Transport planners have long recognized the importance of “active transport,” a technical term for walking and cycling as part of the overall sustainable transport plan that gives inclusive mobility options for commuters for short, medium, and long-distance trips. Ideally, this sustainable transport plan is embedded in the overall urban implementation plans and policy of local government units.
More than providing mobility options, active transport (also known as non-motorized transport or NMT) improves the local economy as commuters become a “captive market” for shops and for tourism along places with good NMT infrastructure. Active transport also engenders a healthier lifestyle as a form of physical activity, and contributes to an environment with less pollution and GHG emissions. It helps foster a community where people feel more connected to their own localities, and with each other.
This recognition, accompanied by the increasingly-worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila, has spurred action from community organizations. To name just a few: the Firefly Brigade. which for two decades has called for the integration of bikes in our transportation system; Tiklop Society of the Philippines, which has successfully lobbied for allowing folding bikes on trains; Bike for the Philippines, which has given bikes to students in poor communities; and Bike Scouts, which have stressed the importance of bicycles in times of disaster. These advocacy groups have grown, not just in Metro Manila but also in other regions, notably in big cities like Iloilo City, Cebu City and Davao City, all calling for the common cause of a safe and better cycling experience.
The science and the advocacy notwithstanding, arguments about the weather (“It’s too hot and humid!”) and the culture (“Pinoys don’t like sweating!”) have been used as an excuse not to act on active transport. (In fact, infrastructure such as green bike lanes and shower facilities in offices can easily counter those arguments.) Despite noteworthy efforts from LGUs like Marikina, Pasig and Iloilo, and erstwhile (if half-hearted) attempts to put bike lanes in EDSA, the car-centric thinking remained the dominant paradigm. This is perhaps best exemplified by the government official who once declared Metro Manila’s traffic as a symbol of development.
The pandemic, however, is forcing us to rethink the way we move and travel, and is presenting an opportunity to revolutionize our transport system. As cities went into lockdown and public transportation was suspended, bicycles quickly emerged as transport option for frontliners and essential workers, thanks in part to groups like LifeCycle Ph. The empty streets led to the realization that most of our urban areas are actually cyclable—if not for all the vehicles. More individuals are pedaling forward arguments for active transport, with PGH's Dr. Antonio Dans recently telling senators that bikes can help address most of our health problems today, including noncommunicable diseases.
And so, with this realization, more people are now buying and using bicycles, as evidenced by scenes from EDSA before the lifting of the MECQ. Even the government is embracing active transport, with Transportation Secretary Art Tugade vowing: “If it's proven that bike lanes work, we will make the structure permanent, not only in EDSA, but around the country.”
The challenge for us today is to seize and sustain this moment. On the occasion of World Bicycle Day tomorrow, June 3, we identify five elements that can contribute toward sustaining the momentum for bicycles in the country:
First, we must to ensure equitable access to bikes. Bikes may be much cheaper than motor vehicles, but they remain inaccessible to many Filipinos. Providing economically-friendly options is important. This could even lead for the country to have its own bicycle manufacturing companies. Recycling bikes and bike parts should also be integrated. Repair shops should easily be accessible in every community.
Second, we need a better environment for cycling, beyond token and temporary bike lanes. Ensuring connected and safe bikeways from one’s origin to the next destination is crucial. As we build the culture of cycling, integrating dedicated and protected (especially in areas with high motor traffic) bike lanes in the overall transport is needed. Integrating greener bike lanes as part of better urban design should be part of the community goal. Providing dedicated parking areas in establishments and strategic areas in the community should be part of the better normal. It would be good if these bike parking areas have ready support for flat tires and even hydrating stations, and rest areas. Cycling maps and signages as part of the urban design would be helpful, too. It would also be good for offices to give additional support to employees using bicycles by ensuring that cyclists have changing areas as well as additional incentives.
You may also like:
- Six cities you should explore on a bike
- I choose to pedal around Metro Manila—here's why and how I do it
- Buying your first bike as an adult? Here are your three main options
- Restoring commuter dignity will fix our traffic woes says this revolutionary group
Third, education and information dissemination. Education for proper bicycle use and etiquettes on the road should be part of the overall strategy. In other countries, learning the basic of cycling, including understanding parts of the bicycle, are embedded in the basic education of children. They learn the rules of the road first by using bicycles, making them better drivers in the future, too. Proper education lessens the need to rely on traffic enforcers, and makes people on motor vehicles respect those who walk or cycle more.
Fourth, we ought to situate the movement for bicycles as part of a broader movement for active transport. This includes walkability and connectivity to efficient, accessible, and comfortable public transport options. We cannot sacrifice walkways for bike lanes as they go hand in hand. And we need to make sure that whatever facilities we have are those that people with disability can access—and in which women feel safe. Beyond lip service, the national government must commit to these measures, enshrine them in our laws, and actually fund and implement them.
Finally, and this is what we as individuals can do, we should keep using our bicycles, during and beyond the pandemic. By incorporating bicycles in our everyday lives, both as transportation and recreation, we are presenting ourselves as proof that there is a demand for cycling, that it is actually a plausible option for people. By making our presence felt in the streets, we are also claiming them as spaces that rightfully belong not to cars, but to people.
Marie Danielle Guillen is an urban transport planner and professorial lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s School of Urban and Regional Planning and Asian Institute of Tourism. Gideon Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist with UPD’s Department of Anthropology, and research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila Development Studies Program.