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On the unpredictability of EDSA traffic

Much has been written about the traffic along EDSA, which is perhaps Metro Manila’s most famous (some would say infamous) thoroughfare. These include the unpredictability of congestion along this road. While it is hard to believe that traffic congestion is unpredictable for EDSA because very often it is congested, there are times when you just marvel that its free-flowing during the day or shocked that its packed with cars close to midnight. Last week, we experienced both predictability and unpredictability in the sense that we did expect EDSA to be congested near Ortigas (due to the dismissals of schools in the vicinity) but didn’t expect it to be packed during what we thought was “alanganin na oras” that was around 3PM.

 

EDSA northbound traffic taken at Guadalupe last October 1, 2018 at 3:30PM.

Interestingly, there was no congestion after Ortigas Avenue and we quickly made up for the time lost in the congestion we experienced from Gil Puyat Avenue. Is this another case of the phantom congestion where the simple disturbances in the traffic stream can create a ripple effect resulting in congestion? Or is this somewhat like an everyday thing? EDSA is not part of my daily commute so I am not so sure about the regularity of this situation but at least the weather didn’t factor in the equation. Heavy rains usually lead to flash floods along this thoroughfare, and these floods will definitely lead intense congestion.

On EDSA transport and traffic, again

There’s a recent decision by the Metro Manila Council (MMC) comprised of the mayors of the cities and municipality of Metro Manila and chaired by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair that vehicles bearing only one passenger (the driver) will be banned from travelling along EDSA. The problem with this is that by banning cars with one passenger from EDSA, you only succeed in making other roads like C5 more congested. It’s a simple case of transferring traffic and worsening it elsewhere since you’re not doing anything to alleviate congestion along those roads. Did MMDA run this and other scenarios using analytical or simulation tools at their disposal? If so, can these be shown and used to explain the soundness of this policy approved by the MMC? I suspect they didn’t and likely depended more on gut feel based on the data they have including what is often reported as 70% of vehicles traveling along EDSA having only one passenger. Meanwhile, the state of mass transit along EDSA still sucks.

IMG_3028A very crowded Boni Avenue Station platform (photo courtesy of Mr. Raul Vibal)

Of course, the pronouncement from the MMDA launched quite a lot of memes on social media. Some people shared the typical quotes on planning (you know, like the ones about planning for people vs. planning for cars). Some offered their own ideas about how to “solve” traffic along EDSA. And so on…that only succeeded in showing how everyone had an opinion about transport and traffic. Everyone is an expert, so it seems.

Some thoughts and not in any order:

  • The government can initially dedicate a lane each for express buses (a la Bus Rapid Transit or BRT). This idea has been circulating for quite some time now and has a good chance of succeeding. The DOTr is already deploying buses that they say are supplementing the MRT 3 trains (i.e., there aren’t enough trains running so passengers have the option of taking a bus instead). Running along the inner lanes of EDSA would mean, however, that they would have to find a way for passengers to cross the road and one idea would be for the stations to be retrofitted for this purpose.
  • Those cars along EDSA are not necessarily for short trips so walking and cycling while needing space may have less impact in the immediate term for such a corridor. In the meantime, serious consideration should be made for bike lanes whether on the ground or elevated and improvements to walking spaces.
  • But these efforts to improve passenger (and freight) flows should be a network-wide thing and not just along EDSA.
  • It’s time to have serious discussions and perhaps simulations (even a dry run) of congestion pricing in Metro Manila. Congestion pricing for all major roads and not just one or two. Funds collected goes to mass transit, walkways and bikeways development. DOTr was supposed to have already discussed an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system like Singapore’s with the company and people behind the same in the city-state. That doesn’t seem to be moving along.
  • Working and studying from home might work in terms of reducing vehicular traffic but then we generally have lousy internet services so that’s a barrier that needs to be broken down.
  • How about legalizing, once and for all, motorcycle taxis? Many are opposed to this citing safety concerns but then we are running out of options outside the usual motherhood statements pertaining to building transport infrastructure. Think about it. Give it a chance. These motorcycles might just surprise us in a nice way; that is, helping alleviate congestion.
  • Carpooling and lanes dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) would be good but the LTFRB made a pronouncement about these being illegal as they would be considered ‘colorum’. Such statements do not make the situation any easier and sends mixed signals as to the government’s being serious in considering all possible angles to improve transport and traffic particularly for commuting.

