done by the residents,” he said. “If there is a way to keep the crosswalk, it would be ideal to try to do that.”

This is, of course, in the US where such tactical urbanism might be in vogue in certain cities and communities. Would such be allowed or encouraged in the Philippines? Actually, there are already many cases where tactical urbanism has been applied and usually at the community or barangay level. Prior to the DPWH putting in rumble strips at the approaches of schools, junctions and other locations perceived to be accident or crash prone, people have devised ways to slow down traffic in favor of pedestrian crossings. These include laying down old rubber tires cut and stretched to become humps. There are also barriers laid out to form something like an obstacle course; forcing vehicles to zig-zag instead of going straight along critical sections. These have allowed schoolchildren to cross safe in school zones and pedestrians crossing safely at intersections.

On intersection treatments for bicycles

With the increasing popularity of bicycles as a mode of transport particularly for commuting (e.g., bike-to-work, bike-to-school), we should be redesigning our intersections to include elements essential for the safety of all users, whether on motorized or non-motorized modes. Here is a short but very informative article on how a simple intersection treatment can significantly improve safety for everyone especially cyclists and pedestrians:

Grief, N. (December 2, 2022) “How Green Paint Can Save Cyclists’ Lives,” Bicycling.com, https://www.bicycling.com/news/a42124210/bike-boxes-intersections/ [Last accessed: 12/3/2022]

To quote from the article:

“A bike box, on the other hand, seems to be the ideal middle ground and the option of the three that these researchers recommend. Cyclists feel more comfortable when compared to the free-for-all of a mixing zone because they have a designated area to be and they’re out ahead of vehicles, but according to the eye movement analysis, they remain alert and watchful for vehicles.”

Here are a couple of drawings showing bike boxes at intersections from the recent Bike Lanes Master Plan for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao that was developed by DOTr with assistance from the UNDP:

Bike boxes on a typical three-leg intersection (DOTr and UNDP, 2022)

Bike boxes on a typical four-leg intersection (DOTr and UNDP, 2022)

The preceding drawings adhere to the DPWH design guidelines that mainly follow AASHTO Guidelines. Of course, there are other design references such as NACTO and the manuals of other countries (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, etc.) were the best practice designs can be adopted for local applications.

On emergency vehicles, speeds and road widths

I recall an online discussion about how roads need to be wide to accommodate emergency vehicles such as fire trucks/engines, ambulances and police vehicles. There are also videos shared on social media about how, with wide roads, motorists could move their vehicles to the sides to give way to emergency vehicles. These are used to support the argument that we need wide roads and that speeding for emergency vehicles is justified because of their purpose. The following article attempts to make a counter-argument:

Lewis, M. (November 21, 2022) “Ambulances vs. Pedestrians,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/119785-ambulances-vs-pedestrians [Last accessed: 11/24/2022]

To quote from the article:

“the “emergency response” argument in favor of wide streets only makes sense if the risk of death from a too-slow ambulance outweighs the risk of death from a speeding car.”

Certainly, the data on road crashes due to speeding should support the perception that there’s a higher risk of death from speeding vehicles compared to the risk of dying in relation to the emergency that’s supposedly being responded to. And in our country, perhaps this counter-argument is valid considering the “wang-wang” type of emergency vehicles moving about.

On reducing driving and its inherent risks

Ever since the automobile was invented and eventually mass-produced, there has been an increasing risk associated with motor vehicle traffic. Laws, policies and regulations have also been influenced to favor the car rather than people. And so we now have what is termed as a car-oriented and dependent transportation system that seems so difficult to undo as most people appear to be enamored by the car. Owning a car (or even a motorcycle if you want to extend this idea of individual ownership) remains an aspiration to a lot of people.

Here is a link to the compact version of a comprehensive report by Todd Litman that presents and argues for a new paradigm where driving is considered a risk factor. There are data and a table comparing old and new traffic paradigms to help us understand the situation and what needs to be redefined or re-framed in order to achieve our safety targets or vision.

Litman, T. (October 20, 2022) “Driving as a Risk Factor: A New Paradigm,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/119287-driving-risk-factor-new-paradigm?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10202022&mc_cid=beacdc2a04&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 10/28/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Safer vehicles, roads, and driving may reduce crashes but achieve few other goals, and sometimes contradict them. Transportation demand management and smart growth policies increase safety in addition to helping to achieve other planning goals, and so can be considered win-win solutions.

More comprehensive safety analysis tends to support social equity goals. Many conventional safety strategies, such as larger vehicles with more passenger protection, and wider roads with fewer intersections, tend to increase walking and bicycling risks. In contrast, lower traffic speeds, TDM, and Smart Growth tend to improve safety, mobility, and accessibility for people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive.”

The key takeaway here should be that people should have the option of not driving at all in order to reduce the risks associated with driving as well as reduce congestion. A more comprehensive

On modified, fossil fuel kick scooters

You’ve probably seen one of these micromobility modes but take a closer look and you will notice a more spruced-up version of what you thought was an electric kick scooter (EKS). No, this one in the photos is not electric-powered but running on an internal combustion engine. It is a modified, fossil fuel-powered scooter.

You can see the modifications on the scooter – the engine and the gas tank.

These can be hard to detect for drivers or riders and can be risky at night time when visibility is a major factor for those using these vehicles.

