Number Crunching in Transport

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Use light colored clothes at night. You would want motorists to see you - wouldn't you?

Sudhir Gota

Innovative thinkers in Transport sector have not yet established the relationship between the color of clothes, walking and its impact on fatality. But, there are some who have found the answer to reduce pedestrian fatality.

Pune Traffic police in India advices pedestrians and cyclists to follow particular instructions -

1. Use light colored clothes at night. You would want motorists to see you - wouldn't you?

2. If there is no footpath, walk facing the oncoming traffic.

3. The only right of way is the one the other Driver/Rider gives you, especially the one who is Bigger/Heavier.

Check out Pune Traffic Police website (

I have always wondered why such kind of advice is given to pedestrians and cyclists without even thinking about the infrastructure for them.

What ails us?

What’s wrong with our system which implements laws such as jaywalking but cannot even provide accessible crossings or footpaths?

My questions were partly answered previous week when we hosted one of the leading proponents of good transport – Prof Madhav Badami in Manila.

During our interactions, Prof was adamant that “Windshield view” of the policymakers and media people was the main cause. His actual quote was - “Most who WALK don’t have a SAY, Those who have a SAY, don’t WALK “

During the brownbag in ADB, he built a case for restoring pedestrian accessibility. Harping on the “Restoring” issue, he argued that Asian cities which had the natural advantage for walking have lost it due to illogical policies and thus facing all sorts of problems. Lamenting on the current trend of use of quick fix (flyovers) and/or ornamental solutions (providing expensive, inappropriate options when not required) he questioned - Is it that we do not know; we can’t do; OR we simply don’t give a damn…..

Prof indicated that the current problems are iatrogenic in nature and if we don’t act now, it would be too late. Prof in order to illustrate his case took the audience on an India Photo tour and narrated his experience while taking the photos. The audience was appalled on seeing the bad state of pedestrian infrastructure and the interconnectivity of walking with public transport. Prof showed how high cost intensive metro’s neglect walking facilities while promoting park and ride.

Source : Prof Badami

Prof used the terms “seamless connectivity” and “refuse distance” many times to indicate the importance of changing the mindsets from only footpaths to many other aspects of pedestrian facilities.

Inspired by his speech, a gentleman from ADB’s finance division questioned back – is there no hope?

I knew the answer – there is lot of hope in Asia. We are not yet motorized to the extent of developed countries. We need to only shift and scale-up the investment to stop migration of people and in modes… and to do this as Bert Fabian puts it – “everything is in the mindset”.

We need to change mindset of people and cities would follow.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Sudhir Gota

Teresa, our air quality researcher from Hong Kong believes that Metro Manila had only one thing in common with Hong Kong and it is air pollution!!

In order to prove that Metro Manila had lot to offer in terms of transport and land use and to show the best part of Metro Manila, we (Alvin our air quality researcher and me) decided to take her to Marikina. Alvin has seen the transformation of Marikina from close quarters, from being only a “bedroom community” city to city with lot of public space.

Teresa had only one question for us i.e. - Why Marikina? What’s in Marikina that is not in Ortigas? I suggested that she better wait and watch and give her comments in Marikina.

In order to hype the visit, Alvin decided to give history and geography lesson to us. He started explaining about Marikina - Marikina, the ‘shoe-capital’ of Philippines prospered on account of its shoe industry. The concept of its growth was the balance of basic-service industries with the service employment and basic employment balancing the growth. The balance was broken in 1980’s, when the subsidiary business districts of Metro Manila expanded thus pushing the middle class people to the peripheries thus engulfing Marikina. On account of low cost of living in Marikina, people started using it as a base for working in other parts of metro Manila. Only a minority of trips had both origin and destination in Marikina. It became a “bedroom community” and the city started decaying. The local government then started initiating steps in order to make the city livable. They took several initiatives such as removal of encroachment, provision of bike lanes and sidewalk, improvement of public space etc to stop the urban decay.

I couldn’t stop myself from jumping into the discussion (I have this bad tendency of always not allowing others to speak their mind when I am inspired!!) and explained why - Marikina city has lot to offer to transport researchers. I argued that many people simply don’t realize the importance of having good public space”. In fact, my love affair with public space started with a comment from one of my colleagues “Bert Fabian” when he suggested that “A good city is the one which has more public space than the street and parking space.” For him, the public space includes footpaths, bikelanes, parks, play grounds etc. What do you think?

