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On the importance of trees in the urban setting

Having lived in two other countries and traveled in many others, I have seen and experienced for myself examples of tree lined avenues and streets in the urban setting. And I am not talking about small cities but big ones like Tokyo and Singapore. I have gone to many of the big cities in Japan to be able to say that trees should have their place in the so-called urban jungle and the benefits of having them are tremendous. Here is a nice article recently published in The Guardian that explains the advantages of green streets:

Balch, O. (2019) “Green streets: which city has the most streets?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/nov/05/green-streets-which-city-has-the-most-trees [Last accessed: 11/08/2019]

Philippine cities should heed the advice from the author and city and municipal planners should make sure that plans incorporate trees and other flora. Obviously, they are not just ornamental but rather should be indispensable components of our towns whether it is highly urbanized or not. I guess the same concepts apply also to the roadsides of our national highways. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) clearly had little or no regard for greenery; chopping down even the elder trees along the way of their road widening programs. As such, they have contributed to blight along these roads and it would take some time and effort to bring back what used to be tree-lined, canopied roads in many provinces.

On the future of city streets

Here is another article, this time on the future of city streets. I had been sharing many of the ideas related in the article in the Transportation Engineering courses that I handle including those pertaining to the Complete Streets concept and road diets. The article is good reading material for my students who need to get out of the box (so to speak) of traditional civil engineering thinking regarding highways and streets. That is, we need to do more people-centred rather than car-centric designs.

Davidson, J. (2018) “What Is a City Street? And What Will It Become?”. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/what-is-a-city-street-and-what-will-it-become.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2018].

Here is a photo I took in Iloilo City a couple of years ago showing the bikeway along the Diversion Road. The facility then was underutilized but was supposed to represent, along with the Promenade along the river and the redevelopment of the old airport site in Mandurriao, the revitalisation of the city. Meanwhile, there have been little done for the downtown streets.

Iloilo City provides a good example of the need to have a more holistic transformation rather than have some exhibition or demonstration pieces for inclusive transport here and there.

Article on the need for ‘Context Cities’

Here is another good article I’ve found and read recently:

Wolfe, C.R. (2017) “Forget ‘Smart’ – We Need ‘Context Cities'”. Planetizen.com. https://www.planetizen.com/features/96310-forget-smart-we-need-context-cities (Last accessed: 12/21/2017).

Much has been said, I believe, about smart cities. I, too, have attended and even spoke (about Intelligent Transport Systems) at conferences or fora that had ‘smart cities’ as the central theme. Most talk about how technology can be used to further development and to address various transport and traffic problems. A lot of people tend to be excited when technology gets into the mix of things and yet few seem to be interested in a city seeking its true identity. And so the concept of ‘context cities’ over ‘smart cities’ become important as we need to contextualise what a city should be before we conclude that a technology push is the way to leapfrog into advancement. Perhaps the soul can be found and reconciled with and this is done through the context and not tech, which cannot replace history, heritage and culture that are distinct attributes of each city.

Some recommended references for sustainable transportation design

We conclude the month of October with the following recommended readings:

While these are guidelines and manuals developed and published in the United States, the principles and much of the content and context are very much applicable here.

As an additional reference, here is the latest version of functional classifications for streets that is supposed to be context-sensitive:

What if Manila decided to build its first subway back in the 1970s?

There is something about the counterfactual that is attractive to me. While I do not have formal training as an historian, I like to dabble in history and particularly about the what-could-have-been. It started with a book I read about counterfactual military history with various articles written by prominent historians who put forward scenarios including that on Thermopylae, Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam War. I have found it a good exercise in analysis that is along the lines of chess analytics where one move may lead to another in response. Applying this to transport was quite a natural thing and we take a look at some information from the Feasibility Study for what was proposed in 1973 as the first subway line for Metropolitan Manila.

Proposed schedule for the 3-stage construction of RTR Line 1, most of which would have been a subway connecting Diliman, Quezon City with the University Belt in Manila and ultimately the airport in Paranaque.

Stage 1 between UP and FEU could have been operational as early as 1983 but typical delays could also have led to service starting in 1984 or even later. According to some critics of the LRT Line 1 that was built instead of the RTR Line 1, Marcos decided against the subway after being convinced by his advisers that the line could not be completed before Singapore finishes its own first line. A story is told that Marcos didn’t want Lee Kuan Yew to have the satisfaction of having Southeast Asia’s first mass transit line so the former opted for the elevated LRT instead. What really happened though was Singapore started operating its SMRT North-South Line in 1987, after what was also a long period of planning, decision-making and construction. It can be argued that the Philippines could still have completed at least 10 kilometers of the RTR Line 1 and at most 15 kilometers by 1987. Even a revolution in 1986 could not have doomed this project given its benefits that we could have reaped over the long-term.

