More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. There are many benefits that come from millions of people living, working, and interacting in close proximity to one another…
Traffic, however, is not one of them.
More than just an annoyance that impacts quality of life, chronic traffic congestion can be bad for the economy and the environment. In June 2014, the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) released a roadmap for traffic infrastructure development in Metro Manila and nearby areas saying that the Philippines lost around P2.4 billion every day in 2012 because of the traffic congestion. The report also forecasted that the losses may increase to P6 billion a day come 2030. The environment is not to be spared in such predicament as JICA’s report also shared that 4.79 million tons of gas emissions a year was recorded in the Philippines due to the severe traffic jams in 2012, which may climb to 5.72 million tons in 2030.
By mid-century, the percentage of people living in cities worldwide is projected to grow to 75%, placing further stress on roadways. Simply adding additional lanes to roadways is not a viable path forward.
Fortunately, cities have other options at their disposal to help tackle and tame urban traffic congestion. They also have access to sophisticated software tools that can help simulate the impact of these solutions before anything is built. This allows urban planners to experiment with multiple scenarios and select the best mix of solutions to address their traffic woes.
Fast moving buses. Bus rapid transit (BRT) varies from region to region, but it typically involves creating a dedicated lane for buses on surface roads, so that buses can move large amounts of people from point A to point B more quickly. Several South American cities, including Bogota, Colombia, have had notable success with BRT. This is why it is good that the World Bank has recently approved a financial package to facilitate the implementation of the Philippines’ first bus rapid transit (BRT) in Cebu. As with any transit decision, a tradeoff is involved: if you put in a BRT lane, you lose a lane for cars. Software models can help analyze the transit network as a whole to show how many more riders a stretch of road could carry with a BRT system in place and how much time could potentially be shaved off of daily commutes.
Smart traffic lights. Nobody likes sitting at a red light—especially when no cross-traffic is using the green light. Adaptive traffic lights vary their signals in real time to improve traffic flow. And these adaptive traffic lights are hardly just for private cars. Remember our bus rapid transit system? Adaptive traffic light systems can be designed to give BRT buses green lights if they’re running behind schedule so that they can catch up. The result? More reliable BRT service, which encourages ridership.
Traffic flow adjustments. This may sound counterintuitive, but when traffic becomes very busy, you can actually get more through put if you slow everyone down a bit. Metered entrances at highway on-ramps – or similar meters along the roadway—control the speed dynamic and help prevent the start-stop traffic that tends to create traffic jams. Active traffic management systems have been implemented in several countries—including Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and demonstrate how technology can increase the capacity of a fixed stretch of road.
Congestion tolls. Used to great success in places like London and Singapore, congestion tolls offer another way for cities to get more capacity out of an existing road. By charging people a toll to drive into the city center, congestion tolls create an incentive for people to carpool, so that the road carries more people per hour than it normally would. Of course, people can still drive by themselves if they wish to pay for the privilege. Fortunately, the revenue generated by these drivers often goes towards towards road repairs and improvements.
Bike-sharing services. Bikes take up less space than cars, which means that you can fit more bicyclists than cars onto any given stretch of road. And while an increase in bicyclists means taking away some existing road space to create a bike lane, these are generally half the width of a car lane. In fact, the Metro Manila Development Authority has launched a bike-sharing program in March 2014 and expanding this existing program to more major roads may magnify its transportation advantages to commuters. As a side benefit to the city as a whole, bikes are good for the health of the riders and good for the environment, since they don’t rely on fossil fuels.
Ride-sharing services. Technology has been able to connect people who want a ride with drivers who have an available car with the use of mobile apps. Simply put, they’ve found a way to optimize the use of a vehicle so that it is more widely used. Like bike-sharing, ride-sharing services can potentially take private cars off the road by providing a convenient alternate way of getting from one location to another.
Self-driving cars. Can driverless vehicles play a role in easing traffic? The concept isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem… Consider cruise control, which is a very simple variation on a self-driving car that helps drivers maintain a set speed. Adaptive cruise control, which many cars now feature, takes this one step further by automatically adjusting the vehicle speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead. If we take this technology to an extreme, we could someday have driverless carsdrivingsix feet behind another at a steady speed of 60 miles per hour—which would allow more cars to make use of the road than is possible today.
As more and more people gravitate towards urban centers, cities will need to find new approaches to dealing with traffic congestion. By exploring the full range of available options—rather than simply building more roads—cities can effectively tackle ever-worsening traffic and make urban areas more livable places for the coming decades.
How to Tackle Urban Traffic Woes Without Adding More Roads
By Gianluca Lange, Autodesk Regional Industry Manager for AEC/ENI, ASEAN
 Mega Manila Infrastructure Roadmap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ9F2Fnweuo&feature=youtu.be. June 10. 2014
 World Bank funds Philippines’ first bus rapid transit system, other programs. http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Economy&title=world-bank-funds-philippines-first-bus-rapid-transit-system-other-programs&id=95139. 27 September 2014.