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Another definition of the 15-minute city
We begin 2023 with an informative article defining the “15-minute city”. This is actually an entry in Planetizen’s Planopedia, which contains definitions of fundamental concepts in urban planning:
Ionescu, D. (December 2022) “What is a 15-minute City?” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/definition/15-minute-city?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12292022&mc_cid=ee083e2ee7&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 1/1/2023]
I’ve written and shared articles about this concept before. Here are a couple from 2021 where I offered my opinions about the concept as already applied in the Philippines:
On Metro Manila having one of the worst transit systems in the world
This is a follow-up to the previous post on the UC-Berkeley Study. Here is an example of how media featured the study outcomes:
I didn’t see whether there was a response from government. These studies end up as features and nothing more if these do not prompt or push authorities to act on the problem. Even experts from academe or industry are reduced to being commentators or even pundits providing context, assessments and opinions, even recommendations that are perceived to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps government is already desensitized about these issues and will just trudge along at its own pace? In the end, it is the commuters mostly taking public transportation who continue to suffer and lose productive time to their daily travels.
On the best public transit systems in the world
Manila’s poor ranking in recent study conducted by the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies with think tank Oliver Wynam on public transit systems caught the attention of a lot of people. Media was quick to feature this in the news and I am aware of at least GMA and CNN Philippines doing features of this in their news programs. Here is the article on the same that mentions the UC Berkeley ITS study:
Pollard, A. (November 21, 2022 ) “These Cities Have the Best Public Transit Systems,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-11-21/these-cities-have-the-best-public-transit-systems [Last accessed: 12/11/2022]
Manila, or Metro Manila to be exact, placed only 56th in public transit while ranking 48th in sustainable mobility and 58th in urban mobility readiness. I leave it to the readers to go read the UC Berkeley report rather than depending on media or social med influencers for their takes on the ranking. The report can be downloaded from the link I provided above.
Perhaps there should be an assessment of cities (at least the highly urbanized ones) in the Philippines to see how they are ranked. There should be a criteria (UC Berkeley and Oliver Wynam used distance to public transit, affordability, operating hours, crowding and commute speeds among others in their study) to be agreed upon where experts can score cities using a simple-enough scale, say 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest score. What are your top 5 Philippine cities in terms of public transportation?
MRT 4 on the way – a monorail along the Ortigas Avenue corridor
I’ve seen and read articles and discussions about the proposed MRT Line 4 along Ortigas Avenue. I’ve written about having a mass transit line along this corridor in the past as it is one of my alternate routes between our home and my workplace. The Line will have the following stations (based on the news articles that came out):
- Taytay – likely at the junction near the Taytay Public Market;
- Manila East Road – likely near SM City Taytay;
- Tikling Junction – major transfer station for those going to Antipolo and beyond;
- San Juan – (future/provisional station) near Valley Golf; will probably materialize when Sierra Valley is completed and occupied;
- Cainta Junction – major transfer station for those heading towards Marcos Highway;
- St. Joseph – likely near or across SM City East Ortigas;
- Rosario – major transfer station for those going to Pasig, Marikina and even Quezon City
- Tiendesitas – (future/provisional station) possible transfer for people traveling along C5;
- Meralco – likely near the Meralco main gate;
- EDSA – likely across Robinsons Galeria and another major transfer station;
- Greenshills – likely across Virra Mall;
- Bonny Serrano – likely near the junction and transfer for people heading towards Camp Crame; and
- N. Domingo – end station connecting to Line 2 at Gilmore.
Following are photos of the current soil test locations for Line 4, all of which are along the eastbound side of Ortigas Avenue Extension between Cainta Junction and Tikling Junction:
Soil test across the former G-Liner
Soil test near Brookside
Soil test before Valley Golf near Mandaue Foam
Soil test just after the junction with Valley Golf across from the Primark commercial center.
I will not be commenting on Line 4 and its being a monorail at this point. I will probably be writing about this and the idea of having cable cars for Rizal in another post.
Is it really a golden age for railways in the Philippines? Or is it just a great catch-up?
The government and many railway fans in the Philippines have dubbed the construction and rehabilitation of railway lines as a “golden age of railways in the Philippines.” Many, especially those who have aspired for railway development in the country agree with this monicker.
But is it really a golden age or are we just playing catch-up due to the backlog of railway projects in the country? Rehabilitation, after all, means there was a period of deterioration, even neglect by the government (i.e., across several administrations starting from Marcos) that led to poor or discontinued services.
