The Road Always Taken: The Science of Traffic Congestion in Los Baños

by Arvin Castro, Althea Lantican, and Andrei Leal

TRAFFIC. Congestion on Lopez Avenue near UPLB. Photo by Andrei Leal

“Sa araw-araw na pagbyahe ko mula apartment ko sa Anos papuntang campus at pabalik na wala pang halos limang kilometro, hindi kailanman nawalan ng traffic sa Junction. Minsan nga, mas malala pa dahil umaabot mula Lopez hanggang Olivarez at inaabot ng ilang minuto bago umusad ang byahe.” 

This is according to Kobe, a senior student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños and a commuter who has experienced the traffic in the municipality since he entered college in 2019. Kobe is only one of the thousands of daily public commuters that experience the inefficient and rather worsening traffic situation in the Junction area at Barangay Batong Malake in Los Baños, Laguna.

The Lopez Avenue-National Highway, otherwise known as Junction, is a 2.8-kilometer road that connects the University of the Philippines Los Banos to the city of Calamba, Sta. Cruz, and San Pablo. The growing population and economic activities have led to more traffic congestion in the Junction area. This causes delays and frustration for commuters, especially during peak hours. The inefficient traffic flow reduces productivity, increases travel times, and negatively affects the quality of life for residents and workers in the region.

Traffic Congestion and its Impact

Traffic congestion has always been one of the most pressing community problems in the Philippines. Commonly referred to as traffic, traffic congestion is the condition where there are too many vehicles on a road network, resulting in slow speeds, longer travel times for commuters, and increased waiting times for drivers. It usually occurs when the volume of traffic in a roadway exceeds the capacity of that roadway.

In an article published by CNN Philippines in November 2020, it was reported that traffic congestion in the Philippines has been a long-standing issue and a major source of frustration for Filipinos. Among its effects on the transport sector include lost productivity, wasted fuel, and increased air pollution.

CHECKPOINT. Traffic congestion at the UPLB Gate. Photos by Andrei Leal

CHECKPOINT. Traffic congestion at the UPLB Gate. Photos by Andrei Leal

Traffic congestion is almost always present in most urban areas of the country. The municipality of Los Baños, albeit a relatively small and provincial town, experiences traffic congestion due to the large volume of commuters and private vehicles heading to the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and other institutions stationed in the municipality.

The increase in the number of private vehicles as a major contributor to the traffic congestion in Los Baños is supported by an undergraduate study by Rosemary Lungay from the College of Engineering and Agro-industrial Technology (CEAT) of UPLB in 2013, titled Analysis of the level of service of Lopez Avenue-National Highway Intersection in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines, the study revealed that there is more than an 80-second delay per vehicle in the junction area during an anticipated peak hour period following its Level of Service (LOS).

In their DEVC 125 TV Production, Development Communications students Andrei Leal and Hannah Lyn Rivero from UPLB disclosed that the travel time from Maahas road, which is directly connected to Junction, to the university takes 34 minutes.

This means that even for someone who resides within 5 kilometers from the university would experience a travel time of at least 30 minutes. Going by this, a vehicle plying the Junction would travel at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour, which is half of the speed limit for crowded streets as mandated by the Republic Act No. 4136.

TRAVEL TIME. Footage of commuting from Maahas to UPLB. Video from Tuntungin-Putho to UPLB

The Dynamics of Traffic 

To most Filipino commuters, the biggest causes of traffic are either accidents or ongoing construction, which limits the road space for vehicles to go through. However, in theThe Science of Traffic by James MacDonald, it is revealed that the main perpetrators of traffic are slow-moving vehicles. These vehicles often cause a phenomenon known as the traffic bottleneck

Bottlenecks are the narrow entrance and exit points as that of a water bottle. The purpose of the bottleneck is to slow down the flow of the liquid from exiting the container. However, in the context of traffic, they become hindrances to the flow of traffic. Traffic bottlenecks happen when there is a disturbance or constriction that affects the flow of traffic, which ultimately leads to congestion.

TRAFFIC BOTTLENECK. How disturbances in the road cause congestion. GIF by Andrei Leal

Traffic bottlenecks are also brought about by the speed at which every vehicle on the road is driving. In practice, vehicles behind a slowly moving vehicle would also have to reduce their speeds so as to avoid collisions and ensure safety. This creates a domino effect of multiple vehicles having to slow down. Oftentimes, drivers opt to overtake the slow vehicle in a different lane, effectively taking up more of the road space. 

TOO MUCH TRAFFIC. A simple YouTube video showing how traffic starts. Video from Why the @#$% is there so much traffic? 