Would you like to visit a garden, park, playground etc. in the heart of city next to your home, meet friends and relatives for relieving your stress or would rather go and sit in a mall?

I have another bad habit of comparing two things – cost in local currency with Indian rupees and city with Bangalore. Thus, as always, I brought in Bangalore into discussion of Marikina and suggested the evils of motorization and commercialization which transformed Bangalore city from “Garden city” to “Black city” ( people yet don’t realize that nearly 2 or 3 people die on roads in Bangalore daily). My colleagues were not impressed as they have heard this before number of times!!

We were about to reach Marikina and I was happy that I could prove that “city-design can influence the people behavior”. But there was a twist in the tale, as soon as we reached Marikina; we were in for a shock!

Teresa pointed out towards the main corridor which was congested with traffic and signals not working and pointed out – is it Marikina? Did we come to see this? She pointed out towards the smoke belchers – the jeepneys and the tricycles and told that the road is more polluted than Makati – one of the CBD’s of Metro Manila.

I agreed as she made a valid point. The congested road was virtually splitting the city and distorting the beauty. Yes, the heavy traffic was creating the “Berlin wall” syndrome. The people were standing next to the road watching traffic and children waving at people and neighbors at other end of the road afraid of stepping onto the street. While driving, Alvin was feeling sorry for them as they were inhaling his car’s tail-pipe emissions. He suggested that they need to transform this road and reduce the intensity of traffic by improving the public transport.

I was trying to understand the pattern of traffic – landuse-environment. We parked our vehicles in the free parking area. I could immediately see the challenges. The city still needs to work out this free parking aspect. You can never have free parking of motorized vehicles and less traffic. Teresa stated appreciating the beauty of Marikina and immediately saw the free parking spaces of bikes taken over by motor bikes. This again is a challenge for all of us. History has shown that with little incentives such as cheap fuel and free parking, the motorbikes can dominate the human powered bikes and we should ensure its reversal by policy changes. All modes have some role to play in urban transport but the role and extent is never understood properly by the governments which often lead us to chaos.

Marikina though realized the importance of cycling long back when its Mayor Marides C. Fernando launched the bike program by suggesting that “The Bicycle Program is designed to decongest the traffic on the road, increase our mobility and to provide the low income people their transport mode that will allow them to have a healthier lifestyle” . It was awarded in 2008 in the category of “Climate change and health in cities” by WHO. Alvin indicated that the award is because of its “Public Space” policies as people are healthier.

He pointed out that in Marikina people liked to live outside their homes. I have no doubt about this as he visits his home regularly only in the early mornings…

“Public Space” policy is the beauty of Marikina. Marikina was possibly one of the first cities in Asia to prove that mode share of cycles can increase provided the non motorized policies are in place. Marikina has approx 53 km of bike lanes spread over an area of 33 square kilometers. The beauty is that approximately 19 km of bike lanes run parallel to streams. Marikina has also supported the bikers by providing bicycle loan facilities and innovative renting scheme.

Yes, the success can be measured - “increase in Non motorized transport share from 4% in 1999 to 10% in 2006”. This is critical as majority of trips either starts or ends outside Marikina. Now the situation is that majority of households have access to bikes!! . One could see innumerable places where people can meet, walk, play etc.

We entered into the CBD of Marikina. Innovative use of Road-witching concept can be explored in detail if somebody traverses through this area. The innovative road landscape allows share-use of roads with people and vehicles co-existing. One more important lesson for me was the use of lanes of 2.5-3m for motorized traffic and it was working good. I learnt my tricks of highway design based on the fundamentals of 3.5m lanes. This was a surprise for me!

The challenge is in the issue of jeepneys. Teresa was sad to see people hanging out of Jeepneys. With 35% of total trips by jeepneys (nearly 1400 jeepneys are registered in Marikina), overcrowding is common. The public transport holds the key for Marikina. Future of Marikina depends on it.

We started walking along the “riverwalk”. We came across many people enjoying the beauty of sunset in the park. When Teresa mistook living carabao (buffalo) for artificial sculpture, we knew that our walking time is up and we need to have quick dinner. Our colleague Jaja (administrative officer) joined us for dinner. She doesn’t want big malls in Marikina. Guess why?

