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Let’s not do this kind of thing

There are some great traffic engineers out there, some of whom frequent this board a lot. However, I get the feeling that there’s still a big section of that profession who would think that this is a good outcome:philipines-manilla-ped-bridge

philipines-manilla-ped-bridge-2From Manila in the Philippines – hat tip to Gordon Price.

It’s amazing how many discussions I’ve had with traffic engineers that result in them suggesting a pedestrian overpass or underpass around a busy road – supposedly for pedestrian safety but I think more realistically to limit delays for vehicles. Slightly more enlightened engineers will discuss the various options for trying to provide better pedestrian facilities without affecting traffic flow. It seems to take a really enlightened traffic engineer to understand that, particularly in areas with a lot of pedestrians (like the whole of Auckland’s CBD) we might actually want to negatively impact upon  vehicle speeds in order to make life better for pedestrians.

The typical defence from said engineers is that they’re only trying to give effect to a policy decision made by others to maximise roading throughput. Does this excuse fly? When looking at the CBD, it seems like the policy documents have been saying forever that pedestrians are important yet we still end up with high-speed defacto motorways all over the place. I’m not entirely sure whether this excuse is valid – what do you think?

86 comments to Let’s not do this kind of thing

  • Frank E

    There certainly is a lot of hate towards engineers here…

    • Mr Anderson

      Deserved or undeserved?

      • Max

        How is “hate” ever deserved, Mr Anderson? Seeing that you seem to agree to using the term “hate”?

        Some engineers may create unintended, or unwanted outcomes. But like most professions, they are only trying to do what they think is best. It is just that a lot of them are caught up in an old paradigm.

        Few traffic engineers wake up in the morning and say “today I am going to screw over some pedestrians”. Most of the folks building these overbridges etc… are sincerely either thinking this is best, or are thinking “well, I can’t achieve better with what they let me do, so this is the best alternative”.

      • Frank E

        undeserved. They have different opinions on whats desirable regarding urban design compared to you. That doesn’t mean you can start insulting them.

        If I hate the look of a single building does that mean I’m allowed to hate all architects? No & I hope you agree with me

        • Firstly, some of my best friends are engineers! (Seriously, don’t presume anything about hate in the following.)

          Secondly, it is far more than simply a matter of differing opinions in the abstract, as if between poets or philosophers. The engineer’s opinion manifests itself in costly, tangible, invasive and often deadly ways — in concrete, asphalt and wrecking balls, in public and private places. Perfectly understandable why non-engineers become emotive in opposition, regardless of the well-intentioned predisposition of the former. As the saying might have gone: the road to hell is paved by an engineering firm with a public tender.

          That’s not to say “hate” is excusable. Also, extrapolating from some engineers to all engineers is bad form. But we all knew that, right?

  • Frank why don’t you address the issue raised rather than just react emotionally and try to pretend that it’s personal?

    Any other suggestions as to what else has caused the poor pedestrian amenity in our cities, got some solutions, or even argue that everything perfect as it is?

    This is a pretty civil space here, got an argument or suggestions we’ed love to hear it.

    • Frank E

      Of course everything isn’t perfect..

      I just take offence to the fact that you belatedly try to blame engineers for everything that you don’t like.

      Regardless aside from the Symonds st one, I can’t really think of any really bad over/under passes/

      BTW do you smoke weed ;)

      • Max

        > BTW do you smoke weed

        Okay, seriously, can we stick to the topic, please? Switching from generalisations about professions to unrelated comments about specific persons doesn’t improve any debate.

  • Agree completely. I despise pedestrian overpass bridges over arterial roads for the very reasons displayed in the photo (albeit an extreme case) and post. Pedestrian Safety is just a rationalisation used to justify the decision. It’s only and always about pushing more tin.

  • At the risk of tempting Godwin, the use of the ‘superior orders’ defence is an interesting one. As you say Peter they’re giving effect to a policy decision to maximise vehicle flow, yet conveniently ignoring other policy decisions that require pedestrian amenity. Perhaps they actually think that airbridges and underpasses achieve both, from someone who doesn’t walk as a routine means of transport perhaps the concept of a separate pedestrian only space seems appealing… that’s if you’ve never experience the realities of the inconvenience, circuitous delays and frustration they can cause. This sort of thing always reminds me of the ludicrously designed footbridge between AUT and Albert Park. It requires a 210m walk to cross a 30m wide street. No wonder nobody used it and there now a pedestrian crossing installed directly underneath.

