Dreaming of safe, protected bike lanes | Inquirer Opinion

Dreaming of safe, protected bike lanes

Sometime before the pandemic, a fellow cyclist from work suggested we try biking at the Quezon Circle. Thinking that he meant biking inside the 27-hectare public park, I readily went along. It was only after I found the park bereft of any biker at the agreed time that I realized he meant biking around the Quezon Circle. Truth be told, until that morning, I never noticed the designated bike lane next to the inner lanes around the Quezon Memorial Circle. Not wanting to disappoint my colleague, I quietly prayed for divine assistance as I summoned the courage to pedal outside the park. Shortly after, groups of veteran cyclists whizzed from behind at speeds topping 25kph, effectively putting the 10kph that I could muster to shame. “Let’s pick up the pace, bro!” my fellow cyclist nudged me with a shout

Cycling can be exhilarating. “It’s like riding with the wind!” quipped the IronMan finisher who helped me conquer my first 60km bike ride in Nuvali years ago. I tried to remember the imagery in the hopes of taming the terror that grew from the whooshing sound of speeding buses and taxi cabs inches away from my body. Thankfully, it worked.

But when my cycling buddy suggested we cross over to UP after 30 uneventful minutes of pedaling, I literally put my foot down. I just could not visualize how I would survive shifting from the inner lanes to the outer lanes of the Quezon Circle even with the Sunday morning traffic. Besides, I’ve heard enough horror stories from family and friends about bike rides gone wrong. There is the story of my father’s friend who made the mistake of losing his balance while biking along Ortigas Avenue Extension. Unfortunately, the driver of the speeding truck from behind could not brake in time. And then there’s his other acquaintance who naively biked alongside an 18-wheeler truck as it made a right turn somewhere in Rizal. “’Di ko po talaga nakita, Ser” was all that the driver could offer to the traffic enforcer who arrived at the scene.

According to the 2020 Metro Manila Accident Reporting and Analysis System (MMARAS) report, there were 3,026 accidents last year that involved riders of bicycles, e-bikes, and pedicabs; 36 of these proved fatal. Compared to the reported 1,783 incidents that claimed 20 lives in 2019, that’s a 70-percent increase. Top Gear’s Leandre Grecia points out that this may be due to e-bike and pedicab accidents getting lumped with bike accidents. He asserts, though, that even if this is taken into account, the increase is better explained by the fact that more Filipinos took to biking during the pandemic.


It is not difficult to agree with Grecia. Aside from the physical and mental health benefits of biking, I’m sure no one would argue about its affordability compared to paying for long commutes. It is also one activity that guarantees ventilation and physical distancing. To bring down the number of bike accidents in the coming months, Grecia suggests reinforcing road sharing etiquette. But given the horror stories I cited above, I am partial to his other suggestion of building more optimally protected bike lanes.

Alas, if we go by the visual documentation presented by the literary and cultural studies researcher Marie Franchesca Borras during the recent 2021 Philosophy of the City Conference, only some parts of Daang Hari and Roxas Boulevard have bike lanes that are absolutely protected and distinctly separated from the road used by motorists. The ones along Ayala, Magallanes, and Ortigas are mostly separated by steel bollards. Outside the National Capital Region, Iloilo City stands out for its well thought-out 11-km bike lane. Dubbed as the Bike Capital of the country, it’s one local destination that my wife and I vow to visit once this pandemic goes away. Oh, what we would give to bike without worrying about getting run over by motorists who are too distracted to see us.

In the meantime, notwithstanding Borras’ discovery of a hitherto unheard-of benefit—bike lanes “emerging as contact zones during the COVID-19 pandemic, where different social status, cultural backgrounds and motivations meet”—I will settle for my old entry-level bike trainer at home, until Metro Manila shall have finally built its own version of Iloilo’s truly protected bike lane.

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Von Katindoy teaches at Ateneo de Manila University and studies at UP Diliman.

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TAGS: bike lanes, Commentary, Von Katindoy

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