To the max

With vehicle sales at an all time high and road building maxxing out the construction industry's resources, we can look forward to the antidote to our daily urban traffic malaise: the weekend joyride or what the elder generation calls "excursion". Economists say that excursions have many positive knock on effects for the economy as it expands employment opportunities for all those freshly minted graduates from pricey [and profitable] culinary academies along with fattened bank loan portfolios for premium resorts and other tourism related enterprises.

From the deskbound

Target market? Those of us who are tethered 9:00AM-7:00PM 5 days a week to cubicles in glass towers, stressed by savage dog-eat-dog rush hour traffic only to arrive home to cramped quarters in crowded suburbia. The tax paying middle class is entitled to these excursions to greener pastures in order to keep their sanity. True the green ecology lobby may cry in protest to the addition of another high-end tropical themed resort cooled by tons of air conditioning refrigerant, surrounded by water table depleting lawns and energy hungry mod-cons, but let's face it. The bulk of Kim Henares's BIR collections come from these steady income earners who deserve a break in places where it is at least cooler than their daily office and more scenic than their residential bed-sit. Not for them are “basic” backpacker's budget surfer paradise. It's just too impoverished to relax their city anxieties.

Don't worry, be happy

For such trips to be worry free some amount of planning is a must. Perhaps the average Filipino touring motorist is still allergic to buying even the cheapest gas station maps, much less learning how to read them, as they prefer impromptu calls to his network of friends on his mobile the moment he gets lost. But thanks to the gadget savvy, wired to the Internet 24/7 on their smart phones, they can whip up a destination plan, reserve accommodations and plot their way on Google Maps or by some navigation apps. compatible to the in-car Navi. Plans and budget set-up, there is one more thing that they can do; simulate the driving experience and even familiarize the route with ground level landmarks.

Virtual journeys

This is what dmitrivalencia's Pinoy joyride and Drive!Trip! Video series on YouTube provides: a driver's side music video, complete with text commentaries, of the road ahead for many of our new highways to new destinations. We stumbled upon it Googling the TPLEx Tomana exit. This particular Pinoy Joyride Video episode, exhibit, among other things, a very good comparison between the tighter space under the pillarless flyovers of the TPLEx vs. the more spacious flyover underbellies of the Japanese specced SCTEx.

Familiar without having been there

Like most internet searches, one thing led to another as pinoy joyride led me to the twisting roads of Aurora Memorial National Park of the Sierra Madre mountain range and Dicasalarin Cove of Costa Pacifica resort in Baler. Joyride has other videos of popular destinations in the country like a recent post that showed the DPWH's painstaking incremental improvements on Kennon Road, armoring a ledge here and smoothening a curve's radius there. More of the road is lined with solid concrete barriers, shot-crete cliff faces and hardened shoulders. Mind you, the Bued River gorge, which Kennon traces is as scenic as ever but too many structures and parked vehicles block the view. This typical Philippine urban blight also messes up Marcos Highway on the other side, but we still prefer the slightly longer Marcos Highway as the overtaking sight lines are safer so one doesn't have to languish in a slow moving convoy too long.

Traffic monitoring over time

Closer to the Metro, Pinoy Joyride videos show the varying phases of traffic that plagues C-5 after the one truck lane policy and U-turn closures, the circuitous Villar-induced diverted route of C-5 extension from Moonwalk to CAVITEx, the progress of the new dual carriageway portion of STAR tollway in Batangas and the massive construction zones of NAIA expressway and Skyway Stage 3 over Osmena Highway SLEx.

Petition to raise speed limits

While enjoying all the new highways that the Pnoy administration will soon bequeath to us, I recently endorsed an online petition on by Mr. Jun Abella of Baguio. It seeks to raise speed limits on TPLEx-SCTEx from 100km/h, the national speed limit as decreed since the Marcos era, to 120km/h, to avoid the sleep inducing monotony on the long stretches of new toll expressways. The same petition also seeks the LTO to assign pilot offices for such long highways so that motorists who commit a traffic violation and surrender their license to the deputized expressway patrols need not go to LTO Central Office in Quezon City to pay the fine and reclaim their license.

Speed traps and weighing scales

We would attest to the need for LTO pilot agencies for these new highways considering the volume of license confiscations, ever since the vigilance of NLEx patrols against overloading, failing to wear seat belts and speeding starting 2007. These safety and law enforcement practices of TMC [Toll Management Corp.] at the NLEx is carried over on the SCTEx and since some of the TPLEx patrol crew were ex-NLEx, they too apply the law with even more zeal and as some say, with unsporting stealth as their speed trap radar crews are practiced in the art of concealment.

Create deputized off site LTO license redemption desks

During the ERAP's term, when current PNCC CEO Louie Sison headed the Skyway, motorists caught speeding on the new elevated Skyway proceeded to the PNCC office at Silangan exit to pay the fine and reclaim their license. Having done this practice before, perhaps LTO can give a fair hearing to Mr. Abella's petition for the SCTEx-TPLEx.

Understanding speed limits

As for the higher speed limit, sleep induced steady speed is a genuine risk on such long stretches. The higher speed limits will help, but more importantly, variability in speeds to fight monotony must be integrated in overall speed monitoring. For example, areas with tight spaces for merging traffic, like the underbellies of TPLEx flyover, may need a lower speed limit of 80. Then after clearing the interchange merging sliproads, the “ende” international sign [white disc with diagonal black stripes] signifying the end of the speed limit zone should apply. This end of limitations sign is sorely misunderstood and under-applied on our highways.

Variable speed limits fight drowsiness

SCTEx junctions need not have lower speed limits as they appear to be more spacious. Wide open stretches can have the 120 limit and some stretches should have a practice zone for keeping distance. China's expressways have such zones where the pavement has markings for one to count the three second rule to keeping distance at a set speed of 100. It works like this; if one drives over the spaced markings in less than 3 seconds, then one is not observing the 3 second rule for keeping distance. Naturally, when it comes to totally avoiding monotony and drowsiness on long stretches of highway, the German Autobahn practice of selecting 20 to 30km long stretches with absolutely no speed limit is the most effective. Believe it or not, these choice zones on the Autobahnen have the lowest accident rates on the entire Federal highway system.