In the article ‘The Awesome Science of Traffic’ by Ana Cheng, the Traffic Theory concept explained that road traffic and rivers and other bodies of water have similar flows. Any kind of disturbance in the traffic flow will result in congestion. Furthermore, the concept of capacity was introduced. This refers to the total number of vehicles that can go through a specific point in the road at a given time.

This means that each road has its own capacity, and if the number of vehicles that ply the given road at the same time exceeds its limit, congestion is inevitable.

Hence, in the same article, the solution provided to avoid traffic congestion is to convince drivers that taking the longer route can be less taxing. It is believed that if all drivers prefer to access the fastest route, congestion will remain unpreventable. However, if the short and long routes have an equal proportion of vehicles, this will result in a reduction in congestion and, consequently, in travel time.

The dynamics of traffic has also been analyzed by Hanyang University Physics Professor Moon Jin Park’s paper on the Three Phase Traffic Theory. He noted that the phenomenon behind the congestion of traffic comes in three phases: free flow, synchronized flow, and moving jam. 

Free flow refers to a road situation wherein cars navigate the road without any hindrances to their speed. This introduces the idea that as the number of vehicles that occupy the road increases, congestion occurs, and the vehicles’ speed decreases.

In the event that congestion happens, vehicles travel as the synchronized flow. Synchronized flow is reflective of the attitude of the drivers and the road signs that are in place to maintain safety. It is a given that all drivers, despite how taxing traffic jams can be and how late they are to their destinations, would put their safety above everything else. With this in mind, drivers will ply the road in synchrony with the vehicles around them to avoid danger.

The wide-moving jam, on the other hand, occurs randomly during a synchronized flow. This happens when the speed of the vehicles in the traffic flow decreases to almost zero and there is minimal movement. Among the three phases, the wide moving jam is considered the most congested and thus induces the most delay in travel time, according to Park.

THREE PHASES. The three-phase traffic theory. GIF by Andrei Leal

Pedestrians along sidewalks also suffer from congestion. As municipalities continue to develop, more road spaces are allotted to cater to the increasing volume of vehicles. Consequently, the room for pedestrians to travel decreases. This means that with the increase in pedestrians along sidewalks, heavier congestion occurs. 

This increase in congestion along sidewalks also directly contributes to the traffic congestion along roads. Road safety still remains as a top priority among commuters and pedestrians. And as the sidewalks continue to be overcrowded, vehicles on the main road would have to slow down so as to avoid accidents.

LOS of Los Baños Junction

LOS. A GIF showing the control delay per vehicle for signalized and unsignalized intersections. GIF by Andrei Leal

The level of service (LOS) is an important consideration in transportation planning. The goal of LOS is to guarantee that all passengers will arrive at their destinations on time and with as little stress and hassle as possible. Using the level of service, one can objectively evaluate the efficacy of a transport system. 

These conditions are often described by LOS in terms of criteria such as speed and travel time, maneuverability, delay, comfort, convenience, and safety. Commonly, there are six levels of services recognized, labeled from A to F, with A indicating the best operating conditions and F being the worst 

Following this, the undergraduate study titled “Analysis of the level of service of Lopez Avenue-National Highway Intersection in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines” by Rosemary Lungay analyzed the daily delays experienced by users of the Lopez Avenue-National Highway intersection through numerical data. This was done through the manual counting of the volume of the vehicles in the time of the predicted peak hour for both AM (6:00 – 9:00 AM) and PM (4:00 – 7:00 PM)

The study also took into account the different types of scenarios and types of intersections which are as follows:

The results of the study revealed that using any type of control, the LOS of the intersection is F in which the control delay during the peak hours is over 80 seconds per vehicle in signalized intersections, whereas it stands at 50 more seconds per vehicle for unsignalized intersections.

This means that a passenger of a public utility vehicle stranded in traffic congestion at the junction area is prone to experiencing a delay in the time of arrival at their destination, exposure to worsening air pollution, and emotional and mental stress, among others.

LGU Initiatives

Aware of the local problem of traffic congestion in the junction area, the local government unit of Los Baños implemented several local policies and ordinances to address the problem.

The latest recorded ordinance is Ordinance No. 2017-1642 which is an adjunct to Ordinance No. 2011-1076. Under the provision of this ordinance, all PUVs are required to enter the inner lane after their departure from the designated loading/unloading areas. This means that loading/unloading of commuters is prohibited along the national highway. 

