At their own pace
Cyclists are mounting an earnest crusade to be able to bike safely on Metro Manila’s gridlocked roads, and it’s an uphill struggle. On the mean streets, it’s bike at your own risk.
Back in February, a nationwide group of bikers launched a campaign called “Bayanihan sa Daan” and began gathering 10 million signatures in an attempt to push the government into promoting bicycle lanes. On a recent Sunday afternoon one of the project proponents, the National Bicycle Organization (NBO), led a bike ride that shut down a three-kilometer stretch of Roxas Boulevard to demonstrate the participants’ resolve.
“We want a change in the state of roads here in the Philippines,” said the NBO’s Romar Crisostomo. “Right now, our roads are optimized for the use of and are being hogged by motor vehicles when, as we have found out, only a small part of the population owns cars.”
“What about the majority of Filipinos who don’t own vehicles and just commute, ride a bike, or walk to get to their destinations?” Crisostomo demanded to know. “Our roads should also be made to work for them, not just for those with motor vehicles. We should change the mentality that the road is only for motor vehicles.”
Manila needs to get on a “road diet,” or a road-sharing scheme between bikes and cars, according to Crisostomo, who further pointed out that unlike in the Philippines, European cities serve pedestrians and cyclists. The massive Sunday ride was intended to serve as an example of that kind of scheme.
It’s not as if the Aquino administration and its agencies are ignorant of the possibilities of bicycle lanes. In that month of February, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority opened a bike lane on Roxas Boulevard as part of “Bayanihan sa Daan.” The then MMDA chair, Francis Tolentino, said: “As we all know, regular cycling has many physical and mental health benefits. It is also fun, cheap and good for the environment.” (The MMDA, after all, had been promoting its own project—called “Bike-Kadahan”—which promoted bicycles as an alternative means of transport in the city.)
The MMDA had also opened bike lanes in Malate and Ortigas and on Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway. MMDA general manager Cora Jimenez said the prospect of opening even more such lanes was being “continuously” studied because “we also want to provide safe and unobstructed areas for bikers.” (The idea of road-sharing isn’t even unique to Metro Manila, as 2,000 bikers took to the road last year in Iloilo City to promote it.)
Now that “gridlock” and “carmageddon” are the operative words in the metropolis, bike lanes and the biking life have never appeared more attractive than now as an applicable concept. There are of course many dangers, including a mindset prevalent among private motorists and public utility vehicle drivers that cyclists are mere nuisances on the road. Environmentalist lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr. once told a Senate hearing that “a 180-degree mind shift” was required to make Metro Manila friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists. MMDA assistant general manager for operations Emerson Carlos also admitted to Agence France-Presse that “it is not safe for cyclists to share the roads with motor vehicles.” The problem, he said, “is that cyclists were an afterthought” when it came to planning and building the metropolis.
Well, cyclists and pedestrians want to be more than an afterthought. Yet another crusade has been mounted by a group of people determined to exercise their right to walk the streets if and when they want to. Gideon Lasco, physician, anthropologist, and regular contributor to Inquirer Opinion, is project leader of “Walk Manila,” an effort to make the metropolis “walkable.” In a recent commentary, Lasco wrote: “We pedestrians hold as self-evident the truth that walking is the most natural of the means of transportation available to humankind.” He called for the defense of existing pedestrian lanes and the creation of “walking corridors between areas with high volumes of exchange,” as well as “the creation of an enabling environment for walking—one that is safe from street criminals and motor vehicles alike, and one that considers the needs of persons with disabilities.”
Those who seek to walk and to ride bikes want to make their own way to and from their destinations, at their own pace. They mean to get their voices heard in this concrete jungle stewing in motor emissions. They deserve all the support they can get.
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