The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically changing ways of doing things — from working, banking, and shopping and now to commuting, as the economy gradually reopens and people return to work. Under the modified enhanced community quarantine that started yesterday in Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu City, the ban on public transport remains, but biking and nonmotorized modes are encouraged.
Even under the general community quarantine (GCQ) already in effect in the rest of the country, the Department of Transportation is mandating the reduction of passenger load for mass transport such as buses and jeepneys by as much as 50 percent, leaving many commuters no choice but to find other means of mobility, such as bicycles.
The Pasig City government has, as usual, been a step ahead in this direction. It declared biking an essential form of transportation as early as March 25, or shortly after Luzon was put under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). A day after the ECQ was imposed, the city government repurposed its Pasig Bike Share, which had been in place since March last year, by offering frontliners the use of bicycles to help them get to work. It also asked for bicycle donations and worked with volunteer group Life Cycles PH to connect frontliners with bike donors, ensuring that critical health services were unhampered despite the lockdown that prohibited mass public transportation.
Ahead of the transition to GCQ, where public transport is still very limited and capacity substantially reduced to minimize human-to-human contact and possible exposure to COVID-19, Pasig is looking at biking as a long-term solution. It has announced steps to make the city even more friendly for bikers and pedestrians. Last May 10, road works to extend sidewalks and add bike lanes were started in three areas: Market Avenue, Caruncho Avenue, and Amang Rodriguez Avenue. It has also ordered concerned departments to identify key locations where bicycle infrastructure can be improved.
Biking has never been mainstream in the Philippines, where it is mostly viewed as either a “poor man’s ride,” a hobby or, bafflingly, as a “no-contact sport” — like how government officials referred to it during a recent press briefing on the GCQ.
The lack of a cohesive infrastructure plan, which in its current form is biased toward cars, has only further marginalized biking as a viable transport mode and made the practice quite dangerous. According to data from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, accidents involving bicycles and pedicabs killed 20 and injured more than 1,000 in 2019.
In the previous Congress, then Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles filed House Bill No. 174 or the proposed “Bicycle Act of 2016,” which sought to build bicycle lanes or bike ways in main roads and highways. The bill languished in the House of Representatives committee on transportation. In the present Congress, there are at least 10 bills pushing for bike lanes and laws to protect bikers, but all are still stuck in the committee level.
Last year, the Asian Development Bank announced a $100-million loan to fund the Edsa Green-ways Project that will build elevated pathways for use by pedestrians and bikers, and will cover Quezon City, Makati, and Pasay. The project was greenlighted by the National Economic and Development Authority last January, but its status on the ADB website remains under “proposed.” The completion of this project would certainly boost moves to make the metro more bikeable, a setup that other crowded cities abroad have been able to achieve.
Bogotá in Colombia, for example, ranked the world’s most congested city last year, now boasts of 360 kilometers of bike routes that make it easier for its 8 million people to move around. Half of its households own at least one bicycle, and on Sundays, they have a “ciclovia” (cycle way), with cars banned from 120 kilometers of city roads.
The city’s “pico y placa” policy restricting specific license plates from roads at certain times is similar to Metro Manila’s number-coding scheme. Asian countries like Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan also have a thriving biking culture, where bikes are encouraged as an alternative form of transport complemented by safe road networks and an efficient transport system.
But the government need not look overseas for a success model. Marikina City — dubbed as the country’s “biking capital” — has a 52-kilometer bike lane network connected to offices, schools, malls, and the LRT Line 2 Station in Santolan, Pasig. The network was built in 2002 through a $1.3-million World Bank loan.
June 3 next month is World Bicycle Day. It is a golden opportunity for the government to promote biking as the new way to move people in the COVID-19 era. It is cheaper, faster, and certainly healthier for the biker, the environment, and the public in general — a revolution long overdue in our streets.
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