Caught (up) in traffic

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On the traffic flow predicament at Tikling junction…again

During weekends, a constant frustration have been the incidence of severe traffic congestion along Ortigas Avenue Extension. Weekday evenings are usually better in terms of traffic compared to Saturdays. But last Monday, the congestion was so severe the congestion reached Valley Golf and vehicles had to crawl to Tikling. As mentioned in previous posts on this subject, part of the problem is the sheer volume of vehicles that make the roundabout set-up inappropriate for the junction. Then there is also the issue about the people who are supposed to manage traffic but end up mismanaging it. From what I usually observe, they tend to favour vehicles coming from Taytay via the Manila East Road leg and seem oblivious to the build-up of traffic along Ortigas Ave. Ext. eastbound.

Typical heavy traffic at Tikling Junction

We might finally get a chance to have a solution for this. One of our students took on a topic that will require her to asses the traffic at the intersection to determine, for example, whether the roundabout is suitable or perhaps should be changed into a signalised traffic control. Both analytical approach and microsimulation (using Vissim or the homegrown LocalSim) will be employed. But we will have to wait by May to see some substantial results.

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 the opposition to “complete streets”

I recently read an article about the opposition to road diets in California, USA:

Tinoco, M. (2018) “How to Kill a Bike Lane”, http://www.citylab.com, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/05/how-to-kill-a-bike-lane/559934/?utm_source=SFTwitter [Last accessed: 5/20/2018]

So far, we know that at least three cities are progressive enough to implement road diets including Marikina City, Pasig City and Quezon City. Iloilo doesn’t count yet since their bike lane was constructed along the very wide Diversion Road. Our recommendations for Tacloban, if implemented by the city, will probably result in the second most comprehensive application of road diets/complete streets in the Philippines after Marikina, which implemented their bikeways network almost 2 decades ago. There are sure to be many who would be opposed to such schemes as many still have the view that streets are for motor vehicles. This car-oriented thinking is something that will be a challenge to advocates of people-oriented transportation systems. Hopefully, many can learn from experiences here and abroad on how to reclaim space for people leading to safer and more inclusive transport for all.

On the Pasig HOV traffic experiment

Someone shared a post about a traffic scheme they will be implementing along Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. The proposal is for the avenue to have a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane where vehicles with 4 or more occupants are to take one lane and all other vehicles the other. I am not entirely sure about the objective other than to promote high occupancies for vehicles. However, it would be nice to see how travellers will be behaving (e.g., complying) and how Pasig (with MMDA?) will be enforcing this scheme.

This is what a segment of Julia Vargas currently looks like with 2 wide lanes designated for motor vehicles (separated by the solid yellow line) and one narrow lane for cyclists (adjacent to the shoulder):

 

The intent is good but as a major link the scheme can be quite confusing especially for those who are not necessarily frequent users of this road. I assumed the yellow line was painted by the DPWH but it seems it was by Pasig. Perhaps they should have removed the old markings? Or maybe better if they rationalised the carriageway width to accommodate 3 lanes for motor vehicles and 1 wider lane for bicycles? From the photo above, it appears to me that it is possible to have 2 narrow lanes for general traffic and one wider lane for HOVs (in this case defined as having 4 or more occupants) and public utility vehicles. This configuration maximises the capacity of the road while having a the “best” lanes allocated for HOVs and bicycles.

I wish them success on this social experiment. Perhaps there can be valuable learnings from this including the need for connectivity to other links as well.

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.

Some thoughts on Metro Manila traffic

I was going to defer posting another article this September as I reached my usual quota of at least 10 posts. Particularly, I wanted to have a series about my recent trip to Vietnam. But then the traffic congestion the past week was just so severe that I felt I just had to write another piece.

To be fair, there are so many reasons why transport and traffic are bad in Metro Manila. Among these is the lack of mass transit infrastructure, particularly a more comprehensive rail-based system. Metro Manila, with its population of over 12 million requires something like 8 to 10 mass transit lines that are interconnected and allows for seamless transfers with road transport modes. Singapore, with less people, has more efficient options for public transport. Then, there is the lack of facilities for walking and cycling that could tremendously reduce the number of trips using motor vehicles particularly for short trips (perhaps within 2 to 3 kilometers travel distance?). I won’t even go to the deficiencies of road public transport and the proliferation of private cars operating as full time taxis (ridesharing anyone?). And urban planning? Well, that deserves its own article…

This is EDSA in the mid-afternoon. I took this photo while we were heading back to Quezon City from Makati around 3:30PM. It was not supposed to be this heavy considering people were still at their workplaces, schools or even the shopping center/malls.

There is no quick fix to Metro Manila’s problems. Obviously, the infrastructure that should have been in place decades ago need to be built albeit at a high cost. Our children and grandchildren will likely end up paying for these but there is also the reality that such infrastructure won’t get cheaper in the future. There should also be stricter policies and enforcement to improve the quality of services of public transport. As it is, private transport modes including taxis, the popularity of ridesharing/ridehailing services and the unregulated motorcycle taxis are steadily taking people away from public transport. This is perhaps among the most significant causes of more congestion for the metropolis that needs to be quantified and validated for us to understand and determine what measures need to be taken.

I conclude this post and September with a nice article on walkability:

Steuteville, R. (2017) Why walkability is not a luxury, Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/09/28/why-walkability-not-luxury, last accessed September 29, 2017.