“It’s not that they don’t provide the good shopping experience or big discounts, but because it sticks out like a sore thumb in the beauty of the city.” Also she wants the parks and rivers to be maintained well. But the issue is how would the city government fund this? Alvin suggests that the entry fees for parks would be like road pricing. It would reduce the demand and I also agree on that. I was eying the removal of free parking facilities. The fund can go for benefit of parks and they can restructure the land-tax to make the rich pay more for the government in benefit of clean city.

We all agreed that the challenge for Marikina would be the land-use policies. Currently there are no concrete towers in middle of city or high rise buildings. If in future they transform the public land into commercial and concrete space the beauty would be lost. Teresa reserved her judgment and wanted to see the full city and we promised to come back again for detailed review.

After the dinner, Jaja made an interesting observation on crime rate in Marikina. She pointed out that the crime rate in Marikina has come down significantly. Alvin attributes this to the public space policy. Is it so? What do you think?

For me, it was interesting to note the change in people’s behavior by changing the policies of public space. The challenge in future is enormous as parks and open space currently constitute only 16% of road space and public spaces are fast shrinking (nearly 50% reduction of space from 2007).

Bert Fabian’s quote “Changing cities changing minds” is true and Marikina is a prime example of this. But the city needs to do more. The challenge is great!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Traffic Jam or Mobility – What does CEBU city wants?

By Sudhir Gota

Enrique Peñalosa, Former Mayor of Bagota is an accomplished public official, economist, administrator and champion of sustainable transportation. I was fortunate to hear him many a times and always he comes up with a statement which forces a person to come out of shell. During the Cebu City BRT Studies Coordination Conference, he asked the audience a question - Traffic Jam or Mobility – What would Cebu City wants and what would BRTS solve?

For many of us, traffic Jam and mobility are two faces of the same coin but not for him. According to him, BRTS would solve the mobility problem of Cebu citizens but may not solve the congestion problem. BRTS would improve public transport but may not guarantee 100% congestion mitigation as car owners may not shift to BRTS if they are allotted lot of space. He suggests that the question of Congestion can be solved only by traffic restriction.

The recipe for the success is to combine the public transportation improvements with car restrictions. So far the Asian cities have failed to realize this aspect. It may be difficult to count the number of cities which has combined these two aspects…

Cebu BRTS which is currently being planned in Philippines can make or break the BRTS development in Philippines. My colleague Bert Fabian says that Cebu BRTS is very important for Philippines and it has to succeed at all cost!! I have never seen him so anxious. What can be the reason for his anxiety? When asked for the reason, he counter-questions “out of 75 BRTS systems which are being planned, executed or running in Asia, how many can succeed like Latin American cities? How many are success stories that are being told across the world as Curitiba and Bogotá? “. I don’t have any answers for this. Do you?

Peñalosa has an interesting take on this. According to him If Bogotá can succeed than any Asian city should succeed. Then the question is why there is not even a single success story as Latin American cities? The answer according to John Ernst (ITDP) can be the invisible problems I.e. institutionalization which we often fail to notice and which creates impedance for the evolvements of the system later.

The Cebu BRTS officer “Paul Villarete” is currently losing sleep over this question. He says that engineering problems can be solved but difficult ones are the questions about institualization and operator issues. He is worried as to if the road agencies allow BRTS to operate?

National government agencies like DOTC are lending all the support for BRTS cause, but the challenges are great. He acknowledges that Cebu is in the best position in Philippines due to strong local support. The agencies have already started the social and media drive to garner the support for this initiative and are hoping that Car owners would understand that there are no other solutions possible.

Some of the aspects which Penalosa emphasized during his speech were

1. We are building new cities in Asia… we can make the change or suffer later. It’s in our choice as what kind of city we want to our children.

2. The half baked systems are being named BRTS for variety of reasons and this is creating a bad name for BRTS. He says that good BRTS is not cheap but, yes, it is cheaper than cheapest metro. A Good BRTS may cost 10 Million USD/ km.

3. What is a good city? According to him – a good city is a city where people want to live out of homes and in public spaces.
Footpaths are the the indicator to measure cities

4. How does democratic county city distribute space between pedestrian, bikes, Public transport and car. It’s a political decision and not a decision of transport expert

5. Great sidewalks are essential, both parallel and perpendicular... trips start from home and not from station and this aspect is often neglected.