A “golden age” is defined as “a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished.” Indeed, by definition we can qualify the current one as such but let me point out the facts from history that railways development in the country (both long distance and urban transit) started in the late 1800s before the revolution that led to declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in 1898, and while many of our revolutionary leaders were abroad, mainly in Europe where I’m sure they took the trains and trams to move about. Here’s a link to the website developed by a research program in the University of the Philippines that focused on mass transit development in what is now the Metro Manila area:
Since railway development in the late 1800s started from scratch, perhaps the current development is more of a “second” golden age for railways, and not ‘The’ golden age for railways. This wouldn’t have happened or won’t be necessary if we rehabilitated the tranvia after WW2 or allocated resources to preserve and maintain the PNR and other lines like how our Southeast Asian neighbors did to their own railways. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have enviable railways including preserved, operational steam locomotives that are now practically moving museum pieces. But since we are into catching-up and there’s been significant progress on this end, perhaps the right term shouldn’t be “Golden Age” but “Renaissance”. It’s actually quite a catchy phrase “Railway Renaissance,” if you bother to consider it.
On rethinking transit for our cities
There’s a nice article recently published on The New York Times. It’s about how cities have been rethinking and developing their transit systems in light of climate change and the pandemic. Here is the article:
An interesting part of the article is on the call for the return of trams or street-level trains. These are very similar to the tranvia that used to be the preferred mode of public transport before World War 2. Would that be possible to build now in Metro Manila? Perhaps it would be a bit more challenging given the development but there are definitely corridors or areas where you can have trams…if the government wanted to. Among those would be along the Pasig River if the development will be similar to the esplanade and enough ROW can be acquired and allocated for these street-level transport. There is also the Botocan ROW, which we actually studied many years ago for Meralco, for the feasibility of a street-level transit system stretching from Katipunan to Quezon Institute. It could have been the revival of Meralco’s rail division of old.
What do you think?
On preserving old transit systems
Many old cities have either retained or phased out their old road-level transit systems. I am referring mainly to rail-based streetcars rather than road-based ones such as buses. Even the indigenous types of road-based public transport may be phased out and usually in the name of modernization. Some though, like Singapore’s rickshaws and Manila’s calesas are still existent but you will find them either during odd hours or in tourist areas.
A good example of a city that has retained and preserved its transit system that is San Francisco in the US. The city still has a running cable car system, and its street cars maintained and operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni). These are practically operational, traveling museums. The streetcars, for example, are of different models – a collection of streetcars from various cities around the world that have phased out this transit systems a long time ago. So it should not be surprising to see a different street car every time. And one could try to ride each one in operation while staying in city.
Here is an article about Kolkata’s (Calcutta’s) trams:
Schmall, E. (September 2, 2021) “Kolkata’s ‘Fairy Tale’ Trams, Once Essential, Are Now a Neglected Relic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/02/world/asia/kolkata-india-trams-calcutta.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: ]
What are your thoughts about preserving or phasing out these transit systems?
On the safety of transit use during the pandemic
Here is another quick share of an article that reports on a study showing that there is no direct correlation between COVID-19 and public transportation use:
email@example.com (October 2, 2020) Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use. AASHTO Journal. https://aashtojournal.org/2020/10/02/study-no-direct-correlation-between-covid-19-transit-system-use/
Such articles and the study (there is a link in the article for the report) support the notion that public transportation can be made safe for use by commuters during the pandemic. The report is a compilation of best practices around the world that can be replicated here, for example, in order to assure the riding public that public transport (can be) is safe. Needless to say, car use is still less preferred and other findings have also supported active transport whenever applicable. This reference is both relevant and timely given the new pronouncement (or was it a proposal?) from the Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) to implement what they termed as “one seat apart” seating in public utility vehicles in order to increase the capacity of public transport in the country. The department has limited the number of road public transport vehicles and the current physical distancing requirements have reduced vehicle capacities to 20-30% of their seating capacities. It is worse for rail transit as designated spaces/seats in trains translated to capacities less than 10% of pre-lockdown numbers.
On bicycles and transit
Here is another quick share of an article on bicycles and transit (i.e., public transport):
Cox, W. (2020) “Bicycles: A Refuge for Transit Commuters?”, New Geography, https://www.newgeography.com/content/006753-bicycles-a-refuge-transit-commuters [Last accessed: 9/4/2020]
What do you think? Are we getting there in terms of the bicycle-transit relationship? MRT and LRT lines have allowed foldable bikes to be carried in their trains but buses and other road-based public transport may not allow you to bring your bike inside the vehicle. For the latter vehicles, there are usually racks installed in front of the vehicles that can accommodate 2-3 bikes. Train stations now should have bicycle parking facilities for the last mile trips of their passengers.
Transit station connections in Singapore
The connections between transit stations in Singapore show us examples of how to encourage people to walk long distances. The links, mostly underground, are interconnected with branches to common exits to hotels, office and residential buildings. These are basically transit malls lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. There are even gyms (e.g., UFC) and play venues along some connections.
Underground transit mall between a City Hall Station (red line) and Esplanade Station (orange line)
The connection is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops
Singapore’s underground connections reminded me of similar structures in Tokyo and Yokohama. You can just walk underground and come up near your destination. This is especially advantageous and comfortable during the summers when the hot weather becomes a detriment to walking outdoors. Underground transit malls or connections are usually air-conditioned or air is pumped into them for ventilation. As such, temperatures are significantly lower compared to the surface/ground. Will we have similar facilities/developments here in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila once the MM Subway is developed?