Caught (up) in traffic

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On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On empty malls and what’s in store for us under the new normal

I took the following photos inside a mall that’s close to my residence. One had to go inside to get to the drugstore located at the second level of the mall so you can see what it looks like during the lockdown. Not surprisingly, it is deserted but it looks clean and orderly. It seems that mall’s doing maintenance work and I did see a couple of janitors inside. They are probably the skeletal staff of the mall in-charge of making sure the building does not deteriorate during the lockdown period.

This used to the a very busy area leading to the supermarket and the appliance shop. The area also usually was at the events venue and often set-up here are the weekend stalls selling local items including our favorite cashew butter and sylvanas.

A look back at what was usually a crowded area at the center of the mall as I moved up the working escalator

The second level was also practically deserted with only a few customers going to the drugstore and the occasional janitor or security personnel going around

Across from where I was walking was another crowded area as this is the food court with the cinemas just beside it.

View of the ground floor as I descended on the non-functioning escalator on the other side of the second level.

I saw the photos posted on social media and the news yesterday as people crowded at mall entrances on the first day after the lifting of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in many cities. Of course, they are still under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) but more people are allowed to go outside their homes with businesses like the malls starting to resume operations. I sure hope this ‘excitement’ and the resulting crowds will not lead to a worse second wave of Covid-19 infections. That will surely lead to the reimposition of ECQ in those areas. There are lessons to be learned from the reopening of businesses like shops and restaurants once quarantines have been relaxed. Those are lessons that are mostly from the experiences of other countries that we should carefully and meticulously consider in order to avoid the mistakes that have led to a second wave of infections. Let us not lead ourselves towards recklessness or irresponsible behavior that can spell disaster to many. Let us not think that things will go back to the ‘normal’ we used to live.

On school trip generation

I chanced upon the changing of the shifts for a national high school. This was the time of day when the morning shift students were dismissed (i.e., coming out of school) and the afternoon shift students were coming in.

Students come out of the school to mainly either walk or take public transport (mostly tricycles) to their homes.

Most vehicles give way to people, especially students, crossing the busy street. There are usually traffic aides in the area who help manage traffic and to ensure pedestrians may safely cross or move about.

There are no severe traffic congestion here unlike those generated by many exclusive or private schools. There is actually a private school just beside this public high school that also generates significant private vehicle traffic but somehow manages not to congest this major road that’s part of the L. Sumulong Memorial Circle the way another private school congests Sumulong Highway in the mornings.

Is this simply because of the school being a public school as compared with private schools? Perhaps it is, given the perceived disparity in income classes concerning those going to typical public schools and those going to typical exclusive schools. But income disparity aside, wouldn’t it be possible for most students to just walk or take public transport to school? I actually envy the public school students in the photos above as they can walk to school. And that is because they likely live near the school, which is something that is a desirable situation if public schools are at least at par in quality with the more established private schools (especially the sectarian ones where many parents likely prefer their children to go to). This disparity in quality leads to people residing in relatively long distances away for the preferred schools to travel (often with their private vehicles) to and from the exclusive schools. The point here is that it really is more complicated than what it seems in terms of trip generation.

Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion

There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:

For some reason that’s a bit surprising for many, the MMDA seems to have solved two of the most enduring issues on traffic congestion along two major thoroughfares. LSGH is along Ortigas Avenue while Ateneo is along Katipunan Avenue (C-5). Both have high trip generation rates and a significant percentage of their trip gen is comprised of private vehicles. While, Ateneo’s trip generation has led to traffic congestion due to the sheer number of trips the university attracts, the congestion due to La Salle is due to the poor traffic management and lack of parking spaces for vehicles attracted by the school.

I only wonder why it took so much time to address these problems considering the solutions mentioned in the articles are basically ones that could have been implemented years ago. In the case of La Salle, good old fashioned traffic enforcement apparently did the trick. But then, the MMDA even with the LGU constraint could have been stricter before whether when they were under Bayani Fernando (BF) or any of his successors as MMDA Chair. With Ateneo, the scheme is very similar if not the same as what BF proposed over a decade ago when he was MMDA Chair. At that time though a touchy issue was the U-turn scheme he installed along Katipunan that cost trees and the former service road on the west side of the avenue. We can only hope that these claimed ‘successes’ will be sustained and ensure smoother flow of traffic along the major roads they directly affect.