Inspired by his speech, I decided to decode the Transport system of Cebu and analyze its Transportation system. I had walked on two earlier days, so this time I decided to investigate with a car (apologies for generating emissions in Cebu!! ). On a fine Sunday morning, I started my investigation with my driver “Andres B Lumapar”.

Andres has been driving in Cebu cities from past twenty years and it is no more a joy for him. He curses the traffic as the root cause of all his problems and suggests that city should widen the roads. I decided to transform him during my investigation. We started with the possible BRTS corridor which is main road linking Talisay to Mandaue centers.

My initial reaction on seeing the corridor was that it could cater for 4000-5000 passengers per hour per direction easily during the starting years. Andres was suggesting that the traffic was low today on account of Sunday early hours. I asked him why and he replied fewer cars on the road. This was the moment I was waiting for and I jumped into my lecture of transport demand management and started giving him the tips on sustainable transportation intermittently during the journey.

I decided to do my road inventory survey while moving in the car as I used to do in my previous life. The average stream speed was nearing 28 km as the corridor had lot of junctions. The biggest challengePaul Villarete and his team would have in this corridor would be the social issues.

The next visit was to the South Coastal Road. This road has lot of induced traffic. This road can provide wealth of information on “induced traffic” for the researchers. The developments have started sprouting across the corridor. The greenery, free corridor and the Sea were making Andres to push the limits and in no time we were touching the 60 kmph mark. The corridor traffic is currently less but would increase as the developments take shape across the influence region.

I got hyper active after seeing the transport and decided to investigate the entire city (initially I had planned for 3 hours of car emissions). Andres was happy as the meter was busy. I was keeping one eye on meter and another on the road and feeling my purse for the money with my hand. We decided to look first at the city development. As I was reading the map, Andres suggested the idea of physically seeing the city growth from the “Tops”. In case if you are wondering what is “Tops”, it is a location which offers panoramic view of the city from the mountains. It was about 10 Km from our current location and we reached there at no time.

The panoramic view allowed me to look at various subsidiary business districts.
The city Cebu is rapidly expanding. The new bridge which linked the main island with “lapo-lapo” in early 2000 increased the accessibility and has guided the development in this direction. I was hoping that the proposed reclamation project ensures some stability in the movement of people as according to Andres, average cebu person travels nearly 9-10 km to access the jobs. If this is true then I think that cebu urgently needs to look at the development plans as it is “high” when compared to other asian cities of the same size.

The next 7 hours were spent on Cebu streets with a quick lunch at an Indian restaurant. We visually saw the entire city roads. I was happy to gain wisdom on Cebu transportation and Andres with heavy travel bill. In order to complete my lecture series to him, I made quick analysis of CO2 emissions (we travelled for 282 km during the day and his vehicle had an efficiency of 13 km/l, which means approx 52 Kgs of CO2) and explained to him the importance of tail-pipe emissions, need for good maintenance and importance of respecting the traffic laws. Andres after sustaining my verbal onslaught for the entire day understood the complexities of transport and was pointing towards smoke belchers at the end of the day. He promised that in future he would keep an eye on the transport behavior and would respect pedestrians and bikers.

I am sharing few of my thoughts – though the trip was expensive and taxing but was worth it...

1. Freight sector needs planning as port lies in middle of city. Maybe they can target freight master plan.

2. City has much potential to make it livable. People like to live outside.

3. It’s not polluted as Manila though the smoke belchers exist

4. The signals looked like they were synchronized (cycle length tended to be on higher side) but surprisingly no Rotaries. This was interesting as I could see only one Rotary in my entire trip. Can anybody analyze this as to why Cebu never planned for rotaries?

5. Jeepneys which are IPT have numbers based on routes

6. Driving behavior was not as good as Manila

7. Lot of visible bikes in city

8. Greenery is good and streets have been landscaped with tress and shrubs.

9. Cebu if it constructs more flyovers in future, it can compete with Delhi on having highest number of flyovers per vehicles. WE saw approx 12 flyovers in the entire day!!

The best photo of my life is above (taken in Cordova municipality of Lapo-Lapo district). I reserve my comments as I have never seen anything like this all my life and hope would never see this in future, what do you think????

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