    Of course the other thing is perhaps people who have spent their careers trying to maximise traffic capacity and vehicle flow can’t bring themselves to honestly consider the opposite might be a good idea. Certainly my own career is basically about maximising the efficiency and performance of public transport, if someone told me my job was to now reduce it’s efficiency and make it perform less well I’d have a real hard time putting my heart into the task.

  • what a ridiculous post. Whilst this may be a very bad example it is not representative of the profession that you are trying to defame.

    This post would definately qualify as “trolling”, a term the moderators of this site appear to be using a lot lately for comments that they dont agree with, as this post has clearly been posted with the intention to illicit a response.

    Could i ask what your profession/background is Peter M?

    Not a very good look Transportblog.co.nz, the journalism skills definately need to be upskilled.

    • Bryce P

      Followed by poor reading comprehension on your part. The post is designed to seek comment.
      “I’m not entirely sure whether this excuse is valid – what do you think?”
      Personally, I think this, and other recent posts, have been fantastic. Seeking opinion and all angles of an argument is what we need to be doing rather than just accepting the engineers employed by council or NZTA are always right.

      • poor comprehension, not sure about that, I did read the whole article including the statement that you have singled out.

        However that statement “what do you think?” doesn’t validate the rest of the post. The post is pretty much just a dig at the engineering community. As is the case with a number of posts lately, discussing the suitability or standard of a pedestrian facility is one thing and quite just, but the emotional and misleading content of the post wasn’t required and adds nothing to the argument other than inciting other like minded people to stick the boot in. Hardly a fair picture.

        • Frank E

          I love whenever someone else says something insulting with no proof there’s absolutely no outrage at all from the gods (moderators) at transportblog.

          • Stu Donovan

            Feel free to email us and let us know if you spot a comment that you consider to be untoward.

            We try not to jump on comments unless they’re way off track and/or extremely offensive. Acknowledge this means making subjective calls through rose-tinted spectacles – and often it will come down to someone’s mood on a particular day, but hey that’s life – we’re only human.

            I’d suggest you should either suck it up or let us know the details of what you like and/or don’t like. To use one of your own testy comments “maybe rather than complain you could ‘enlighten’” us?

    • Tom

      How is it ridiculous when you consider how many silly under and overpasses exist in Auckland? None of them are as bad as the one in the pictures above but for pedestrians and cyclists there is a definite feeling of being a noisy nuisance that has to be appeased occasionally. We’re not part of real transport (trucks and cars) and as such we are not really important. Just inconvenient.

      It’s amazing that in a city as large as Auckland (surface area) I haven’t found a single pedestrian-only place that doesn’t have car traffic right next to it. The closest that comes to mind is Chauncery and that is tiny. Even when walking on the new Wynyard place that’s supposed to be pedestrian you have to be careful of two car crossings.

  • swan

    I have lived in Manilla in the past. It is truely horrible from an Urban Design/ Transportation perspective. Pedestrians are treated as second class citizens (despite being theoverwhelming majority). I suspect this results from politics more than engineering. I dont think any engineer would be proud of Manilla – the cars dont move very fast either.

    One of the most striking examples of pedestrian vs car priority I saw was next to construction sites for high rises. There would be netting above the roadway (presumably to protect the cars from falling objects from the construction site), but this wouldnt extend over the nearside footpath! So the metal boxes get protection but not human bodies.

    • RJ

      Irony is as well we have so many of this over there that our roads look silly with it and pedestrians still don;t use it rather they J-walk that if I remember has became sort of like a sport. Most of the time we don;t even look before crossing due to the fact that if a car hits us they vehicle is always at fault

  • “the world is becoming more urbanised and, as a consequence of globalisation, smaller and more connected. As this happens, place, and the attributes of place, matter more than ever in attracting talented and productive people and capital”
    (Royal Commission on Auckland Governance: 2009).

    Perhaps we just have a lag in our priorities at the delivery level from the policy level?

    It is uncontroversial to observe that there is a tension between planning and design outcomes that privilege vehicle movement over quality of place. And it is clear that cities everywhere [perhaps not Manilla!] are recognising that over the second half of the last century the former outcome was favoured disproportionately and the balance needs to be moved the in other direction as a matter of some urgency, for the economic performance of our cities and the qualities of our lives depend on it.

    It is also worthwhile asking how at a practical level can this change be made. What are the obstacles to change?

    Again; any ideas?

