Metro Manila’s car culture and motor-vehicle-centric commute have been more than apparent in the city’s heavy traffic pre-pandemic. But now that a killer virus is on the loose and the months-long quarantine period has prevented jeepneys and public utility vehicles (PUVs) from transporting heaps of people the way we’re used to, bike advocates are renewing calls for a better means of mobility.
One way of doing that is by mapping out how long and far you can travel the city by bike, or what one group is calling a “bikeability” map.
“This shows you how long you’ll be able to bike from 5 kilometers and much farther in relation to Metro Manila’s three major business districts which is Makati, Ortigas, and BGC [Bonifacio Global City],” Aldrin Pelicano, founder of transport cycling community MNL Moves told Coconuts Manila in a call.
Pelicano said the idea came to him when the group’s resident mapper JR Dizon, AKA Mapa Datos, did a similar map in San Fernando, La Union, where Dizon is based. So Pelicano asked the mapper to create another, except this time it isn’t confined to a single city, but in multiple areas in the metro.
“The purpose of this material is to make a case or argument of the bikeability in these areas. That a person from Mandaluyong can bike to Ortigas or BGC because it’s within 30 minutes of biking, for example. Compared to when you choose to ride a motor vehicle or car, where distance-wise it’s similar, but if you’re driving a car —because of traffic, because of parking, and other factors—you’ll be able to reach your destination much slower,” Pelicano, a 36-year-old urban planner who works in international development, said.
He also has a background in public administration and political science, and has worked closely with local government units to push cycling advocacies through MNL Moves. The blog turned transport cycling community group has been around for more than two years, a platform he’s used to educate car-centric Filipinos on the importance of biking.
“I’ve been drilling to people that biking is not an alternative form of transport, it is transport,” Pelicano said.
Coconuts spoke in length with the MNL Moves founder about their bikeability map, cycling as a means of transport, tips for bike commuters, and how he learned to bike in his 30s.
The following interview responses have been lightly edited for flow and brevity.
The map centers on three densely populated business districts, but is the intention really to show where people bike to work?
No, not really. The intention is to show as a first step where people live in relation to these business districts. Because we cannot assume where people bike, there’s no data on that. The purpose of this material is to make a case or argument to show the bikeability in these areas. That a person from Mandaluyong can bike to Ortigas or BGC because it’s within 30 minutes of biking, compared to when you’re driving a motor vehicle or car, which because of the factors I mentioned earlier, tend to be slower.
We used a 2015 data census as spatial data, a visualization which JR overlaid on the bikeability map of Metro Manila. So the map shows you how long you’ll be able to bike from 5 kilometers and much further. Of course, there are many factors to consider—the rider’s skill, speed, etc— but our baseline is a person who is able-bodied and healthy can be able to ride a bike under these circumstances.
A lot of bike groups in Metro Manila have been doing their part for the city’s cyclists, do you think it’s at par with what the government is doing?
Full disclosure, I’m working with the MMDA [Metro Manila Development Authority] and at least one congresswoman. But to answer your question, they can do much better, definitely. I won’t sugarcoat that we feel that they’re lacking right now. It’s a very complex question. The truth is they should have thought about people traveling before the pandemic. When they decided to put us under quarantine, they didn’t think of what will happen to people who still need to go to work, like frontliners and essential workers. That’s why a lot of people have stories about how difficult their trips were.
This is why some people in the cycling community started loaning out bikes, people who didn’t need to go to work yet lent their bikes to those who are really in need of transport. That’s the sad part about it. I mean I think there really was a lack of foresight on the government’s end. But having said that, a possible explanation is they have other concerns. Obviously there’s the problem of hospital capacity for patients, etc. It’s possible that that’s why they thought about transport and the mobility aspect last.
But now that we’re into the third or fourth month of quarantine, we’re still asking for the government to step up their game. When we started putting up temporary bike lanes, it took some time for the government to catch on that idea. And now that they’re doing it, they’re still looking at it in terms of this should happen and end during the quarantine period. They’re missing the message because to begin with, people’s mobility should have been prioritized outside of motor vehicles.