I’ve seen these modified scooters along my typical commuting routes. They seem to be faster than the regular EKS. They also appear to have more power for uphill or climbing as I’ve seen these having no trouble ascending to Antipolo via Sumulong Highway or Ortigas Avenue Extension. As for maneuverability, I cannot really make an assessment except for what I’ve observed. But what worries me is that there are also reckless riders of these vehicles who tend to weave in traffic whether its congested or free flowing. If it’s difficult to anticipate the movement of motorcycles and bicycles along highways and streets, it’s even more with these scooters. But before you react and say that drivers and riders need to be slowing down (and all that jazz), remember that it takes two to tango. Even if you do slow down or practice safe driving or riding, if that other person will be reckless then there will be an increased likelihood for a crash to happen.

Children’s companions to and from school

In the recent 15th National Convention on Statistics, an interesting information is about the companions of school children when going to school and coming home from school. Note the change in companions from elementary school to high school.

 

 

The data above is from Zamboanga City. Is it the same or different in other Philippine cities or municipalities?

On making streets safer through woonerfs

One of the new things I learned when I was taking up transportation planning as an undergraduate student in the 1990s was about the woonerf. Our teacher then was a Visiting Professor from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He introduced to us many concepts in that elective course that paved the way to a number of us proceeding to specialize in transportation. What is a woonerf? Well, here’s a nice article defining the woonerf and providing some examples:

Ionescu, D. (October 6, 2022) “What is a Woonerf?” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/definition/woonerf?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10062022&mc_cid=9d60b3d668&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 10/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Translated as “living street,” a woonerf employs strategies like traffic calming devices and low speed limits to force drivers to slow down and safely share street space with pedestrians, cylists, and others, often without raised curbs separating cars and pedestrians. In the Netherlands, where the woonerf originated in the 1960s, motorized traffic within woonerf zones is limited to walking speed…

…A woonerf is not a pedestrianized street, but rather one where multiple users and vehicles co-exist. However, a woonerf can be converted to car-free uses using bollards or other barriers. The woonerf maintains utilitarian uses like loading docks and parking while making the roadway safer and more accessible to non-drivers.”

There should be many applications to the woonerf in the Philippines especially in areas where the dominant land use is residential and through traffic should be discouraged. This is goes well with the complete streets concept that is now being promoted and in fact pre-dates the concept and was well ahead of its time.

On animal – vehicle collissions

We feature a different type of road crash today – one involving wildlife and vehicles. This is not something new as I am sure you’ve seen all those road kills (usually cats or dogs) along many of our streets and highways. These don’t even include the frogs, birds and other animals that are killed by motor vehicle traffic. Here is an informative article on such crashes or collisions and what can be done to address them.

Skroch, M. (October 4, 2022) “The dreadful toll of wildlife – vehicle collisions – and what we can do about it,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/now/the-dreadful-toll-of-wildlife-vehicle-collisions-and-what-we-can-do-about-it [Last accessed: 10/10/2020]

To quote from the article:

“Advances in research technology over the past decade have revolutionized experts’ understanding of how wildlife move across landscapes and are now helping to resolve wildlife-vehicle conflicts that are rising due to increased development. One example is GPS collars that are affixed to big game, as well as other mammals and birds, and transmit electronic signals via satellite from some of the most remote regions in the U.S. to researchers throughout the country. This data captures exactly where and when animals move within large landscapes, enabling scientists and engineers to pinpoint where the construction of wildlife crossings — mostly overpasses and underpasses that help animals traverse highways — can most effectively improve motorist safety and facilitate animal migrations. Studies show that a well-placed underpass or overpass can reduce wildlife-vehicle accidents by over 90 percent, providing a high rate of return on federal and state investments in such structures.”

Back to the old normal in road safety?

Last week, I almost witnessed a multiple vehicle crash along Katipunan Avenue. Almost because we reached the location minutes after the incident happened and before the traffic build-up. Here are photos as we passed the area. You can see from the photos that there were already a lot of onlookers (i.e., miron and usyoso), most of whom were motorcycle riders taking photos of the vehicles involved. No one seemed to be helping those involved aside from the MMDA personnel who appeared to have just arrived as we passed the area.

Miron and usyoso in the area near where a large truck plowed to the roadside near a residential area

Some of the vehicles involved in the crash were this black SUV and the red car

There were scattered debris from the vehicles involved.

This truck and SUV collided probably as the truck attempted to avoid one of the vehicles

Traffic jam quickly formed along the southbound side of the Katipunan-Aurora flyover

Traffic along the southbound side of Katipunan is usually heavy that time of day (around 8:00 AM). But there are sections including the flyover where vehicles typically speed up. Still, the likelihood of crashes is perceived to be low given the conditions unless a vehicle such as the truck in the first photo had some trouble with the driver losing control of the vehicle. It takes just one wayward maneuver or movement to initiate a chain reaction among other vehicles that would lead to a multiple vehicle crash.

Traffic has steadily returned to pre-pandemic levels and it seems that road crashes are also back and on the rise. Hopefully, the authorities such as the MMDA and the PNP will be monitoring traffic closely and address the issues contributing to road crash incidence such as reckless driving and defects in road facilities. I believe the data is available but are these being analyzed and evaluated in order to come up with the most suitable or appropriate solutions or countermeasures? Are there timely interventions to improve road safety along our roads?