  • Sacha

    When our whole transport planning system prioritises vehicles over pedestrians, it’s hard for individual practitioners to change it. Constructively, what would help that mindset and policy shift happen?

  • I have always been struck by the strange idea that roundabouts are somehow better for pedestrians than alternatives. I don’t know whether to blame traffic engineers or not! I have seen it cited as a reason for keeping the terrible Royal Oak roundabout the way it is. Many roundabouts,like Royal Oak, are surrounded by pedestrian barriers that are more about protecting the right of way for cars,

    While installing traffic lights might be complex for the Royal Oak Roundabout, and it might slow down traffic, is there any reason this would not work? Not only would the whole intersection be safer, bus priority measures could be included and I suspect the Royal Oak shopping precinct would get a lift from a more pedestrian friendly environment.

    • Max

      Hi Joe – roundabouts CAN be a lot better for cyclists (and even pedestrians!) if they are small, and single-lane. Have a look at some earlier posts on here about Dutch roundabouts with raised crossings for pedestrians and cyclists on the circumference.

      Also, for an NZ example, witness the roundabout they put in at Onehunga Mall / Campbell Road. That intersection used to be very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to cross north-south (to the largest park in the area!) – now that it has a roundabout, traffic slows down, and the side road isn’t the poor cousin anymore. Cyclists too, can now much easier ride this route.

      In contrast, roundabouts like the Royal Oak one are multi-lane monstrosities (at Royal Oak, its a monstrosity also squashed into a tiny space, which if anything makes things worse). Confusing for everyone, and hostile to peds and cyclists.

      Regarding replacing the Royal Oak roundabout with traffic lights – the issue is that under our current paradigm, any replacement with traffic lights would include a stated or unstated “it may not become worse for cars” requirement. To achieve that with a traffic light, one would likely need serious amounts of road widening. Think 3-4 lanes on some approaches. Just wouldn’t fit. As long as our pedestrian / cycle improvements proceed only under the “don’t make it worse for cars” assumption, we will always be severely limited.

      • Mr Anderson

        Classic example of what the post is about. So massive road widening would be “necessary” if we try to make Royal Oak more pedestrian friendly. “Necessary” for who?

        • Max

          At the risk of repeating my argument below, it is “necessary” (and I agree with your ironic quotes, Mr Anderson): Because many politicians and many of the locals who currently drive through it would raise a big stink if they heard about the impacts a “small” signalisation would cause.

          And because the benefit-cost calculations written by engineers but ultimately approved and policy-oriented according to guidance POLITICIANS have made for our country would give a small-scale solution a pretty bad benefit-cost result, I would wager.

          Unless we accept that benefits also include non-monetised elements – or until we, in the absence of such a more enlightened view, at least monetise those other benefits higher – we are stuck with such projects being “uneconomical”. Its not about engineering. Engineers can make (just about) everything work – but they work to spec. And the specs are off, in NZ.

      • Hi Max
        I take your point about the Onehunga Mall/Campbell Road – the new roundabout there is an improvement for cyclists, however as someone who has turned right into Campbell Road I can also report it is now also better for cars :)

        At what point do roundabouts get to the point they are so busy they no longer work for cars? I actually suspect Royal Oak and the two roundabouts at either end of the main shopping area on Onehunga mall are getting so congested at peak times they may need to be replaced with lights and a barns dance eventually (which in my view would also be better for pedestrians and cyclists). The roundabouts almost effectively cut Onehunga in half – due to the traffic banking up its difficult to cross Onehunga Mall at peak times.

        If a workable fix for Royal Oak roundabout can’t happen because of a ‘can’t be worse for cars’ requirement then this becomes a good argument for challenging the paradigm. If there was an Auckland Transport or LTSA requirement to widen the roads this would threaten Ollie’s ice cream shop – this would really be buying a fight with the locals. Cue sad looking kids in the paper wondering why their icecreams are being taken away.

  • AC

    Not just Manila, Brent Cross in London is pretty much as bad as those photos. (London, however, have huge plans to completely overhaul and redesign the whole area.)
    Another London example, in Elephant and Castle they are going to get rid of all the underpasses from the notorious roundabouts, and install pedestrian crossings instead. Seems as if traffic engineers are getting the idea over here, still haven’t got it in Auckland.

    • relevant to an Auckland Blog how?

      What about the pedestrian overpasses along the northern busway and St. Marys Bay. Are they any good or should there have been zebra crossings painted across the state highway?

      • Max

        Come on, fiddlestix, be polite. Overseas examples are very much relevant to the discussion.