Proposed stages of construction for the RTR Line No. 1 – whichever alternative could have led to the completion and inauguration of a substantial segment by 1983/84, well ahead of Singapore’s first line.

 

Artist’s conception of what an RTR Line 1 platform could have looked like. The trains look like a typical Tokyo Metro train. There’s some humor here as you can see the route map at right and the direction sign at top left referring to the Manira (Manila) Air Port.

As you can see in this rather simple (note: not included are discussions on the financial & economic aspects of this project) exercise, Metro Manila could have constructed the RTR Line 1 more than 3 decades ago. Even with the political upheavals in the Philippines during this period, it can be argued that Marcos and his version of the “best and the brightest” could have pulled it off and come up with the country and Southeast Asia’s first subway line. Most of the decision-making, planning and construction would have been during Martial Law when the Marcos had quite a firm grip on power. So he and his apologists have no excuse for this failure to potentially revolutionize transport and take Metro Manila to the next level in terms of commuting. That failure ultimately led to the current transportation situation we have in what has grown to become Mega Manila.

On the planning and design dilemmas for traffic and highway engineers

It’s the Holy Week so I had some time for some musings. Quite some time ago, I commented on a post a prominent architect made on his social media page that practically blamed traffic and highway engineers for problems for what he considers as flawed designs. He even singled out the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for being responsible. The reality though is that not all architects are a progressive, innovative and responsible as him. In many if not most projects that civil engineers have engaged in, they are usually provided with what are supposed to be preliminary plans drawn up mainly by architects. Many of these plans though are not really preliminary but in an advanced stage in the design process that often do not involve civil engineers much less transportation engineers or planners.

Granted, the traffic and highway engineers involved in many projects seem to proceed with their work blindly and mechanically, they should also be responsible for being aware of the interdisciplinary nature of these projects. These are civil engineers by profession and many seem to have been indoctrinated with the notion that local guidelines such as those issued by the DPWH are basically the only authoritative references for design. For many, there is no need to be proactive and look for more progressive references such as those on complete streets or people-friendly infrastructure, many of which are now more easily available online than before. There is a National Building Code (NBC) but the provisions, often referred to as minimum standards, are often not followed as one can plainly see in many developments in cities and towns around the country. Parking and driveway provisions, for example, are among those that many buildings do not comply with. Then, of course, there is the case of pedestrian sidewalks; particularly their absence along many streets.

Perhaps there is a need to revisit the education of civil engineers? There have been observations (criticisms?) that most undergraduate programs in the Philippines are “board-oriented”, meaning that the end result for programs are for graduates to pass the CE licensure exam. Memorization of formulas is encouraged. At UP though, early on in civil engineering courses, we already make it clear to our students that infrastructure engineering and planning involves a host of a lot of disciplines including architecture, economics, social and behavioral sciences, and, of course, other engineering fields as well. Maybe CE’s would have benefited from a stronger liberal arts program as what critics of UP’s proposed reduction of GE courses claim? But then you already have a lot of general education subjects in most BSCE curricula especially those offered in sectarian schools. Perhaps the lack of connection with the humanities is not a concern that is entirely to be attributed to one’s education in college but instead is one traceable to more fundamental issues that can be traced to one’s formation from as early as grade school if not high school? But then that’s another topic that deserves its own article…

Kids stuff for urban planning?

It’s been a busy latter part of the week and I haven’t had much time to finish a new article so I will just be sharing another interesting article, this time on urban planning. I spotted the article in my mailbox as part of a bulletin that I am subscribed to. Here’s a link to the article:

Teaching urban planning to pre-schoolers

It’s interesting to me as I am a teacher and I thought as I read this that we should probably be teaching transport planning or transport engineering to pre-schoolers as well. We are doing something like that for grade schoolers already in the form of road safety lessons. I am already curious about what topics to cover for pre-schoolers and how to teach them. Older children probably could go with SimCity and other computer games but pre-schoolers can be more of a challenge in terms of the tools you would need for them to learn. Using Lego is a brilliant idea and the same can be applied to transport as well in addition to maybe Matchbox and Tomica.