Caught (up) in traffic

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Traffic management in Tagaytay?

My recent trip to Tagaytay made me recall why I no longer like the city as much as before when we were frequent visitors for rest and recreation. Two things come to mind whenever we plan a trip to Tagaytay, one is where to stay and the other is when to go. The latter question is usually a no-brainer as we opted to go to Tagaytay on weekdays rather than the weekends. There are much less people during the weekdays and you can still enjoy the city even with one having to deal with the worsening traffic conditions brought about by the intense development along the national highways. The former question is easily answered, too, since there are many good hotels (including bed & breakfast places) in the city.

Traffic though has worsened in this city that probably has tourism as its top industry. It has attracted a lot of developers who seem to have gobbled up a lot of land for what has become intense development. Surely they were targeting a market comprised of people wanting to own property in Tagaytay. The high rise condominiums address the demand for a view of Taal Lake and Volcano. The commercial developments are supposed to cater to the needs (shopping?) of tourists. The city seems to have neglected the fact that its transportation system’s carrying capacity (never mind for this article the capacities for other critical resources like water) cannot handle the trip generation attributed to these developments. And so its transport problems, again basically rooted on trip generation, are exacerbated by limited capabilities for traffic management. [The capacity seems to be there given all the staff manning the Tagaytay rotunda.]

A colleague opined that perhaps traffic management here is limited, too, by the options Tagaytay has in terms of management measures. You basically have a major intersection, a rotunda, where practically much of traffic converges. These include traffic along the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Road, which includes a lot of vehicles coming from or going to the Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay Road. And there are vehicles taking the Aguinaldo Highway. Traffic personnel seem helpless as they attempt to manage traffic movements. Their approach though is haphazard and only results in very long queues extending outward along all the intersection legs.

img_4117Traffic jam against the backdrop of a gigantic tarp with greetings from the ruling political dynasty in the city

img_4118The Tagaytay – Nasugbu Highway is terribly congested due primarily to the Ayala mall. Not seen in the photo is the barrier that stretches from the rotonda to beyond Lourdes Church that forces all traffic from the west head to the rotonda to make a turn.

img_4119Vehicles coming in from Aguinaldo Highway are backed up. There is also a new mall under construction and opening soon that is too close to this major junction in Tagaytay.

I wonder if the major trip generators (i.e., malls and high density residential developments) were required to do impact studies before the projects were approved for implementation. There’s really not so much in terms of traffic circulation or transportation improvements that can be undertaken given the linear form of the city and the limited road network available for planners. I am curious too see for myself what recommendations were made by these studies in order to alleviate the detrimental impacts they now have on transportation in Tagaytay.

Responding to the transport impacts of road crashes

Last March 9, traffic was terrible along Marcos Highway and roads connecting to it including Imelda Avenue and Sumulong Highway due to a truck that slammed into the scaffolding of the Line 2  Extension across the Sta. Lucia Mall, and barely missing the newly constructed column supporting the girders and elevated tracks of Line 2.

[Photo not mine but sent by an officemate who was glad to have taken his motorcycle that day instead of commuting by car.]

Following are comments I captured from Waze as I tried to get information about the traffic situation:

It is very clear from travelers’ comments that most were frustrated and many were angry about what seemed to be a very slow response from authorities in clearing the crash site and getting traffic to move faster. I myself wondered how a crash like this with its impacts manifesting in severe congestion along major roads was not dealt with as urgently as possible by so many entities that were not without capacity to act decisively. The front liner should have been the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and there were at least four local government units directly affected by the congestion: Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo. Surely, these LGUs could have done more if the MMDA couldn’t, in order to resolve the problem? If the availability of heavy equipment was an issue, weren’t there available equipment from Line 2 contractor, DMCI, or perhaps from the construction sites nearby (Ayala is constructing a huge mall near the area.)? Surely, they could lend a payloader or mobile crane that can remove the truck or at least help unblock the area?

I finally decided to turn back and work from home instead that day. Later, I learned that authorities had to stop traffic along Marcos Highway around 11:00 AM in order to tow the truck and clear the area for traffic to normalize. I hope this serves as a lesson in coordination among government entities and that future incidents like this will not results in a “carmaggedon” like Friday’s congestion. One thing that also became obvious is that travelers passing the area are all dependent on road-based transport and the primary reason why a lot of people were affected by the crash. The expanded operations of the Line 2, whenever that will be, will surely change transport in these areas and for the better.

Crowdsourcing solutions to traffic problems?

Some government agencies seems to have resorted to crowdsourcing via social media to either find or assess solutions for the worsening transport and traffic problems in Philippine cities, more specifically Metro Manila. This includes posts by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) about various topics ranging from public transport reform to travel demand management (TDM) schemes. From one perspective, the approach can be seen as something like a participatory approach towards finding a solution that is acceptable to most. I say so since the proposals or ideas come from what are supposed to be official accounts of these agencies and thus can be claimed as something that aims to engage the public in discourse towards finding solutions.

Following are screenshots from a public social media account and examples of the responses/comments he got for the post:

What do you think? Did MMDA do its part in analyzing or evaluating their proposal? I suspect that they did not perform an in-depth analysis despite the resources available to them. They do have technical staff and tools to do the analysis. Note that the agency acquired simulation software during the time of Bayani Fernando that they used to justify projects like the elevated U-turns at Kalayaan and the widening of Commonwealth Avenue. Their technical staff have also been training locally and abroad on transportation planning. A crowdsourcing exercise such as this seems more like a “trial and error” approach where those monitoring the responses/comments may opt instead to summarize the responses for the analyses and then determine whether to refine, push through or withdraw the proposal that was floated. I think the MMDA should do its part first (i.e., evaluate the proposal at both macro and micro levels) and then present the pros and cons of their proposal in both quantitative (e.g., improvement in travel speeds and travel times) and qualitative terms (i.e., improved productivity or quality of life for commuters).