        As is horses for courses – if you don’t like someone using a CBD location in London to compare to a CBD location in Auckland, you shouldn’t use a suburban motorway crossing to compare to an urban situation. I realise you were trying to make a point, but keeping to the topic is not quite the same as keeping a good discussion going.

        • overseas examples are fine as long as they are not just being used in the context of berating engineers. You could probably pick just as many overseas facilities that are fantastic and provide extensively for pedestrians. Just check out the Olympic village for example. Why not use these good examples as evidence of things being able to be done right rather than picking the bad ones and chastising people for it.

          I’m not sure what classification the road is in the photo but it is about 5 lanes wide in one direction and looks pretty busy, which I think isn’t really comparable to a CBD location either. I would suggest that the road in the example would be comparable to SH1 or St. Marys as far as creating a line of severance.

          If traffic volumes allowed I would think that a signalised pedestrian crossing would be fine, as is the norm around the CBD. Just because it isn’t perfect it doesn’t mean that it isn’t creating benefit. Retrofitting a facility into a mature roading network is very difficult and sometimes compromises have to be made. The fact that it is generally pedestrians making the compromise isn’t necessarily a bad one and isn’t always intended but sometimes there has to be some realism and practicality to things. If every roading authority was given a black canvas and cheque book I think things would be different.

      • AC

        my god fiddlesttix. If we can’t look at/mention overseas examples and solutions, then there really is no hope. we might as well stick our head in the ground and wait until we all get paved over with asphalt.

    • Mr Anderson

      Are they normal arterial roads? No.

      My feeling is that there’s a lot of frustration and emotions on this issue because progress is so painfully slow – with traffic engineers seen as the major roadblock to progress.

      • Max

        Okay, Mr Anderson. If it is traffic engineers, how do you then explain the fact that a lot of the aggro against new ways of doing it comes from politicians or locals (via politicians, which is their first point of call)? On projects as diverse as Lake Road cycle lanes, or the removal of the Panmure roundabout, I am aware that local groups (not necessarily community groups) have opposed the projects because they would, in their view, lead to delays and reduction in accessibility for cars.

        It is also interesting that sometimes on these discussions, the “just following orders” issue is raised, as if engineers were in some despicable moral quandary when following instructions and funding imperatives handed down from Wellington. Why blame the middle managers for the decisions made by politicians? Our society puts the ultimate decision (and rightly so) with the elected representatives and the government they have formed. Until pedestrian benefits and cycle benefits actually count enough to make projects stack up on the benefit-cost ratio accounting systems engineers are REQUIRED to use, there’s a limit to what we can do.

      • Mr Anderson

        Pretty sure we had this discussion months ago in the context of that ghastly SH18/SH1 connection project where all the politician hears about is a project with a decent BCR rather than all the flaws sitting behind the methodology for determining that BCR.

        Also there are a whole heap of smallish improvements that are totally about engineers. You can’t claim that politicians are to blame for the lack of a pedestrian leg across Kitchener Street outside the Victoria Street carpark. Surely?

        • Max

          Why not? Its been that way for absolutely decade(s). If no politician has backed the call (well, except for people like the lowest elected level, the Waitemata Local Board) and asked their engineers to put money and effort into changing these things, then yes, I can very much fault the politicians for it.

  • regardless of the BCR and the flawed evaluation methodology you point out (not disagreeing with you), that project is a must to ensure the efficiency of the western ring route and to remove some pretty big bottlenecks along SH1 not to mention facilitating improvements to the north western.

    The problem with that project is that there are some HUGE engineering issues to overcome that add lots of dollars to the overall costs, but notwithstanding will be a major improvement to the network.

  • then I suggest you need to look at the project in more detail rather than just looking at a BCR. I’m sure you will agree that a BCR can be made to give you whatever number you want, especially when a number of inputs are coming from traffic modelling software such as Paramics. this is the reason that I don’t hold much faith in the system as it is too open for abuse.

    is your only gripe because it costs a lot of money?

    • Mr Anderson

      Costs a lot, will be ugly and probably won’t fix the problem. Extend the Northern Busway to Albany before doing anything else then see if there is still a problem.

  • George D

    The illustrated crossover is a monstrosity, to be sure.

    But once you get sufficient chaos on the ground and crossovers, it can actually make sense to elevate the entire pedestrian environment. This is what they’ve done in Bangkok, where elevated walkways ( images, for a general idea) intersect with major shopping malls, an elevated railway (the BTS), and other amenities. In downtown shopping areas, they go for kms. Bangkok is generally a terrible pedestrian city, but here they’ve started to redeem themselves just a little.

