Caught (up) in traffic

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Old style intersection traffic management

Heading to the DOST complex for a meeting, I took a few photos of the enforcers managing the traffic at the intersections at the Bicutan interchange from on top a traffic box. The intersections are formed by the on and off ramps of the South Luzon Expressway, the service roads and Gen. Santos Ave./Dona Soledad Ave. It was a welcome scene considering the enforcers seemed to be doing very well (i.e., traffic was flowing quite smoothly at the intersections) while also evoking times when traffic signals weren’t the norm in major intersections. Of course, it helped that pedestrian movements on the ground were eliminated by the pedestrian overpass set-up at the interchange, a legacy of the BF era at the MMDA.

IMG06272-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer on a box directing traffic at the intersection of the SLEX soutbound ramps, the West Service Road and Dona Soledad Ave. That’s SM Bicutan in the background with its two buildings on either side of Dona Soledad and connected by an elevate walkway. Pedestrians have been eliminated from the equation thanks to the elevated walkway at the SLEX Bicutan interchange.

IMG06273-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer at the intersection of the the SLEX northbound ramps, the East Service Road and Gen. Santos Ave. The PNR tracks run along just after the intersection.

Some issues on pedestrian crossings at signalized intersections at BGC

I had heard from friends working at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig that it is difficult for pedestrians to cross at intersections at BGC. For one, the cycle settings (i.e., movements allowed for every green signal) for the intersections, at least those I’ve seen, often had turning traffic in direct conflict with pedestrian crossings. This meant that while given the green light to cross the street, for example, pedestrians had to contend with left turning as well as right turning vehicles who are also allowed movement for particular green phases. The phasing and the cycle settings are definitely more favorable to motor vehicles and assume that motorists will give way to pedestrians already on the carriageway and crossing the street. This is not the case and motorists tend to assert their way against pedestrians. These pedestrians are not jaywalkers but actually have the right of way by virtue of them getting the green light to cross. There is also  that frequently violated rule of vehicles having to give way to legitimate crossings when people are already on the road. This is practiced in many other countries including the US, Japan and Singapore but is lost upon our motorists who seem to believe they own the road.

Another situation I’ve observed and personally experienced is the insufficient amount of time allocated for pedestrians to cross streets. This is particularly true for the wider streets of the Fort where it seems the people who set the signal cycles failed to estimate how much time it requires for people to cover the distance from one side of the roa to the other. What’s more is that the pedestrian settings allow only one or two people to cross at a comfortable pace. That is, other people will have to rush or run to be able to cross. Of course, the pedestrians would have to contend with the

IMG06311-20130628-0853Intersection of 26th Street and 5th Avenue (view along 26th and towards 4th) – notice the green light given to through and left turning traffic as well as the signals for pedestrians, which include countdown timers.

IMG06117-20130531-094426th and 5th (view at the corner facing the Net Lima building)

IMG06118-20130531-094726th and 7th (view from the corner towards The Fort)

The solution to this issue about pedestrian crossings is a little bit more tricky that what seems like something that can be addressed by a simple adjustment of signal settings to provide more time for pedestrians. There is a need to revisit the phasing scheme for vehicle movements allowed at the intersections. Then there is also a need to find the optimum cycle and green time allocations considering the requirements for pedestrians and not just for vehicles. I believe whoever is in charge of the signal settings at BGC should look into this and if they are not capable of adjusting the settings then they should require the provider of the signals to make the necessary adjustments if not show them how to do this considering that traffic is quite dynamic and settings would need to be programmed to be responsive to demand not just for vehicles but pedestrians as well. BGC has great potential to be a pedestrian friendly CBD but whoever is in charge of transport planning and development should step up and level up, so to speak, in providing an environment that will encourage people to walk rather than take their cars. High Street is already there and is an important element in that mix of development but then the cluster of offices and residential condos aren’t exactly designed for efficient walking, and the settings for the intersection signals, as we pointed out, need to be adjusted for pedestrians.

