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Flashback: Transport Infrastructure Framework Plan for the Philippines

I was reading an article yesterday about the outgoing NEDA Director General stating that Philippines needing a long term strategy for infrastructure development that will address the shortcomings or gaps due to unsolicited proposals. There was already something like this drafted almost a decade ago and under the auspices of the returning NEDA DG. Unfortunately, while NEDA accepted the Final Report of the study, they never adopted it as a policy that could also be imposed on agencies like the DOTr (still DOTC back then) and the DPWH. So for a sort of Throwback Thursday and on the last day of the Duterte Administration, I am sharing the promotional video produced for the framework plan that was supported by The World Bank.

The study was conducted by Cambridge Systematics (not related to Cambridge Analytics as far as I know) and was implemented at the same time as the JICA Dream Plan study for Mega Manila. I recall there is also a video on the latter and it listed all the infrastructure projects needed to address the transport problems of the Greater Capital Region. The Infra Framework Plan for the country mentions the various infrastructure projects ongoing and proposed for the Philippines but focuses on the soft side (i.e., strategies) including the reforms and institutional set-up that need to be in place for everything to come together and produce the desired outcomes in the long term. Sadly, strategies and plans are not well appreciated despite their being essential as foundations. While the Build, Build, Build mantra of the outgoing administration is worth praising for attempting to do the catch-up needed in as far as certain transport infrastructure is concerned, it falls short of what are necessary and to be prioritized. Instead, it ended up accommodating projects that are “nice to have” but should not be prioritized considering our limited resources and the undesirable foreign debt racked up by government. Hopefully, the returning NEDA DG and other officials will be able to steer the country clear of the current and future crises that may end up bringing more hardships on Filipinos.

History: article on how jaywalking came to be

I am sharing this article on the invention of jaywalking. It is a very informative articles and gives context to the current situation where cars dominate streets and car-centric policies and infrastructure diminish pedestrians and walking. I’ve always said that history should enlighten us about how it was, how it came to be and what we need to change now if we are to attain a more sustainable transport system that will contribute to improving safety and ultimately, quality of life.

Thompson, C. (March 29, 2022) “The invention of ‘Jaywalking’,” Marker, https://marker.medium.com/the-invention-of-jaywalking-afd48f994c05 [Last accessed: 4/2/2022]

To quote from the article:

“It’s not totally clear who invented the phrase, but it was a fiendishly clever portmanteau. In the early 20th century, the word “jay” mean an uncultured rube from the countryside. To be a “jaywalker” thus was to be a country bumpkin who blundered around urban streets — guileless of the sophisticated ways of the city…
Ever after, “the street would be monopolized by motor vehicles,” Norton tells me. “Most of the children would be gone; those who were still there would be on the sidewalks.” By the 1960s, cars had become so dominant that when civil engineers made the first computer models to study how traffic flowed, they didn’t even bother to include pedestrians.”

The article showed photos of pre-automobile times in the US. Here’s a photo of pre-automobile Manila for context:

And here’s Manila during the American period but with most people walking or taking public transport in the form of the tranvias:

Chaotic as the scenes appear to be, these streets were definitely safer and perhaps saner than what he have now. The challenge is how to re-orient our streets and reclaim it to favor people instead of cars.

On development density and transportation

The term ‘density’ here does not refer to transport or traffic density in the traffic engineering sense but to density of development such as urban density or building density. Here is an interesting article about building during a climate crisis. While it is very much applicable to any situation, the need to revisit plans and designs has become more urgent with the current pandemic.

Alter, L. (November 19, 2021) “What’s the Right Way to Build in a Climate Crisis?” Tree Hugger, https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-right-way-to-build-in-climate-crisis-5210156 [Last accessed: 2/23/2022]

There are mentions to various references throughout the article so it is not entirely an opinion piece but supported by evidence or studies. There is also a note that the article has been fact-checked. Quoting from the article:

“Adding gentle density can help ensure there are enough people in a neighborhood to support local schools, health, and community services and keep shops and restaurants open. It can provide a range of housing types and tenures that support the needs of individuals and families throughout all stages of life and allow for aging in place. It can also support public transit services, providing residents with efficient and affordable transportation options without relying on private automobiles.”

What do you think is the ‘right’ density for Philippine cities and municipalities?

TSSP 2021 [27th Annual Conference]

The Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) held its 27th Annual Conference last November 19, 2021. Here are the poster and program for the conference:

Poster promoting the conference
The morning part of the conference mainly featured a roundtable discussion.
The afternoon part of the program included 4 technical sessions arranged into 2 parallel sessions.

I initially intended to write about the conference before it was held but things got pretty busy last week so this is a post conference write-up. The organizers also announced the final program late (i.e., just a few days before the conference proper) so it seemed sort of anti climactic to post about it. Nevertheless, the conference proceeded as planned and the TSSP has announced it will be posting the proceedings on their official website. It is not yet there but here’s a link to the TSSP official website: http://ncts.upd.edu.ph/tssp/

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?

Another look at the ‘avoid, shift and improve’ framework

The transport and traffic situation during this pandemic has revealed a lot about what can be done and what needs to be done about transportation. Discussions about what and how people visualize their ideal or acceptable transportation system reminded me of the backcasting concepts and the tools. The following diagram is sourced from the SLoCaT homepage: https://tcc-gsr.com/global-overview/global-transport-and-climate-change/

Examples (i.e., non-exhaustive list) of avoid, shift and improve measures

Note the overlaps among the three? Do you think its possible to have a measure that’s avoid, shift and improve at the same time?

