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On The Move

An emergent bike culture

Many Metro Manilans have taken to bicycles under the mobility restrictions occasioned by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). The visible increase in young and old people, men and women, using this “pedestrian” mode of transport indicates just how critically the bicycle has filled a tremendous need for mobility.

Come to think of it, one of the neglected essential services during the ECQ were bike stores and bike repair shops. The availability of these stores and service shops would have helped people without private vehicles cope with the precipitate suspension of public transport.

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If COVID-19 were temporary, lasting only weeks and months, the surging recourse to bicycles may also be temporary. Mobility preferences will snap back to public transport and private vehicles as soon as they become available. But with the prospects of a long-term regime of social distancing and the unfeasible return of half-empty public transports, COVID-19 might yet induce an emergent bicycle culture in the Philippines.

This trend is not lost on many people who have been advocating inclusive and more sustainable mobility. There have been a flurry of advocacy and promotions activities among bicycle-oriented organizations, calling for more bike promotion laws and regulations, bike lanes, bike parking, local bikeways offices, and bike safety and insurance services. A lot of NGOs have undertaken laudable bike distribution and lending projects under the current pandemic to enable frontliners to do their jobs.

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What is critical is the surge in demand and use of bicycles by the people under long-term COVID-19 conditions. The emergent bicycle culture is not dependent on the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) or the Department of Transportation (DOTr). In fact, the MMDA and DOTr have been caught flatfooted by this biking surge.Despite a decade of conscious promotion of biking as an alternative mode of transportation (2013, Bike-Sharing Program; 2014, Bike-Kadahan Scheme; 2015, Bike-Sharing revival), the MMDA has surprisingly not taken advantage over the past two months to plan and use the nearly empty Metro Manila streets to install the necessary bike lanes, bike parking facilities, and systems for promoting and regulating the use of bikes in Metro Manila.

The MMDA on Wednesday advised bicycle riders to avoid main thoroughfares and stick to secondary roads for their safety. The agency acknowledges that bicycle lanes are lacking in main roads. General Manager Jojo Garcia says the agency promotes bicycle use, but without bike lanes, the main roads are too dangerous for bikers. The DOTr, on the other hand, is “eyeing” to use the Mabuhay Lane on Edsa and other portions of Metro Manila as exclusive bicycle lanes.

While the DOTr is still “eyeing,” Marikina City and Pasig City are already “doing.” Marikina has long been admired worldwide for establishing a 52-kilometer bicycle lane network that comprehensively interconnects all major destinations—offices, schools, malls, markets, and transport hubs, especially the LRT Line 2 Station in Santolan, Pasig. The integrated bikeways, funded through a $1.3-million World Bank grant in 2002, is the level of effort that made Marikina the biking capital of the Philippines.

The adjoining Pasig City has also quickly responded to the biking surge. It realigned its ongoing Pasig Bike Share program to enable frontliners to bike to work. It also obtained bicycle donations and matched them with health worker mobility needs. More important for the long term, the city government is extending sidewalks and adding bike lanes along Market Avenue, Caruncho Avenue, and Amang Rodriguez Avenue.

We have reached an inclusive mobility tipping point. The MMDA and DOTr should support the initiatives of local governments, enabling them to replicate the successes of Marikina City and Pasig City. Support is also needed from Congress, where at least 10 bike-oriented bills have been filed. Critical initiatives are the creation of local bikeways offices in LGUs and the grant of funds to enable them to build bikeways and other infrastructure. The Marikina case is instructive—bike lanes cannot be installed piecemeal. Like railroad tracks, they have to be complete end-to-end to be functional.

Coping with COVID-19 appears to be the impetus for the emergence of a bike culture in the Philippines. Hopefully, there will follow other transformative inclusive mobility changes, so that the vision of that champion of inclusive and sustainable environment and mobility, Antonio A. Oposa Jr., may come true: “Tomorrow, those who have less in wheels will have more in roads.”

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TAGS: bike culture, bike lanes, DOTr, MMDA, On The Move, Segundo Eclar Romero
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