Criminality along congested roads

There’s been a rash of criminality along congested roads in Metro Manila. Recently, there have been reports of hold-ups and snatching along Circumferential Road 5 near its junction with Kalayaan Avenue. The suspects are said to be youngsters, teenage boys or even street-smart children, who roam the area and keeping an eye on opportunities for snatching among the hundreds of vehicles crawling along C5 during the peak periods. They look for unlocked doors of cars or taxis and in many cases team-up to confuse the driver and/or the passenger(s). In some instances where they can’t find unlocked doors they supposedly create opportunities by banging the body of the vehicle and goading the driver to step out of the vehicle.

imageVehicles at a standstill along C5 approaching the intersection with Kalayaan Ave – the center island is visible in the photo.

A few years ago, there was a feature on so-called “batang hamog” (roughly translated as children of the dew) opening doors of vehicles caught in traffic jams along EDSA. They snatch items like bags, cellphones or other items that they see through the vehicle’s windows as they loiter along the carriageway. CCTV footage from the MMDA show them to be quite quick in making their getaways. In some footage they are shown as climbing up the wall of the EDSA MRT, which is in the middle of EDSA, crossing the tracks and then climbing down on the other side, oblivious to the dangers of an oncoming train and the crash it might cause that could injure (even kill) many passengers.

A few weeks ago, a colleague and I saw some youths suspiciously scanning jeepneys caught in traffic near the Manila City Hall. My friend remarked that they might be searching for unwary passengers whom they can rob of their bags or jewelry. This modus operandi or mode of operation seems to be a favorite among snatchers in Metro Manila. I myself was almost a victim one time I was heading home on board a jeepney along Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong when a guy tried to make for my watch as the jeepney started to move. Fortunately, he failed as I reacted quickly and I saw a smirk on his face as our jeepney sped away.

Now, this kind of criminality is not something that our authorities cannot address. Surely, the Makati and Taguig police together with the MMDA can make a regular sweep of the length of C5 where these suspects are supposed to loiter given that the latter’s activities are quite predictable in time and modus operandi. It’s both frustrating and disappointing when officials make excuses on TV and radio interviews why they cannot catch or deter these criminals from harassing motorists and pedestrians. Hindi naman siguro talaga pwede magamit ang patrol car kapag ma-traffic at pinaka-epektibo ay magkaroon ng foot patrol sa lugar. They can have police and enforcers roam the same areas at the same times when there’s traffic congestion and therefore, a high likelihood that the suspects will be there.Those people aren’t supposed to be roaming the carriageway or loitering along the center island of C5 in the first place since to do that they would be jaywalking along a very busy road and risk being hit by a motor vehicle.

I believe police visibility is only effective if they are actually visible and when required, give chase of the suspects. The problem seems to be that the police and enforcers are usually just at the C5-Kalayaan intersection, focused on number-coding violators, and those who are supposed to be patrolling don’t want to leave the comfort of their vehicles. Surely again, we expect our law enforcers to be fit and ready to run after suspected criminals. After all, that’s what they are supposed to be doing in the first place. It would be nice to see them patrolling the area on foot and accosting people who are not supposed to be in the area.

Night time congestion along C-5

Traffic congestion along Circumferential Road 5 is experienced practically throughout the day with the worst congestion along the southbound direction during the mornings between the Riverbanks Road in Quezon City and Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City, and the northbound direction between Bonifacio Global City and Eastwood from noon to nighttime. The following photos taken by my wife as I fetched her one night from her office shows the traffic jam along C-5 as we turned from the flyover past Market! Market! towards the highway.

imageCongestion along the C-5 northbound is a regular thing during the weekdays from the afternoon to late at night. While apps like the MMDA’s Traffic Navigator and Waze allow us to have an idea of how congested C-5 is during such periods, the actual experience is much worse than what many of us can just imagine from the apps.

image_2As far as the eye could see – congestion in the form of the taillights of vehicles along the northbound side of C-5 indicate just how many people are caught in traffic from Taguig all the way to Pasig and beyond. The giant billboards from Kalayaan Avenue to Pasig Boulevard including those seen along the bridge crossing the Pasig River. Most of these people are office workers coming from Makati and Global City and heading home to Quezon City, Pasig, and the towns of Rizal. After 7 PM, trucks add to the traffic

Many people are asking if there is a solution in sight for congestion along C-5. To be frank, there is none in the immediate future. There are proposals to introduce a public transport system along the corridor with one option being a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and another an elevated rail transit line. The BRT line is a recommendation of a Pre-FS for Metro Manila BRT conducted around 6 years ago though there was a proposal for a bus system (Philtrak) along the same corridor back in the late 80’s and pursued for some time during the 90’s. Not much have been done towards realizing any of these proposals. An efficient mass transit system along the corridor could encourage people to shift from private to public transport and help reduce vehicular traffic along C-5 considering that even as I write this post, vehicle ownership is increasing in Metro Manila and its environs and this could only mean more congestion along C-5 and other roads.