Shopping malls and Ortigas Avenue Extension traffic congestion

Recently, I noticed that traffic has somewhat eased along the eastbound side of Ortigas Avenue Extension. For one, this was probably due to the completion of road works and the reopening of lanes between Cainta Junction and Brookside. This improved traffic flow as traffic personnel didn’t have to resort to the balancing act that is the counter-flow scheme they had been employing to alleviate congestion for mostly home-bound traffic. But a major contributor to congestion was the Ever Gotesco Mall in the former Riverside industrial complex. Malls like this are major trip generators and if traffic coming in and out of the malls are not managed properly or facilities are not provided for efficient movement of people and vehicles, then there will surely be congestion along access roads. I stated that the Ever mall ‘was’ a major contributor because the mall recently closed down and the property is now fenced off from the road. At present, there is practically zero traffic that can be attributed to the former mall.

Following are a few photos of the closed and fenced off property that was the Ever Ortigas mall.

ever ortigas3Jeepneys and UV Express vehicles now use the service road of the mall as a terminal.

ever ortigas2It’s now a breeze passing through the eastbound section of Ortigas Extension in front of the former mall. There are signs stating the property has been acquired by retail giant SM. It will probably be transformed into an SM mall.

ever ortigas1This driveway used to cause congestion as jeepneys and private vehicles exited the mall through this driveway and many turned left towards Ortigas westbound. These vehicle often effectively blocked traffic along the eastbound direction with queues reaching all the way past Countryside and reaching De Castro on a bad day.

There were only two shopping malls along Ortigas Avenue Extension – the Robinson’s Place near Cainta Junction and Ever Gotesco. Ever has recently close but it is expected to re-open as an SM Mall sometime in the near future. SM doesn’t have a mall in the area and the ‘nearest’ ones would be Megamall, Marikina and Taytay (not counting the Super Center beside Tiendesitas and the Super Center along Felix Avenue). If indeed an SM mall will be there soon, we could expect heavier traffic in the area given the trip generation characteristics of SM. Perhaps, though, there is an opportunity to improve traffic in the area if SM can consider some improvements to its driveways and circulation. They could probably do something like what SM Novaliches had done with their generous setback to ensure that there will be no serious congestion along Quirino Avenue due to mall-generated traffic.

SM will not be the only major commercial development that is expected to generate traffic that will lead to congestion along Ortigas Extension. Almost across the former Ever mall is a commercial development under construction with a building I think is too close to the road. Then there is also the commercial/residential project that is being constructed along the westbound side of Ortigas Extension near the Kaytikling Junction in Taytay, Rizal. I wonder if these had the necessary traffic studies to support their impacts on at least the immediate areas they will be affecting.

On school trip generation and exclusive villages

In the news weeks ago is the coding scheme for vehicles that Ayala Alabang, a posh residential subdivision in Muntinlupa City, imposed on vehicles coming in and out of the village. According to media reports, affected are vehicles bound for and coming out of De La Salle Zobel (DLSZ), which is an exclusive school located inside the subdivision. There is another exclusive school inside the village but they don’t seem to be in the news regarding this issue on car stickers and access through the subdivision roads. Perhaps they generate a lot less cars from outside the village?

I lived in villages where there are exclusive schools also located inside the villages. They are smaller compared to DLSZ and likely generate significantly less vehicles than the latter. Also, the numbers of vehicles they generated from outside the subdivisions are not enough to cause traffic congestion along the main roads to and from the schools and the village gates.

For the school in the former subdivision we used to reside in, I noticed that most students arrived via school service. School service vehicles carry more passengers than private cars and so help reduce the number of vehicles generated by the school. These were mostly vans or AUVs and not the mini-buses, coasters or regular buses of when I was in grade school and high school myself. Though lower in capacity compared to buses, AUVs and vans could take in 10 to 12 students comfortably and perhaps max out at 14 to 16 people depending on the sizes of the children the ferry between school and their homes.

In the current subdivision where I live, most students go by car and the wider main road that they use translated to faster cars running between the village gate and the school. I have observed many instances when speeding vehicles do not slow down at intersections or when there are people about to cross the street. There are no humps along the main road like those in the previous village. Humps or speed bumps can be very effective in reducing speeds but improperly designed humps can eventually damage your car’s suspension. The rolling terrain of our village does not seem to be a deterrent against speeding and limited sight distances along the main road presents a significant likelihood that a crash can occur involving speeding vehicles. Thus, some traffic calming measures need to be formulated and implemented before tragedy strikes.

Now that school is almost out for most schools (including the ones inside subdivisions) I think the attention the issue has been getting will steadily die down. But that will be until schools open again in June and residents again feel the impacts of traffic generated by the schools from without the subdivision whether its traffic congestion or road safety that is the more pressing issue in residential subdivisions hosting schools. Perhaps a sticker system and the restriction of the number of vehicles of outsiders is one way to reduce the negative impacts of traffic generated and then there is also the option of not allowing a major school to be located inside a residential subdivision in the first place.