Do you have other ideas to share?

On Visita Iglesia and Quiapo transport and traffic

As it is already the Holy Week, I thought it would be good to write about transport and traffic around one of the busiest churches in the Philippines – Quiapo Church. This is surely a popular stop for the Visita Iglesia, which is a tradition for many during the Holy Week. People visit as many churches (usually the target is seven) as they can where they are supposed to pray the novena appropriate for the season.

A side view of the church from Quezon Boulevard, which is the main access road for the church. Most public transport pass along this boulevard that connects to other major roads. It’s a good thing that the City of Manila has been stricter in enforcing against on-street parking here.

In front of the church is Plaza Miranda, where many political rallies are held including one fateful rally in the early 1970s that eventually led to the declaration of martial law, is a bustling area with many vendors selling all kinds of items, religious and otherwise, including those that are claimed to be medicinal. Note though that vehicles are allowed to park on-street and this means people would have to hail jeepneys in the middle of the street.

This is traffic along Quezon Boulevard as seen from the descent from the Quezon Bridge (Quiapo church is seen at the left). I took this around 4PM on a Wednesday so it was not surprising to have heavy traffic on both sides of the boulevard. I’ve been told, however, that for most of the day during weekdays, traffic is as heavy as this.

Traffic in Quiapo is not as heavy on Sundays (It’s also quite as bad on Saturdays.) and holidays. During the Visita Iglesia period of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, however, there will likely be heavy traffic in the area as a lot of people bring their own vehicles for the Visita Iglesia as well as for their “church tours”. I used the term “church tours” because I’ve observed that many don’t really come to pray (e.g., Stations of the Cross or novenas) but to take photos (i.e., selfies or ‘groupfies’) and eat & drink about. In Metro Manila, there are several churches popular for this tradition. These include Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Christ the King, Sto. Domingo and Our Lady of Lourdes in Quezon City, and the Manila Cathedral, San Sebastian, St. Jude, Malate and Binondo Churches in Manila. That is not an exhaustive list as there are many churches (old and new) spread around Metro Manila including those in other cities like Malabon, Marikina and Las Pinas. And then there are also the churches in the provinces surrounding Metro Manila, which I will try to write about soon…

Congestion along C-6 and potential for a public transit corridor

We begin February with a post on a road that’s becoming more popular as a major (as opposed to alternate) route to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and Makati CBD – Circumferential Road 6. I took the following photo at the approach to the Nagpayong Bridge that is current has only 2 lanes (1 per direction). Another bridge is being constructed along the existing one that will increase capacity for the Pasig River crossing to 2 lanes per direction. This is similar to what was done to the Barkadahan Bridge  crossing the Manggahan Floodway in Taytay, Rizal.

The volume of road vehicle traffic is steadily increasing along C-6. The adjacent land use offers a lot of potential for development (hopefully planned) that will feed more traffic along what will become a major thoroughfare in the near future. The land I am referring to are the reclamations on the side of Laguna de Bai along C-6 that are under the jurisdiction of Taguig and similar developments on the opposite side on what was once swampy or marshlands. One wonders if Taguig has a plan for all this or if the city is turning a blind eye and just letting developers do what they want. Most seem to be residential subdivisions and industries-related with a sprinkling of mainly small to medium-sized commercial developments.

Again, I think national and local governments should consider making this a public transport corridor by introducing formal public transport in the form of a scheduled bus service stretching from, say, Bicutan Interchange to Taytay Public Market. The demand along this corridor is steadily rising and only a better connection to C-5 limits an even steeper increase in traffic volume along C-6. The time is now in order to condition commuters about the system and to the unwanted congestion experienced along major roads in the metropolis.