Daily penance: traffic congestion along C-5

People have been telling me about the traffic congestion along Circumferential Road 5 (C-5) and I am quick to reply that I know the feeling as I’m one of those who have driven or traveled along C-5 and experienced first hand the traffic congestion, which is worst during the mornings (southbound) and late afternoons and evenings (northbound). Midday traffic jams are not uncommon as C-5 is a truck route and large vehicles contribute to clogging especially at bottlenecks like the U-turns slots along the highway and bridge crossing the Pasig River. C-5 has been this way since its opening (or more appropriately the completion of missing links along the main alignment).

It will not get better. It will only get worse. I say so because of the annual increase in vehicle ownership, including motorcycles, in what is now termed as Mega Manila. I dare say so because of the backlog of public transport infrastructure in the metropolis (or megalopolis?). It is well established that efficient public transport infra and services are good incentives for people to commute rather than drive. This means there will be less vehicles on the road and therefore there will be less congestion as basically only those who really need to drive would be using their cars on a regular basis. Of course, it is not as easy at it seems considering trip making and mode choices are in reality complicated matters. But then the availability of viable, acceptable choices for travel, especially in the urban setting allows for people to have better mobility and more equitable use of the transport system than a car-oriented city. Until then, when we do have the public transport system that our cities require, it will be a daily penitensya for many of us traveling and not just along C-5.

IMG04707-20121109-1049Congestion along the southbound side of C-5 approaching the flyover crossing Ortigas Ave. The flyover can be seen in the horizon.

IMG04710-20121109-1109Congestion along C-5 southbound in the Bo. Ugong area approaching the junction with Lanuza Avenue. An overpass was proposed for construction along this section but now it doesn’t look like it will do any good considering the bottleneck is the Pasig Flyover and the bridge across Pasig River.

IMG04714-20121109-1118Congestion along C-5 southbound at the Pasig flyover. The flyover has 2 lanes per direction and vehicle breakdowns or road crashes have resulted in terrible traffic jams.

IMG05740-20130314-1014Congestion along C-5 northbound at the C-5/Kalayaan junction. The north U-turn flyover, one of two in the area, is shown in the photo. An underpass was initially proposed, designed and approved (with budget from a JBIC loan) at the junction. A previous MMDA Chair, however, didn’t agree and successfully maneuvered for the twin U-turn flyovers to be constructed instead.

Informal transport at PNR Bicutan Station

On our way to a meeting at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Bicutan, Taguig City, we crossed the PNR line running parallel to the SLEX. I quickly took a photo of the scene to the right of our vehicle that showed an informal market and terminal. The informal market or talipapa is one you would usually finally elsewhere in many other places in the city and likely caters to mostly informal settlers residing along the PNR ROW. On our return trip from the DOST, we took the same route and again I quickly took a photo of what was on the other side of the road along the same PNR line. On the other side was the PNR Bicutan Station and what appears to be a clear ROW northbound towards Manila. Much has been accomplished in the clearing of the PNR’s ROW over the past years and the efforts included the relocation of many informal settlers in coordination with the local governments along the PNR line.

IMG05425-20130212-1343The PNR Bicutan Station on the north side of Gen. Santos Ave. near the SLEX Bicutan interchange

IMG05422-20130212-1003Non-motorized trolleys on the south side of Gen. Santos Ave. near the SLEX Bicutan Exit

The trolleys are informal transport vehicles serve people living along the PNR ROW including many informal settlements within and without the PNR property. Some of the buildings or structures of these informal settlers are visible in the photo downstream of the railroad crossing. There are similar cases in Manila and elsewhere along the PNR ROW including motorized trolley services in the provinces of Quezon and Camarines Sur, where trolleys are also utilized for public transport and are the means for livelihood by some of the same informal settlers.