We’ve been dealing with this for a while. I’m only 36 years old, I didn’t grow up riding my own car, I grew up riding public transport as soon as I started traveling, and that’s an experience that we all share, how terrible the transport system is. People moving outside of motor vehicles are really non-existent. We don’t see people riding bikes and walking because the government doesn’t count them. They don’t count people walking and cycling because, for them, that’s not transport.
That’s why when we started our work as cycling volunteers and activists outside our day jobs, that’s been our basic message, that cycling and walking is transport. And now that we’re living through a pandemic, I think this is now the right time.
To be fair though, are there local governments who are doing it right? Do city ordinances somehow make up for the lack of national policies on biking?
Yes. In a way, they’re kind of our saving grace. Personally, I’m really surprised and really happy to see how local governments have stepped up. Because since the national government plopped the problem down on them, to deal with all these problems in the pandemic, some of them have really stepped up their game. They’ve really become adaptive and flexible. For example, Pasig, San Juan, Caloocan, and to a certain extent Quezon City, Taguig. In Visayas, Cebu and Mandaue City in particular. Lapu Lapu City, and then Davao now. Iloilo because they have bike lanes ever since. [There’s also] Baguio.
At the national level, there are no policies on biking. There have been several biking bills, but none of them have reached the committee level. The closest one that reached the committee level in the House is the 1.5 meters passing distance. When cars try to overtake cyclists, they should be required to give 1.5 meters minimum. It reached the committee level, but it didn’t reach bicameral. Nobody sponsored it in the Senate and it reached the end of the 17th Congress. We’re now on the 18th. But this current Congress, that was re-filed, and Pia [Cayetano] has her own set of bills, but none of that has moved forward.
On the local level, there are already a lot of bike-related ordinances, Cebu has one, Iloilo has one, Davao has one. In Metro Manila alone, definitely more than 5 out of the 17 LGUs, but these ordinances vary, they differ in terms of content. Because there are bike ordinances that require people to wear bike lights front and back, or wear reflective clothing, or helmet.
But what I haven’t seen is really a comprehensive bike ordinance detailing a framework, one that should say that they have a bike masterplan where we would build specific number of kilometers of bike lanes, we will have monitoring and evaluation of our policy for feedback and improvement. I have yet to see one. So I think that’s a must have for the local government in the future.
And the cities’ bike lanes, are they permanent or pop-ups?
Well, that’s one thing, the bike lanes are really temporary, but the point is these cities, these LGUs [local government units] have reacted positively and quickly because of the pressures, because of what their constituents are asking of them, and the bike advocates themselves.
Advocates have been reactive doing bike drives, helping frontliners who aren’t really bike commuters get a bike, also give them tips on how to ride a bike while commuting, and more and more working with the local government to do this pop-up bike lanes, and to put up some policies behind that.
And I guess that’s what helped soften the impact of in terms of people having no choice but to ride a bike and walk.
Besides working with government, what kind of activities have you been doing to help cyclists on the ground?
At the start of the quarantine, we helped distribute bike gear on a smaller scale. I approached for instance Spyder Philippines, and they gave around 30 plus helmets which we gave away to frontliners. We also asked for some donations from strangers and friends, and we were able to raise money to buy some 20 plus bike lights which we gave away at hospitals. But we stopped doing it because of our day jobs. When the work from home arrangements of some people started to stabilize, we had to manage our time. Plus the fact that some other bike groups were doing a much better job at the initiative.
Life Cycles PH for instance, had a bigger reach and resources that they were able to generate through crowdsourcing. So I thought we could help by just referring some people to them. They gave out bikes to frontliners who needed it.
We also have online discussions on our Facebook on bike commuting which started pre-pandemic but shifted online when the quarantine started, because that’s our main advocacy, cycling as transport, and we have other online talks lined up.
