From weekend cycling to bicycle commuting

Without a doubt, the number of Metro Manilans cycling their way on our city streets have increased tremendously in recent times with 3-5 thousand cyclists recorded daily on Edsa alone. Bicycle sales dramatically increased with close to 2 million bicycles sold this year. Whether as a form of transport due to fear of virus infection, a means of staying healthy, or as a personal way of beating that lockdown feeling, cycling has become one of the rare good news in this pandemic with its key benefit, the lowering of harmful carbon emissions that take their toll on public health. And for all intents and purposes, we need to make sure that this newfound collective good habit that we now have will stay permanent.

There are basically two kinds of cyclists that are now on our roads. Those who ride as their means of commuting and those who are recreational road warriors that crowd the bike lanes on weekends. But for us to really ensure that we do not go back to the traffic jams we used to see before, we need to attract these so-called weekend road warriors and make them use their bicycles for commuting especially on weekdays, if only for their short and last mile trips.  These weekend warriors are the ones most likely use their cars regularly. Now they are biking on city streets on weekends. That should be a good start. But there is work to be done, if the intent is to make cycling more of a staple transport similar to how it is in many developed countries.

The government has, in all fairness, done well with close to P800 million committed to the construction of bike lanes in Metro Manila alone. But given that such a program was done in a hurry, there are many gaps that need to be covered. First is to rationalize bike lanes with other transport corridors. Present bike lanes should all converge on a seamless network that would connect to rail and bus lines, making them the preferred last mile transport. In these “end of trip” points, secured bike racks can be placed in a “park and ride” fashion.

The current bike lanes need to be improved. Cases in point are the width of the lanes and their separators. In some areas, the lanes are not wide enough and pushed against the embankments, which can cause injury to the cyclists in case of a misstep, especially the ones with cement separators. There is also a need to light up the lanes with more reflectors and ambient streetlights.

Moving forward, all future infra road developments should incorporate such bike lanes and rack facilities and make them mandatory. Private developments, especially the mall developers and other roadside establishments, must be required to put up similar bike infra as well. New roads under the Build, Build, Build 2.0 of the incoming 2022 administration should not be car-centric but rather people centric. And having bike lanes will ensure that.

Then there is the issue of security. To entice vehicle owners out of their cars and bike their way on city streets, the government needs to assure them that the roads are safe. Safe to use and safe from the bad elements of society. CCTVs and the streetlights can definitely help, but more important is the presence of roving enforcers—on bicycles, of course—in strategic areas along the bike networks.

Having more people out of their cars and switching to bicycles will definitely benefit our Metro Manila society. According to the UNDP, conversion to bicycles from car usage equates to taking out 150 grams of harmful CO2 emissions per kilometer. That alone should be a good reason for us to switch to bicycles. We already have the weekend road warriors getting a taste of the benefits of biking. We just need to make them use their bikes for commuting, and now is the perfect time for that.

Thomas “Tim” Orbos is currently a transport policy advisor for an international organization and worked in government on transport and urban development matters. He is an alumnus of Georgetown University and the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail—tmo45@georgetown.edu /thomas_orbos@sloan.mit.edu


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