    (I can’t see any potential applications in NZ; things will never get that bad. I hope!)

    • I can tell you from experience the Bangkok elevated walkways are just fine… until you need to go somewhere that is not directly serviced by one.

      They also make crossing the street massively difficult, because the sidewalks are often fenced off in their vicinity. In some case you have to walk two blocks up to get to the skyway access, climb a couple flights of stairs, walk back along the top, down a second set of stairs, then two blocks back.

  • dan

    It certainly is an engineer hating post, but it’s also a car hating post at the same time. You can bet that the poster has no problems at all with slowing down thousands or road uses and buses but come to suggesting a similar treatment to a rail line and he will be all up in arms.

    In the end there is nothing inherently wrong with under or overpasses, it as how well they are done. About a month ago we saw a post about how great the new one at westgate is.

    • Mr Anderson

      That’s over a motorway. Different story.

      • dan

        So if it’s a 4 lane motorway it should have an overbridge but if it’s a 10 lane arterial it should be a zebra crossing? Interesting.

        • Steve D

          There shouldn’t be any ten lane arterials anywhere, ever. If you really need to move that sort of volume of cars (and you probably don’t), use a motorway. Rather, most Auckland roads could do with a diet – there’s very few that have more than 4 general traffic lanes, and fewer still that need that many.

          • dan

            Good point, I was more just going from the photo that was shown with 5 lanes in one direction so assumed there were 5 lanes in the other.

            What the main driver should be however is speed. The faster the route the more separation should be looked at. But when doing so you need to look at the desire lines. In some cases it may be best to move the road up or down to let peds move round the way they want.

          • Steve D

            I’m not saying there aren’t any ten lane arterials (obviously there’s one right there), I’m saying there shouldn’t be any.

            We do need a few major grade-separated motorways and railway lines to move people and goods long distances, and these should have frequent overpasses and underpasses to avoid severing connections around them. Where possible, it’s the motorway or railway that should drop down so that people don’t have to walk up stairs to get over them.

            But local streets make up most of the area of the city. On those it’s not unreasonable to expect drivers to chill out, drive slowly and give way to pedestrians sometimes, so that those streets are actually a pleasant place to be once you arrive.

      • RJ

        That’s not even a motorway…in the philippines our main roads can be six lanes wide…its like Taharoto Road in Takapuna except double the lanes going each way

    • There *is* something intrinsically wrong with overpasses and underpasses. They require people to expend energy.

      • George D

        There are a number of serious issues.

        Firstly, they’re a barrier to those with even minor disabilities. Disability isn’t my area (Sacha I’m sure can comment more extensively), but I’d hazard a guess that mobility impairment and sight impairment make these formidable or impossible barriers. Less obviously, even general weakness due to age or youth are issues. My grandmother is fine on the flat, but more than 3-4 stairs stops her from moving. She’s a Dalek. In the latter case, your three year old might be fine ambling along with you on the footpath, but now suddenly you have to haul her up and down two stories of stairs.

        They also crush large amounts of people into small amounts of space at chokepoints – which stairs usually become, as they’re limited in capacity by the ability of people to climb them. It’s not pleasant, and for those who feel claustrophobic in crowds, it’s going to turn you off completely. I know such people. This isn’t a killer for any technology – train stations can sometimes face the same issues – but it’s definitely a design negative and something you want to avoid.

        • dan

          Actually they are designed for and often preferred by disabled and elderly people. It seems people look at a few bad examples and assume it us required to be so rather than looking at some of the countless good examples.

          • Frank E

            pretty much the motto of this post summed up..

          • Gee Frank what a whinger! Such hurt feelings, stop sulking, grow up, and present an actual argument.

          • Frank E

            wow you’re grumpy. I’ll copy & paste what I wrote above.

            undeserved. They have different opinions on whats desirable regarding urban design compared to you. That doesn’t mean you can start insulting them.

            If I hate the look of a single building does that mean I’m allowed to hate all architects? No & I hope you agree with me

          • Funny thing is that the original post is very level and unemotional yet the word ‘hate’ has been used several times now in response to it…. make of that what you will.

