The move to create bike lanes by the government is laudable, given that a lot of us have shifted to bicycles for our mode of transport in these Covid times. Bicycles provide ready transport for everyone, are affordable, and they are good for our health as well as for our environment.
And now that we are all doing social distancing in order to lessen the spread of the virus, biking allows us to travel from point A to point B in a safer manner than using conventional mass transportation. But as much as government is right in promoting this low carbon mode of transport, we need to remind ourselves equally of the dangers posed by bike commuting in urban roads. This cannot be taken lightly. Worldwide, 40 percent of all bike accidents result in severe head and brain injury with victims including non-bikers as well, such as pedestrians and motorists who collided or haplessly avoided cyclists on the road. Embracing bike commuting, therefore, requires authorities to put up first the proper environment that would allow it to be safer. And this includes building the proper infrastructure, the needed regulation and enforcement, and, equally important, educating both the cycling community and the commuting public on how they can safely coexist on the road.
AS for infrastructure, dedicated roads for bikes would be the most ideal. These can be the existing roads converted exclusively for cyclists, or putting up elevated ones, which are quite common in Europe. The next best thing would be a dedicated lane such as the one they plan to build in Edsa, complete with barriers. Pop-up lanes would only be adequate in less congested roads. Lanes need to be wide enough for two cyclists to bike side by side comfortably and paved enough for a safer ride, especially in areas where they cross rail tracks or bridges. Bike lanes must be well lighted to ensure safer commuting at night. Current traffic signaling systems need to factor in bikers, separate from motorists and pedestrians. And definitely bike lanes cannot be utilized by motorcycles and scooters. Mixed use of lanes with pedestrians is done in other countries like Japan, but only in cities. It would also be convenient for bikers if bike racks were made available in key junction areas along the way.
Regulation and enforcement
New road regulations need to be crafted to accommodate bikers on the road to ensure their safety as well as that of other road occupants. Regulations should not just aim to protect bike commuting such as penalizing motorists getting in the way of bikers, but should also require biking discipline. It is common to see bikers violating the law by beating the red light, going in opposite traffic, and disrespecting pedestrian lanes. And regulations requiring biking safety equipment need to be strictly implemented. The wearing of helmets and reflectorized vests must be made mandatory, especially when bikers use roads shared with other occupants. In some countries, wearing dark clothing is prohibited, especially those commuting at night.
Education for a safer city bike ride should not be limited to bikers but for everyone. It would even be better if a road safety program will be incorporated in our school curriculum, and made part of motorists’ licensing exams. The key here would not just be on responsible and safe biking on the road but of developing the proper mindset—of being conscious and respectful of the road environment with the presence of all road occupants and the need to coexist with them. A good example is the fact that one of the most common bike injuries is “getting doored” or when a cyclist suddenly hits a car door because someone suddenly alights from a vehicle. This stems from ignorance or from being inconsiderate, ignoring that a simple action can cause a serious injury to someone, in this case a bike rider. It is necessary to know and respect co-occupants on the road and this is done best when road safety is inculcated in our general education system.
Bike riding is definitely one good thing brought about by this pandemic. It is affordable and accessible for everyone and would do our environment well. We just need to provide the proper infrastructure and the corresponding regulatory measures as well as the proper mindset to ensure the safety of everyone on the road.
Thomas “Tim” Orbos was formerly with the DOTr and the MMDA. He has completed his masteral studies at the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University and is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]