Note, too, that if we contextualize this according to the Covid-19 pandemic, these measures even make more sense rather than appear like typical, ordinary measures we have about transportation. The pandemic revealed many weaknesses or vulnerabilities of our transportation system. We are presented with the opportunity to address these and implement certain measures that would have met with a lot of opposition before but can probably be rolled out now such as public transport priority schemes and protected bike lanes. “Work from home” is not really new since the concept has been proposed and implemented before but not as widely as was required by the pandemic situation. So perhaps we should take advantage of this forced reboot of sorts for our transportation system to be able to implement this A-S-I framework.

On the importance of public transportation post-pandemic

I am sharing another article from Todd Litman that appear yesterday:

Litman, T. (2020) “Lessons from Pandemics: Valuing Public Transportation,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/109584-lessons-pandemics-valuing-public-transportation?fbclid=IwAR2jduFuYoyf_MoksI2Th4UoWtQYMQVOdwHuiih8JM9NxMN5pT_e1lwhgDQ [Last accessed: 6/13/2020]

The article contains material derived from previous work by the author and provides a list (and links to) resources or references related to this topic.

Traffic is back to “normal”

Traveling to the office last Monday, I could not help but notice the long lines of cars along Ortigas Avenue’s westbound lanes and Katipunan’s southbound lanes. Without adequate public transportation, people have few options for their commutes. Walking from home to workplaces is feasible only for those who live relatively near their workplace (perhaps up to 5km distance?). Cycling may be considered but not everyone can bike beyond 5km, what more for 10km+ commutes. And for both cases, there are just so many obstacles (and I’m not just fault-finding here) like a lack of sidewalks and bike paths to ensure safe walking and cycling.

Traffic congestion along Felix Avenue in Cainta towards Cainta Junction (with Ortigas Avenue Extension) – these are mostly outbound traffic likely coming from the residential subdivisions along Felix Avenue and heading to workplaces in Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati and Taguig. They will likely take Ortigas Avenue to connect with other major roads such as C-5 and EDSA to get to their destinations.

 

The DOTr and the LTFRB have released guidelines for safety and the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, they have moved quite so slowly to bring back public transportation to address the demand for it and to be able to discourage or restrict car usage in the “business-as-usual” or “old normal” sense. Public transportation is critical if we are to transform transportation during this transition from the lockdowns. Granted, the government probably wants to use the situation to effect its modernization plans but it is one thing to take advantage of the opportunity and another to be an opportunist considering the vulnerabilities of the transport sector after it endured 3 months of shutdown. The moral and right thing to do is to bring back public transport and give incentives for it to thrive and perhaps transform or upgrade by themselves rather than force the situation at the expense of commuters.

Assessing the risk of infection from the transport safety perspective

My colleagues and I have been developing a risk assessment table for land transport modes to be submitted to the UP COVID-19 Response Team. We did a rapid assessment using mainly concepts from road safety.

The concepts are fairly simple. Risk assessment can be based on the likelihood of contracting the virus gauged from certain exposure factors. Exposure estimation may be quantitative where metrics are applied and data collected for the analysis. Estimation may alternatively qualitative based on experiences, perceptions, expert opinions, etc. but subject to logic (e.g., careful deduction). In road safety, for example, these factors may be defined as three: time, distance and volume.

Time exposure can be determined using travel time as a metric. Longer the travel times mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter traveling for 1 hour, one way, will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to another traveling only 10 minutes even assuming that both use the same mode of transport. Applied to the risk of viral infection, longer commutes may mean people can have higher exposure to potential carriers of the virus.

Distance exposure can be determined using travel distance as a metric. Longer travel distances mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure again translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter with a travel distance of 10 kilometers will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to someone traveling only 1 kilometer. Applying this to the risk of viral infection is similar to the previous case for time exposure even when assuming the same mode of transport.

Volume exposure can be determined using both the volume of vehicles as well as the number of passengers inside the vehicles. The more vehicles or people you have on the roads interacting, the higher the likelihood of one becoming involved in a crash. It can also be argued that riding public transport in high volume, mixed traffic makes a passenger have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash. Again, applying this to the risk of viral infection, it should be easy to understand why physical distancing is necessary in vehicles as well as outdoors when walking or cycling. It should also extend to having less vehicles on the road to further reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

In the real world, we cannot isolate each factor from one another. Instead, we have to contend with all three combining to create various scenarios. Along expressways, for example, the volume of vehicles might be high and so are distances. Time exposure can be lower due to high speeds. Yet high speeds can contribute to increased likelihood of crashes. Meanwhile, traffic congestion has all the ingredients for maximizing the likelihood for crashes and, by extension, viral infection. Long commutes (by time and distance) plus high volumes of people and vehicles combine to create the worst case scenario from the perspectives of both road safety and infection, which are both public health issues.

Next – Why we should not return to the old normal…

On urban planning resources or references for the pandemic

I am posting for reference this article compiling helpful references for urban planning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the references listed are based on the US experience and I am sure there is already a wealth of information coming from other countries as well including those that have been successful in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Brasuell, J. (2020) “Urban Planning Resources for COVID-19”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/109238?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05142020&mc_cid=2e155996b6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/16/2020]