            The fact remains that we have a very poor built environment, especially as experienced by people when not inside their cars, this outcome has many causes, various people from a variety of professions, careers, and roles have contributed to it. The important thing to work out ways to lift our game, and this involves trying to identify the processes that have led to less desirable outcomes. And this certainly includes crappy architecture and low quality urban places. This site is very happy to praise the works of these same people when the results are good but certainly we reserve the right to call out shoddy and wrong-head outcomes too. Especially if we identify a whole culture of it.

            Emotional defensiveness on the part of those who feel criticised reinforces that we are on the right track.

          • dan

            You must really see the world through one way glass. If a post like this one was made about something anti rail it would be removed straight away for being unfactual and trolling. But here we have a post that is anti engineers followed by a bunch of any engineer and anti road comments and you celebrate it as a perfect example of unbiased debate and censorship. You guys really make me laugh sometimes.

          • Bryce P

            Interesting Dan. Here is the first line from the post:

            “There are some great traffic engineers out there, some of whom frequent this board a lot.”

            Doesn’t read to me that all traffic engineers are cast as villains but then I didn’t go to uni so I could have read it wrong :-).

            That being said, I think it is important, as noted elsewhere, that political will can play a big part of how the city develops in regards to pedestrian amenity as well as how engineers design things. Just as there are engineers that try to find good solutions to enable all modes of travel, there are people in Local Boards and Council who also are trying for the same things. Unfortunately, the ‘standards’ also have a part to play in all this and it takes a brave or motivated engineer to suggest new techniques or ideas being used elsewhere.

          • classic psychology at work Bryce, but you forgot to finish the statement that you copied so that it is out of context….. make a minor positive statement with the intention of it covering up a huge negative statement that follows.

            “Whilst I respect what you are saying you really don’t know what you are talking about”

          • dan that’s nonsense, there’s no censorship, you’ve overreacted to a reasonable post, and personally I can hardly say anything much good about our current run-down joke of a train system…

            Engineers; I love ‘em, I thank every passing deity for their careful calculations and lineal thinking every time i get on a plane or cross a bridge. But somehow we got carried away with the math-only approach to design in transport, we’ve let that influence too many things it just isn’t appropriate for it to control. Look we dumped Modernism in Architecture decades ago when it became apparent it was inhuman but somehow it’s proving harder to shake off the Modernist approach to city planning, in Auckland anyway. And after all that’s all that the credo of auto-dependency is; Modernist monomania; straight from the Autobahn via the Freeway to our city.

            The great irony of driving is it’s brilliant until every is doing it, you know, you aren’t stuck in a traffic jam you are the traffic jam. This is perfectly understood, yet here we are in Auckland still trying to build a driving only city, that thing that has never been possible anywhere else on the planet. Auckland only still works because it isn’t so big yet, but we will be and here they are saying seriously that 1/2 a billion is clearly best spent on one intersection. Of all the ways we could spend 1/2 a billion! If that isn’t proof of a out of touch closed minded profession i don’t know what is.

            And yes it is also the result of bullying politicians, and over-entitled and under-informed citizens and very self interested lobby groups, and a strange momentum that’s proving hard to divert into more productive ways. But it is also true that technical advice flows up the chain just as much as directives and orders are sent down it. I don’t expect populist politicians to understand induced demand or other specialist notions but it is unforgivable for professionals to gloss over them….. Engineers will be an essential part of the solution but they’ve got to want to be.

            After all it’s going take a whole lot of imaginative and accurate engineering to design and build Auckland’s badly needed transit system so don’t go and get too upset.

  • Keith

    I have recently returned from Manila and am very familiar with the access design disaster pictured and I thought I may be able to provide some context for those who are interested.

    The overpass in question is for the Ortigas 3 MRT Station, which sits above the EDSA major metropolitan highway just behind the Asian Development Bank. Located here: http://goo.gl/maps/phJox.

    This station access is truly appalling with thousands of people every day squeezing through that gap to get to work or to visit the large malls in the Ortigas Center. This example is unfortunately indicative of most of the other MRT/LRT stations in Manila and symptomatic of the mega city’s larger urban planning failures.

    I wouldn’t point the finger squarely at traffic engineers, numerous problems abound. Manila is renowned for its corrupt and fragmented local government structure, dysfunctional and weak metropolitan government, the significant vested interests of the powerful set of large landowner developers, seriously outdated planning standards and codes regulation the design of the urban environment and public space and the strongly entrenched private property rights, amongst other issues. In this case there was a failure to coordinate between the various departments and institutions to adequately plan for PT use and pedestrian demand and to effectively integrate the MRT route into the existing urban context. I also believe that the highway predates the construction of the MRT, so it appears that very little space (between the edge of the highway and the adjoining property boundary) was available for the pedestrian provision.