Vested interests, Part 1

An old friend and I met up some time ago and he casually mentioned the ongoing transit projects, particularly one that has affected him along his commute via Commonwealth Avenue. He said he can’t wait until Line 7 was completed and running. Perhaps then, there will be less vehicles along Commonwealth and he can have a shorter (travel time) drive from his home to his office in Ortigas. This type of comment did not surprise me as it is a reality that many would still likely prefer to take their cars or perhaps opt for car-share services rather than take public transportation, even with a new and note efficient option like the Line 7 available.

I have read or browsed articles, both technical and anecdotal, about many drivers wanting (and even encouraging) others to shift to public transport in order to lessen the cars on the road. This is so they can benefit from the reduction in vehicular traffic (i.e., less congestion equals faster travel by car). One article in the US even went as far as saying that if you didn’t drive 60,000 miles per year then you probably didn’t need a car. This is understandable for those who probably are, by default, dependent on their cars. It is frustrating, if not ironic, for those who don’t have to drive or take their cars but opt to do so. The latter includes people who have shorter commuting distances and with less transfers (less inconvenience) in case they do take public transport.

Next: Ridesharing as sustainable transport?

Tacloban’s one-way traffic scheme

I was in Tacloban City last month and got to meet former participants to our training program who are working for their Traffic Operation Management Enforcement and Control Office (TOMECO). Among the topics of discussion was the traffic scheme for the central business district (CBD). Last year, the city had implemented a one-way traffic circulation scheme for the CBD as shown in the following map in the traffic advisory released by the city:

The city had to ease up on the one-way scheme, retaining it for the northwest-southeast directions and reverting to 2-way flow for the northeast-southwest directions. This decision was apparently due to the feedback the city got from various stakeholders about travel times and distances becoming longer due to the one-way scheme. This needs to be verified by collecting data pertaining to typical routes taken by vehicles, private and public utility, in order to get from an origin to a destination (e.g., from home to school). This can be simulated or estimated using field data (travel time surveys). We intend to use both as we make an assessment of the scheme and formulate recommendations for the city.

On one way schemes

A proposed one-way scheme for EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard raised not a few eyebrows among transportation and traffic professionals. While it seems to some that the three major thoroughfares are parallel or can be paired in such a way that EDSA can be one-way southbound, and C-5 and Roxas Blvd. can be one-way northbound, it is not as easy at it seems because these arterial carry a heckuva lot of traffic compared to the roads they are being compared to (New York?). The road network layout is also quite different. We have a circumferential and radial road network as the backbone of road-based transportation. A one-way scheme could be more effective if we had a grid type network where you have several pairs of roads that can be designated as one-way streets.

Take the case of Tacloban City, whose central business district has a grid-type network with intersections relatively closely spaced. The city implemented a one-way scheme as shown below:

Note the pairs of roads designated for one-way flow. These basically make for efficient traffic circulation provided the capacities of streets and intersections are not significantly reduced by factors such as on-street parking and other roadside friction. This can be achieved in various places in Metro Manila where streets are similarly laid out and there are multiple pairs to promote good circulation. Makati, for example, has many one-way streets in its CBD, and these are also in pairs. While having high capacities, EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard just does not have the closely spaced intersections to effect efficient circulation. In fact EDSA (or C-4) and C-5 are arterials that function to distribute the traffic carried by radial roads such as Roxas Blvd., Shaw Blvd., Commonwealth Ave, Aurora Blvd., etc.

A better option is to focus on improving road -based public transport by setting up high capacity, express bus services with exclusive lanes. These may not necessarily be full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems but requires a drastic reduction and restructuring of current numbers of buses along EDSA and their deployment along corridors like C-5 and Roxas Blvd. Express means longer intervals between stops (hint for EDSA: express bus stops coinciding with MRT-3 stations), and increased travel speeds made possible by exclusive lane(s). This could have been piloted during the APEC meetings in the previous administration where 2 lanes for each direction of EDSA were appropriated for APEC vehicles. These lanes could have been used afterwards for a BRT (-lite?) system and what could have been an pilot could have also provided an appreciation or “proof of concept” for BRT in Metro Manila that we could have learned a lot from.