There are increasing safety concerns for these vehicles, their operators and their passengers. The trolleys are lifted from the tracks an people clear the way once a train approaches. They return after the train has passed. With the PNR currently experiencing a revival of sorts, and if resources continue along with an increase in ridership, train frequencies should also be expected to increase. As such, there should come a time when trolleys would have to be banned along the entire line in order to minimize the chances for crashes involving trains and trolleys that will surely lead to fatal consequences. Perhaps the local governments along the PNR line should already look into this eventuality and initiate programs to address this issue, which can be associated with livelihood and residential concerns.

C6: Bicutan to Napindan

I wrote about Circumferential Road 6 (C-6) in a previous post where I featured some photos taken while we were en route to the DOST compound in Bicutan, Taguig City. It was originally constructed as a dike road, an access road along the barrier constructed along the coast of Laguna de Bay to provide additional protection to Taguig City against the lake waters breaching the banks during incidence of heavy rains. Once the link between Taytay, Pasig, Pateros and Taguig was completed, however, traffic significantly increased as C-6 provided a very convenient alternate route for people residing in the east who had to go to Makati, Taguig or southern Metro Manila mostly for work trips. Following are photos showing C-6 from Bicutan to Napindan, before crossing to Pasig City.

IMG04765-20121109-1545Tree-lined – one can imagine how the highway will look like once the trees planted along either side are full-grown

IMG04766-20121109-1545C-6 is a two-lane, undivided highway with a sidewalk along the Taguig side and a shoulder along the dike along the coast of Laguna de Bay

IMG04767-20121109-1549Approach to the intersection with Seagull Ave., which connects M.L. Quezon Ave. and Taguig proper in the west and Bay Breeze Subdivision in what appears to be a small peninsula on the bay.

IMG04768-20121109-1549Most sections of the existing C-6 have no pavement markings.

IMG04769-20121109-1550The entire road is of asphalt concrete pavement.

IMG04770-20121109-1550There are several pumping stations along C-6, which reminds people of the flood control aspect of the dike and the road. The photo shows the Taguig Pumping Station operated by the MMDA.

IMG04772-20121109-1550While C-6 provides an alternative route for travelers from the eastern towns of Rizal wanting no part of the traffic congestion along Ortigas Avenue and C-5 en route to Makati or Taguig (or back from these areas), peak traffic is usually predictable and at other times of the day, volumes are quite low as shown in the photos.

IMG04774-20121109-1552There aren’t any  significant developments or establishments for most part of C-6.

IMG04775-20121109-1552The undeveloped lands are mainly due to these areas being flood prone, and requiring extensive improvements to raise elevations and provide for adequate drainage.

IMG04777-20121109-1552 Labasan pumping station – is practically the only building for a long stretch of the highway.

IMG04778-20121109-1553Past the Labasan Pumping Station, are more undeveloped areas along the highway. At right in the photos is the dike that serves as  IMG04779-20121109-1553The bridge across the Napindan channel of the Pasig River is further ahead (downstream), which travelers can use to cross to Pasig City.

The stretch of C-6 from M.L. Quezon to Napindan is currently subject to studies for widening as traffic steadily increases due to the very strategic position of the road. However, there should be a more direct link between C-6 and C-5 so as to maximize the benefits of the road, particularly as an alternative route between Rizal province, and Bonifacio Global City and Makati CBD. I estimate that travels times can be reduced significantly for people traveling between their homes in Antipolo and Taytay to the offices in Makati and Taguig (Fort Bonifacio). On a normal day, this trip can take easily more than 60 minutes due to congestion along Ortigas and C-5, the usual route for most people. With the alternate route, it might just be possible to reduce it to say 45 minutes, give and take some congestion. Of course, once this alternate route is discovered by more people (and UV Express vehicles are already using this route), then it would attract more traffic and necessitate an increase in capacity for it to handle such traffic. But then the result may well be an easing in traffic along Ortigas and C-5 so that should be good until perhaps we finally have a good public transport system in place along Ortigas and C-5. BRT? That deserves another post…