Besides creating safe bike lanes, what other things does the government need to impose to make Metro Manila a bike-friendly city?
In terms of infrastructure, number one is still bike lanes. But it should also be a series of bike lanes, one that’s connected through a network, not just one. But apart from the actual lanes for bicycles, an important component is what they call end-of-trip facilities like bike parking spaces, bike racks, showers and changing rooms if they’re able to provide it, particularly in work places.
Of course it’s better if it’s public, but we know that it’s more feasible for work places and establishments if they were to have it. But definitely, bike racks are a basic need. If you have nowhere to put your bike, people will not bike. Especially if it’s really an investment for them. Especially those who are biking leisurely and recreationally, those people usually have expensive bikes, and their main concern is if there’s a bike parking or bike rack in their destination.
Another is obviously education, that’s why I started the Facebook page, and started doing these advocacies, to communicate that cycling can be done as a means of transport. In terms of semantics, I’ve been drilling to people that it’s not an alternative form of transport, it is transport. It’s a legitimate and should be a top choice of transport. You shouldn’t have to think whether or not you should ride a bike, it should be automatic.
It’s a very long battle, it’s not an easy job. And part of letting people be aware that cycling is transport is by teaching them, giving them tips what could be the ideal transport for you. There’s actually a lot of information, but people don’t really have access to it readily, because it comes from outside the country, and in a different context. So we try as much as possible to share our own experience and make local information available for people to use.
So it’s infrastructure, education, and then third of course is government and private sector.
How long have you been biking and have you ever figured into an accident?
I started to learn to bike in my 30s, in 2014. I learned to bike as an adult, because I’ve had enough of our public transport. I had my first folding bike, a doppelganger, in August 2014. I practiced a couple of months, then I started riding my bike to work around late January 2015.
In terms of crashes — by the way we don’t call them bike accidents, we call them bike crashes, because most of it were preventable — I had one near miss. I stopped on a red light at a downhill area. I was curious why I kept going down without pedaling. Then I found out that behind me, a Mitsubishi Adventure’s bumper was already touching my bike’s rear wheels. When I moved, he just hurriedly left. I didn’t fall down, I think that was the closest that I came to getting hit, but I was just literally nudged.
I think one time, a bus which passed by my left side was literally couple of centimeters away. I was riding through EDSA. Stuff like that is almost common that you don’t really stop counting, UV express and private cars they don’t really give you safe passing distance. So when they pass they’re just literally inches away from your handlebar.
So safe to say that if you’re a transport cyclist in Metro Manila, you’ve likely experienced a near crash.
That’s not a generalization I’d like to make but definitely, sad to say, there’s a likelihood that you will meet a near miss or crash given the current state of our roads.
Also I guess, because obviously the roads are designed for the cars, that’s the root of the problem. The roads are built for motor vehicles, so the way the government manages them is also designed around their traffic flow, the cars are the priority. In terms of streetlight timing, pedestrians, they’ve got what, 10 seconds to cross a 50-meter road, but cars have more than 3 minutes per direction.
So that contributes to the challenge of riding a bicycle as transport.
What would you recommend as a gateway bike for first-time bike commuters? What bike do you use?
I have two bikes, a Tern and a Brompton. The Brompton, well, that’s an investment, it doesn’t come cheap, it’s around PHP80,000 (US$1,600). I saved up on it, but that’s the kind of bike that will last a lifetime, hopefully. It’s four years old and I never had to replace a part or have it tuned up. My other bike, a green Tern, which is also a foldable, I’ve had for two years. I use it everywhere.
You need to invest in a good bike. If you don’t have enough money, get a Japan surplus bike that’s tested and sturdy. Instead of getting a cheaper bike that mostly come from China. Those bikes without a known brand that’s under PHP10,000 (US$200), they have cheap components: break pads, shifters, and break levers could break down very soon and cost you more in the long run as you’ll have to replace parts.
So get a good reputable brand that will last at least a year, depending on how much you bike everyday. It will save you a lot.
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