In addition to this, Ordinance No. 2014-1337 aims to “reduce to a certain level, the volume of vehicular traffic plying at a certain time of the day”. This ordinance intends to reduce the delay times, help drivers to boost their profits, while simultaneously ensuring public road safety. Additionally, it imposes the plate number scheme schedule. Under this scheme, only certain plate numbers will be allowed to travel via the Junction/Crossing, except for holidays and weekends. The schedule scheme is as follows:


Moreover, Ordinance No. 2008-734 declares the entire Lopez Avenue a ‘No Parking Zone’ starting from Junction, National Highway leading up to the UPLB Gate. This ordinance aims to alleviate the growing traffic problem along the entire stretch of Lopez Avenue which is caused by parked vehicles, one of the causes of traffic congestion in the area. This is in effect daily from 6:00 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. However, loading and unloading are allowed on designated areas for a maximum time of 30 minutes.

Lastly, Ordinance No. 2007-669 prohibits all kinds of vehicles from parking along the Crossing to Junction Road, starting from the Health Serv Clinic back parking lot up to the Crossing. Because of the high number of vehicles passing through and tricycles waiting for passengers on the said road, the area is experiencing a chaotic traffic situation. The chaotic traffic conditions also resulted in vehicular accidents, prompting the Sangguninang Bayan to take action and enact this ordinance. This is effective daily from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

However, these policies and ordinance initiatives are rather ineffective from the perspective of public commuters, as 8 out of 10 randomly selected commuters expressed disappointment over the Los Baños LGUs management of traffic in the area.

“Sa tingin ko dapat pa nilang alamin kung paanong higit na masosolusyunan ang traffic lalo na sa junction. Kasi, kung effective yung policies nila, sana walang nabubuong traffic sa may Junction kahit during peak hours,” said Kobe, a student from UPLB and a daily public commuter.

(I think they should know more about how to solve the traffic, especially along Junction. Because, if their policies are effective, then traffic should not even exist along Junction, even during peak hours.)

In her scholastic essay titled ‘On the Traffic Situation in the Areas of Los Banos and Calamba’, Jaylyn Ammang, a mother of a UPLB student, deems doing her weekly visits to her daughter who resides on the campus a “weekly sacrifice“.

“On worst weekends long weekends, most especially’, the traffic situation is so bad that it begins right after South Supermarket in the area of Maahas and will last for the whole journey,” she reveals.

Commuters have also been expressing their distress about the traffic situation in the Junction area on social media platforms for years.

SOCIAL MEDIA. Some commuters have expressed their distress on Twitter. Screenshots by Andrei Leal

Moving Forward and Onwards

Traffic congestion is proven to have significant economic, environmental, and social impacts. If not addressed accordingly, it could greatly affect the way of life of all communities and groups of people that deal with it on a daily basis.

Various strategies to help address traffic congestion at an individual level have already been identified and popularized, such as maximizing carpooling and ride-sharing, using bicycles and walking, and optimizing travel plans and schedules, among others.

For the likes of the public commuters who have no other choice but to brave the traffic congestion for their academic and other essential needs, utilizing these individual strategies can be a way out to make the situation more tolerable for them.

One of the scientific frameworks behind the occurrence of traffic congestion is the existence of a large number of vehicles that exceed the capacity of any given road. Hence, to alleviate this problem, it is crucial that alternative routes are made to lessen the volume of vehicles accessing a given road at the same time.

At the university, several alternative routes have been opened in recent years. However, it is observed that the number of vehicles plying these routes is significantly fewer as compared to the Junction. Hence, it is also important that the local government, along with the Department of Public Works and Highways, inform people of these routes and how to navigate them. 

Some of the access roads in UPLB are the DTRI route, which connects the university to Barangay Tuntungin-Putho; APEC road, which connects the university to the municipality of Bay; and the Los Banos New Bridge, a 60-meter long bridge inside the campus that connects Victoria M. Ela Avenue and Rambutan road.

The challenge of proper traffic management still lies on the shoulders of the Los Baños LGU. Moving forward and onwards, the daily users of the Lopez Avenue-National Highway are asking their local government for the implementation of a more holistic approach in addressing the problem so as to ease the traffic congestion in the junction area of the municipality while simultaneously ensuring that the drivers, commuters, the environment, and the entire community are not disregarded in this endeavor.


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Cheng, Ana. (2020). The Awesome Science of Traffic. 

CNN Philippines. (2020). In Photos: Why traffic remains a nightmare in Metro Manila.

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Federal Highway Administration. (n.d.) Traffic congestion and reliability: Trends and advanced strategies for congestion mitigation. 

Grecia, L. (2022)How fast can you go: What speed limits are set for which types of roads?.

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Mukherjee, D. & Mitra, S. (2022). What affects pedestrian crossing difficulty at urban intersections in a developing country?.

Official Gazette. (n.d.). Republic Act No. 4136.

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