Traffic congestion in Tagaytay

We got to see first-hand last weekend how terrible the traffic congestion in Tagaytay has become. Last year it was already bad but last weekend’s traffic was really awful. To be fair, not counted in the traffic jams mentioned here are roadworks (i.e., widening) currently being conducted by the DPWH along the Sta. Rosa – Tagaytay Road that have also contributed to the longer travel times to and from Tagaytay. The severe congestion is due to the intense developments in the city including high density residential and commercial developments in a city where transportation, including the road network, is not built to be able to handle the trips generated by such developments.

My brother took the following photos as we drove back to Manila:

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The photos pretty much describe how congested roads are. All two lanes are full with what is basically bumper-to-bumper traffic. The last photo was taken in front of the Estancia Hotel, which is about 1.4 km from the rotonda, and the queue appears to continue well beyond this area (i.e., past Starbucks). This is a result of the traffic management at the Tagaytay rotonda where, instead of allowing vehicles to move freely (which is how rotondas are supposed to function), traffic enforcers instead stop movements from the 3 legs one at a time. The problem here is that the congestion due to the Serin mall often reaches the rotonda, and so vehicles could not proceed to exit on that leg of the intersection. This condition affects traffic from all legs and results in long queues along the Aguinaldo Highway as well as both the rotonda-bound sides of the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway. Vehicles cannot make left turns to Serin or the Lourdes Church because of the median barrier set-up along the highway so all have to go around the rotonda. Quite frankly, I see very little or no options in as far as solutions go. The traffic is simply too much for the roads to handle.

The Tagaytay transportation predicament

The title of this article is actually a bit tame and on the diplomatic side of trying to describe transportation and traffic in this city that was once relaxed a retreat for many. I had wanted to end February on a good note and so I decided to defer posting this until March.

We used to frequent Tagaytay and liked spending some rest and recreation time there to the tune of being there almost once a month at one time. Needless to say, at the time travel to Tagaytay from our home in Antipolo took us only about 2 to 2.5 hours excluding our usual stop at Paseo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. We liked the city so much that we even considered making it a second home; even inquiring and looking at properties there.

Fast forward to the present and it has become an excruciating travel with the highways leading to the city already congested. It didn’t help that when you got there, you also had to deal with serious traffic congestion. This started not a few years ago when the city approved developments by major players including Robinsons, SM and Ayala. The developments by SM and Ayala proved to be the backbreakers with Ayala coming up with the first mall in the city and SM operating an amusement park beside its prime acquisition that is the Taal Vista Hotel. Now, there is another mall under construction by Filinvest and right at the corner of the rotonda where the Aguinaldo Highway terminates.

img_4120Vehicles queue along the Tagaytay – Nasugbu Highway towards the Rotonda where Tagaytay traffic enforcers attempt to manage traffic but appear to create more congestion instead.

More on Tagaytay soon…

More congestion along Ortigas Avenue Extension?

There are two malls currently under construction along Ortigas Avenue Extension – SM East Ortigas and Waltermart Taytay. Nearing completion is the SM East Ortigas, which looks like a very big mall. It is the former Ever mall beside Riverside Subdivision and close to one of DMCI Homes’ first developments. It will open on December 2 and there are already a lot of promotional tarps announcing this along major roads including C-5, Felix Avenue and, of course, Ortigas Avenue.

Waltermart is further up towards Tikling Junction. These two are actually from the same mother company SM, which has somewhat diversified its retail business so it now includes the SM malls, Savemore, Waltermart and the newly minted S-Mall. These two are sure to generate a lot of traffic and cause more congestion with the SM East Ortigas already in an area where Ortigas Ave. Extension is regularly congested. I am not aware of any studies conducted with respect to this mall but I assume there is a transport impact study somewhere. Personally, I would ask SM to look into the case of SM Novaliches for something sort of a solution to the traffic problem right in front of the mall. Quirino Highway is widest along the section where SM Novaliches is, with the mall providing a very generous setback to accommodate multiple lanes for traffic to flow smoothly at least in front of the mall. That seems possible with SM East Ortigas especially since there is practically only 2 lanes for the westbound direction of Ortigas Ave. Ext. at this area.

Waltermart is a different thing because it is in an area where there is generally no congestion along Ortigas Ave. Ext. I also assume there is a traffic study somewhere providing traffic management schemes or alleviation measures in case congestion occurs due to the mall and its high density residential development component (it is part of a complex called “The Hive”).

I am speculative about the expansive lot vacated by Mitsubishi Motors beside the Panasonic complex. I wonder if any of the big developers are acquiring it and perhaps developing it into a major mixed use project. There is also the lot where Consolidated Tobacco used to be just across Countryside Subdivision and close to SM East Ortigas. Such future developments require careful study for its transportation impacts and the Municipality of Cainta should take a proactive stance for major developments that will generate  a lot of traffic. Ortigas Ave. Ext., even after some widening, remains as a road with high potential and regularity for congestion. Only a mass transit system can probably decongest it but that will take some time to realize.

Statement on the proposed emergency powers to solve transport and traffic problems

The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of UP Diliman submitted a statement to the joint Senate committees evaluating the proposal to grant emergency powers to the Philippines President in order to solve the transport and traffic problems in the country and especially in Metro Manila. Following is a copy of the one-page statement:

NCTS Statement on Emergency Powers 25Aug2016