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On the key transformations needed to achieve sustainable, low carbon transport

Also related to COP26, I am sharing material from the Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLOCAT) partnership, of which our center is part of. SLOCAT recently released the 11 key transformations for sustainable low carbon land transport urgently needed to meet the climate targets. Here’s a link to their site:

SLOCAT also has the following Wheel of Transport and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) on the same site. The Wheel illustrates the four cross-cutting themes: equitable, healthy, resilient and green.

SLOCAT Wheel on Transport and the SDG’s – https://slocat.net/transport-sdgs/

In the SLOCAT site, they list the following to support the transformations:

Overarching approaches to apply across transport modes and sub-sectors overtime

  • Put people first, not vehicles and technology 
  • Co-create and communicate a compelling vision and targets 
  • Guide short- and medium-term action with clear, coherent political messages 
  • Combine push and pull measures: Regulate and incentivise 
  • Link policies within and beyond transport for synergies 
  • Prioritise resources by social and sustainable value for money 
  • Engage, empower and coordinate stakeholders across government levels and sectors 
  • Build capacity and improve data 
  • Implement pilots to learn and share, then roll out at scale

On housing and transportation

I’ve written about how we should not be trying to isolate transportation as if it is singly at fault for the transport and traffic mess many of us are in at present. There are many factors affecting travel behavior including mode choice. Travel distances, travel times and mode choices are not a consequence of transportation system (including infrastructure) alone. Land development and pricing especially those pertaining to housing are critical in how people decide where to live. These are intertwined with transportation and can be quite complex without the proper data or information to help us understand the relationship. That understanding, we are to assume, should lead us to the formulation of policies intended to correct unwanted trends and perhaps encourage more compact developments that are closer to desirable concepts such as the 15-minute city.

Here is an interesting article to enrich the discussion on this topic:

Dion, R. (October 28, 2021) “Coupling Housing and Mobility: A Radical Rethink for Freeways,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/features/115126-coupling-housing-and-mobility-radical-rethink-freeways?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-11012021&mc_cid=85ec2b565f&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1%5BLast accessed: 11/3/2021]

The first thing that came to my mind are residents of northern and southern Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces. Many chose to buy houses there and beyond (i.e., Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite) and yet work or study in Metro Manila CBDs like Makati, Ortigas and BGC. And they do use the tollways (e.g., NLEX, SLEX, CaviTEX, Skyway) to get to their workplaces and schools.

This is also a relevant and timely topic in the Philippines as many cities are already headed for sprawls that will inevitably put more pressure on transportation infrastructure development that usually leans towards car-oriented projects (e.g., road widening, new roads, flyovers, etc.) rather than people-oriented ones (e.g., modern public transportation systems, bikeways, pedestrian infrastructure). Note that only Tokyo has developed an extensive enough railway system to cover the sprawl that is the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, which if interpreted loosely also includes Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba in the sprawl. No, we cannot build as fast to have as dense a railway network as Tokyo’s or other cities with similar rail systems. And so we have to figure out another way to address this problem.

Parking: minimum or maximum

The National Building Code (NBC) of the Philippines stipulates the minimum number of parking spaces or slots per type of establishment and intensity of development (i.e., according to area or other parameters). These established provisions are generally called parking minimums. The NBC’s provisions are already archaic by current standards and need to be revised but not in the way it was apparently developed. The NBC needs supporting evidence from studies (are there any dependable ones around?) on parking requirements including those for bicycles and motorcycles. These should clearly not include or impede the requirements of pedestrians. And local government units must be required to enforce these NBC provisions.

Here is an article that discusses the proposal for new limits on parking, particularly in large developments in Boston, Ma. in the US:

The article points to this one:

City of Boston (September 20, 2021) Maximum Parking Ratios, https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/maximum-parking-ratios [Last accessed: 10/19/2021]

I must admit that I still have to do a lot of reading on this. There are some who are calling for the abolition of parking minimums but you just can’t do this so abruptly without understanding the context and current set-up. We are not Boston or San Francisco or Hong Kong or Singapore in terms of the transport infrastructure and services and the progressiveness of policies including those governing or covering housing and other factors that come into play with transportation. Sprawl and the resulting pressures (requirements for efficient travel) on the transportation system is not transport’s fault or responsibility alone like what some articles or infographics make it appear to be. It is very much about land use and land development, and the policies and the political economy behind these developments.

We need to do more to reduce transport emissions

I did some work on long term action plans on low carbon transport for the ASEAN region before. We were able identify many of interventions that were being implemented as well as those that can be done to reduce transport emissions. Such reductions for the region would ultimately contribute to alleviating global warming. Unfortunately, while ASEAN is a significant contributor to emissions, it pales in comparison to emissions by individual countries like China and the US. If these two and others in the industrialized world do not commit to reducing their emissions, all work will come to naught. Here is an article that serves as a pre-event write-up for COP26, a major climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in the coming days.

On an ‘induced demand calculator’

Induced demand or traffic is a popular topic these days thanks to the proposal of a private company to build an elevated tollway along the Pasig River. The topic is also much in circulation the past few years as the DPWH’s part in the government’s Build, Build, Build program has road widening as a major component. There are many completed, ongoing and planned projects across the country that involves road widening, particularly increasing the number of lanes of typical national roads from 2 to 4, not counting the shoulders (paved or unpaved). The results are mixed as there are roads that definitely required capacity increase in the form of additional lanes, and there were roads that did not require them. The latter were still expanded and perhaps the agency did so because their key performance indicators basically obliged them to undertake such projects regardless of the need. Somehow, these were justified and yet there were and are many questionable road widening projects especially those that involved the cutting of decades if not century old trees (e.g., the Kamatchile and Acacia trees that used to line up long sections of national roads in Tarlac are no more) or the demolition of heritage structures such as houses.

