Safer space for bikers
Last Sunday, Nov. 22, was the first National Bicycle Day following Proclamation No. 1052, which designates every fourth Sunday of November as such. The proclamation aims to “highlight the importance of non-motorized transportation as a means of fostering sustainable development and promoting environmental health…” and was thus welcomed by cycling advocates who have long been pushing for government-wide policies and safe infrastructure to serve and protect those using active transport—or the physical activity of walking, biking, and using non-motorized vehicles as means of transportation.
But for these advocates, the proclamation was also just one step forward in creating a safer road environment for cyclists, at a time when more and more people have turned to bicycles as a mode of transport amid the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Even when business operations were partially allowed to resume in September, more than 20 percent of workers in Metro Manila failed to show up for work because they had no rides. Data from the National Economic and Development Authority showed that 22.7 percent, out of the 58.2 percent of Metro Manila workers who were allowed to return to work, were still unable to due to limited public transportation. Available public transport could accommodate only 35.5 percent of the workers given social distancing regulations such as the “one seat apart” rule. With public transportation restricted, “this prevented many Filipinos from leaving their homes and reporting for work even if their industries [were] allowed to operate,” noted acting Neda Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua in a virtual briefing last Nov. 10.
Both private and public entities, such as Life Cycles PH, the Philippine General Hospital, Lend-A-Bike Project, the Department of Labor and Employment’s Free Bisikleta, and the Pasig city government, have spearheaded bike-sharing and donation drives since April to address the transport shortage and help workers, especially those on the health care frontlines, move to and from work.
But as the number of bicycle users has increased, so have concerns for their road safety. Last September, respondents of a survey conducted by the Institute of Labor Studies cited road safety, poor road conditions, and lack of secured bike parking or storage facilities as the top three reasons that prevented them from using a bike. The hit-and-run accident in Manila that killed 23-year-old nurse Renz Jayson Perez last Aug. 23 further highlighted how cycling in the metro could be a matter of life and death.
The revived popularity of cycling amid the pandemic has led advocates to campaign more vigorously for the construction of bike lanes and parking, among others. Marikina and Iloilo have been ahead in this endeavor for years, but other local government units are following their lead, including Pasig, which was recently hailed as one of the most bike-friendly cities in Metro Manila. Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto underscored his city’s transport vision with a tweet on Oct. 30: “Let’s work to reform this broken transport system that prioritizes the 10-20 percent of people who use 80-90 percent of our roads.”
A March 2020 article in Bloomberg pointed just some of the benefits of a bike-friendly city: “Cycleways and pedestrian routes make transport more resilient, and fairer. They are immune to oil prices, and quite resilient to extreme weather and viruses. They don’t discriminate by income, gender or race. They make infinitely more sense than streets lined with public-subsidized private car parking. What’s more, without them we have little hope of tackling the other global crisis in our midst: climate change.”
In marking National Bicycle Day last Sunday, bike enthusiasts like the members of the National Bicycle Organization (NBO) gave free bike lessons, something that they have been doing since 2014. The NBO recently partnered with Bonifacio Global City to create the first family zone in the middle of the metro where people can have a safe space to learn how to bike and hone their skills in urban riding. The group said it was important for a Third World metropolis like Metro Manila, notorious for its traffic jams and road indiscipline, to teach people how to bike properly. The advocates also highlighted the importance of growing a cycling community from the grassroots level, to change the mentality still prevalent among some that biking is a poor man’s mode of transportation.
Ultimately, as the people behind the Explore Your City On a Bicycle Facebook page exhorted, the government has to make sure that the streets are kinder to pedestrians and people on bicycles on a daily basis. “Our streets must be SAFE for people on bicycles… At ALL times of the day. Dahil para sa ating nagb’bike commute, araw-araw naman na [ang] National Bicycle Day.”
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