    The irony of example is that it is located right next to the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank, which strongly promotes sustainable urban transport policy and solutions in the region. However this embarrassment however is not lost on some within the Bank who are currently supporting a local initiative to redesign the station access. This proposal can be found here: http://cleanairinitiative.org/portal/sites/default/files/Paulo_Alcazaren_-_PGAA_-_Preliminary_Design_31Oct2012.pdf. This redesign would form part of a broader project to improve pedestrian movement in the Ortigas center and would involve the construction of an overhead walkway to ease pedestrian congestion on the pavement below. A solution that would seem less than ideal in the NZ context.

    However the implementation of this, according to the Urban Designer of the project, would be heavily dependent on the strong support of the local mayor and the allocation of significant local government resources, which would not be an easy task to achieve.

    This case, I argue, illustrates that these issues are often the result of broader obstacles and institutional failings rather than the deficiencies of one particular profession.

    • Max

      Thanks Keith – interesting document, and observations. It highlights a solution which in itself is elevated, but I guess if the goal is a rapid transit station that is itself elevated anyway – one has to go up at some point.

      • George D

        Manila is renowned for its corrupt and fragmented local government structure, dysfunctional and weak metropolitan government, the significant vested interests of the powerful set of large landowner developers, seriously outdated planning standards and codes regulation the design of the urban environment and public space and the strongly entrenched private property rights, amongst other issues.

        Like Auckland then? ;)

        A joke, obviously. Auckland has its faults, but it doesn’t resemble the worst aspects of Manila.

  • Ari

    As an engineer I am required to put safety above efficiency. Complete separation is theoretically safest, but almost never possible in practice. A Barnes dance at an intersection is safer but may increase overall delays for pedestrians. Is this what we want?

    I would point out that I value pedestrian time equal to driver time. If vehicles outnumber pedestrians then my solutions will favour vehicles. If pedestrians are the majority then my solutions favour them. this is the only fair and balanced approach that will gradually push change with less public opposition. if we increase pedestrian amenity everywhere at great cost and there is no pedestrian demand, then we risk alienating the average driver. the same driver who could vote against old Len and his nonsense train sets just because of some feeling of frustration at pedestrians.

    Council policy may mention the importance of pedestrians but car driving council leaders and drivers in general are by far the most vocal groups. until there are calls by the average Joe to improve pedestrian amenity, then don’t expect anything but a slow gradual change.

    • Mr Anderson

      Yes everyone says that cars get prioritised because drivers moan the most. Yet when we moan on behalf of pedestrians we get ignored!

    • But that is incumbency Ari. There are many places where vehicles outnumber pedestrians because the road design favours vehicles at the expense of pedestrians.

  • Sacha

    Ari, leadership requires sometimes being ahead of public sentiment, and other times alongside it. Councils are stewards of future residents as well as today’s ones. given how long infrastructure shapes opportunities, that seems essential.

    We’ve all heard Joyce and Brownlee claim that investing overwhelmingly in highways is right because most people today drive cars. That’s not likely to impress tomorrow’s citizens who will still be waiting for other options because we spent all the funds on last century’s answers.

  • Sacha

    “the emotional and misleading content of the post”

    Sheesh, oversensitive much?

    • Stu Donovan

      my thoughts exactly. I am a transport engineer and I agree with the sentiments of this post.

      I have been involved in traffic modelling exercises where conscious decisions have been made to 1) not count pedestrians and 2) not model delays pedestrians incur at intersections. Instead, as others have noted the sole focus of many intersection design exercises is to minimise delays to vehicles, with pedestrians seen as an unnecessary complication to be “dealt with” at the end. Hell, our regional strategic transport models don’t even model pedestrian mode share explicitly – it’s simply an underlying factor that “sucks out” some demand before the trip generation and vehicle assignment stages are run.

      It seems perfectly fair and reasonable to suggest that transport engineering practises that were previously considered acceptable have contributed to some of the dangerous intersections that now blight Auckland’s city centre. And similarly reasonable to suggest that some of the engineers that made these decisions still think they were the right ones! I’ve met/know some of these people …

      Of course, transport engineers are never the “sole” contributing factor – there’s always other things at play. But rather than pass the buck, I think the profession should instead front up, own our mistakes, and make an effort to put them right – rather than slipping into hyper-sensitive, defensiveness, and/or trying to live in blissful ignorance of past errors.