A came upon this article about an “Induced Demand Calculator” developed in the US. I have not gone through the calculator itself but such a tool could be quite useful in quantifying the impacts of road widening while pushing for other options to improve transportation and traffic that is not the typical “solving traffic” type of approach. Here is the article in Streets Blog:

I am not aware if there are similar tools being developed here. Such a calculator will require data from various sectors including construction costs, operations and maintenance costs, value of time and current and projected vehicular and person trips that can be translated into traffic volumes.

Is it difficult to understand the phenomena of induced demand?

I’m sharing a recent article that laments about how transport departments in the US seemingly don’t understand the concept and phenomena of induced demand. Is it really difficult to understand or are transport officials including highway planners and engineers deliberately ignoring what’s staring them in the face?

Zipper, D. (September 28, 2021) “The Unstoppable Appeal of Highway Expansion,” Bloomberg City Lab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-09-28/why-widening-highways-doesn-t-bring-traffic-relief [Last accessed: 10/10/2021]

Partially completed road widening along a road in Batangas – was this necessary given the traffic in the area before, during and after this pandemic?

The topic in the article is very much applicable to our own Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The DPWH’s key performance indicators (KPIs) need to change from the typical “kilometers of road constructed” or “lane-kilometers of roads widened” to something like “travel time between points A and B”. Agencies like the DPWH always like to claim they are for solving traffic congestion but we already know widening roads just won’t cut it. It has to be more comprehensive than that and involve the entire transport system rather than just a part (i.e., the road). And it has to be a collaborative effort with various other agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and local government units. Unfortunately, too, these agencies like the DOTr and those under it, and many (not all) LGUs also like to go at it solo so we end up with piecemeal solutions that are also often out of context.

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 defining the 15-minute city

I have shared articles and briefly written about the concept of the 15-minute city on this blog. Here is another discussing how a 15-minute city is defined:

(February 8, 2021) “Defining the 15-minute city,” Public Square, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2021/02/08/defining-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 8/10/2021]

Here is an image from the article:

Again, it is important to contextualize these concepts. I share these as references and topics for discussion. Of course, I have my own opinions about this and I have written about those in previous posts. I guess in the Philippine context, we can include the pedicab or non-motorized three-wheelers in the discussion. These are also very popular modes in many cities and municipalities despite their being also prohibited along national roads like their motorized counterparts. It would be nice to have more visuals in the form of maps that show travel times for essential destinations or places like hospitals, markets, grocery stores, workplaces and, of course, homes. I assume there is at least someone, somewhere who perhaps have made multi-layer maps of this sort and attempted to related them along the lines of this concept of a 15-minute city (or perhaps the even older “compact cities”).

On the principles of good infrastructure

Since the Philippine government is engaged in its Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program, and agencies like the DPWH and DOTr often or regularly refer to what’s happening in the US in terms of projects, guidelines and standards, I am sharing the following article on the principle

Marshall, A. (March 18, 2021)“What Are the Five Principles of Good Infrastructure?” Governing.com, https://www.governing.com/community/Five-Principles-Good-Infrastructure.html [Last accessed: 4/5/2021]

Despite obviously being an article about US infrastructure in the context of the new administration there, there are just too many takeaways or relevant information here that applies to us and how we are developing and maintaining our infrastructure. To quote:

“First of all, cost matters. The evidence is pretty clear now that we pay several times more than other advanced nations to build transit infrastructure, particularly tunnels, and possibly highways as well. It appears we pay too much to build public parks.

Second, time matters. We still get estimates for infrastructure projects whose construction stretches into decades, when it should be a few years. Time relates to cost. Adding time makes projects more expensive.

Third, connections matter. Whether it’s a light-rail line joining up to a bus line, or an interstate exit linking to a town, the connections between infrastructure systems are important. High-speed rail lines need to intersect seamlessly with the cities they serve. Infrastructure can’t be designed in a vacuum. Urban planners and designers should be at the top of the infrastructure food chain, so that transportation and other departments work for comprehensive visions.

Fourth, design matters. Western Europe has been erecting light, airy bridges for decades, while we have continued to build heavy concrete slabs. This is changing, but we lag behind other countries in the design quality of everything from bridges to subways.

Finally, ownership matters. Even the best-designed and swiftly built infrastructure will turn bad if we give one or two private companies total control over them. As we use private companies for broadband, cable, telephones, data management and the power that runs our homes, we need to remember this. When we can’t (or won’t) have public systems, then the private ones need to be carefully managed.”

To what extent do you think these principles apply to our case?

On a different view of the ’15-minute city’ concept

Here is an article discussing the downside(s) of the 15-minute city; particularly its adoption without understanding first and setting the context for the concept:

O’Sullivan, F. (March 3, 2021) “The Downside of a 15-Minute City,” Bloomber CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/the-downsides-of-a-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 3/20/21]

Some people are pushing very much the same concept for quick adoption in the Philippines without again contextualizing it. I feel these people are detached or choose to be so perhaps as they seek shortcuts to achieve what they believe should be the way cities and municipalities are laid out in the country. But wait…don’t we already have 15-minute cities in the Philippines? I will be writing about that soon…