      I’m not trying to blame anyone, but if we can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge the mistakes of the past how can we be sure we won’t make the same mistakes in the future? And from, what I see around Auckland many of the same historical mistakes are still being made …

      • My pet peeve of the moment: passenger car unit or passenger car equivalent. Bollocks for cycling and walking.

        There are a thousand subtle (and a few obvious) ways that traffic and transport engineering is fundamentally skewed against people-oriented design. I know a few engineers who acknowledge this, but many more (especially freshly-minted at the engineering factory, even today, and worryingly moreso overseas) who do not yet.

  • George D

    You’ll have to explain that.

    I might have some blindness in this area, though running injuries mean climbing steps isn’t always completely easy or painless. But how climbing a set of steps and then descending a set of steps is preferred by those with disabilities, or simply those with less than perfect abilities, is a mystery to me.

  • KBilly

    So no examples of bad underpasses or overbridges in Auckland then?

    • Mr Anderson

      Wellesley Street was given as one example. Probably same for the overpass above lower Albert Street.

      • why are they bad examples? it looks like the Wellesley street one doesn’t have steps and the lower albert one is pretty good and accessible.

        • David O

          The Wellesley St one is bad because barely anyone uses it. There’s a pretty good chance that if an over/underpass has been built and is relatively unused compared to the number of people taking their chances at street level, then regardless of how nice it is, it hasn’t been built with proper attention to desire lines – the paths that people want to follow. I’d be prepared to bet that 100 times more people cross Wellesley St at street level every day than use that overpass. Same goes for the underpasses in the University on Symonds St – except there the multiplier might be closer to 1000.

    • Sorry can’t tell how sarcastic that question is… so just one example all the same: That glorious monument to engineering and planning megalomania from the golden age that is the Dominion Rd/New North Rd absurd flyovery offers up some fine muggers delight piss-soaked underpasses expressly designed for the pleasure and safety of pedestrians…. worth a visit. There you can marvel at the works of equality and reason that through the application of expensive civil works and wasteful land use vehicles are able to move at unhelpful speeds for a brief moment in the city [thereby inducing nothing but frustration in the driver] while condemning humans not in cars to either the aforementioned visits to gloomy concrete dungeons or horribly exposed motorway edge-like afterthought sidewalks. Masterpiece. Bloody well built too; it’ll be years before we can condemn the thing.

      Ever been drawn to walking through here?, no me neither.

  • George D

    A lot of trolls out today. I wonder who poked under a rock?

  • JohnP

    I may have missed the boat for Father Ted references on this post, but: “Down with this kind of thing!”

    • jonno1

      Ah, I’m pleased I wasn’t the only one to immediately make that connection. Maybe an age thing? “Down with this sort of thing!” “Careful now!”

  • And look, auto-priority by design, as we have in New Zealand not only ruins place for people but it is also the most expensive way of ordering movement too:

    “It’s no secret that conventional city planning emphasizes the automobile. The focus placed on metrics like car level-of-service lead to decisions that remove any obstacles to automotive speed and mobility — even a crosswalk can slow down traffic too much for a planner’s liking. The upshot of this approach, of course, can be seen on any of America’s congested city roads.

    But traffic isn’t the only impact to car-centered planning: it also creates transport inequity for a region. In a report released last week [PDF], Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute argues that vehicle-based planning methods reduce the overall affordability of travel in a metro area, particularly for low-income residents (our emphasis):

    Because it evaluates transport system performance based primarily on travel speeds, conventional planning favor faster but more costly transport modes, such as automobile travel over slower but more affordable modes such as walking, cycling and public transit. This tends to create automobile dependent transport systems which increases total costs.”

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/03/3-charts-explain-why-you-spend-so-much-transportation/4859/

  • TheBigWheel

    Well it’s tempting to despair about my fellow engineers who cannot or will not show leadership.. “Why we can’t” not “how we can”. The arguments about efficiency, equity, sustainability, quality of place, whatever you like, they all weigh towards more transit and less auto dependency. Slam dunk.

    So why the stuck in the past thinking? Why all the vitriol when the post is simply stating the blindingly obvious? Albeit with a little hyperbole. Nothing wrong or offensive about that.. it’s the spirit of good blogging to provoke. In general, as with the majority of the comments on this post, the blog is unflinchingly positive and about “how we can”.

    I contrast the sum of the parts on transport in the Herald today is just depressing.

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