We see more cars on the road every day. The assumption is that if roads are filled with cars, more roads are needed to accommodate the growing number of motor vehicles.
This is unfortunately a flawed prescription, leading to greater traffic, more pollution and faster climate change. Building more roads for cars provides only temporary relief and eventually attracts greater car use, making things worse.
Given our climate and mobility crisis, transportation planning and traffic management should not be about making cars travel faster or providing for increased motorization. It is about shaping travel behavior and demand in the direction required for our collective welfare and survival. We need to design and plan in order to shape the kind of future that we want and need, rather than keeping us on a downward spiral.
If we want a better future for ourselves and future generations, we need to plan our cities so that public transportation, walking and cycling are the preferred modes of travel for all of us, even if we own cars or motorcycles. Because November 28 is National Bicycle Day in the Philippines, I would like to focus this column on the desirability and urgency of making our roads safe and attractive for cycling.
Many officials ask, “Why do you need more bicycle infrastructure when there are relatively few people using bicycles?” Simply put, safe and convenient bike lanes are required because more people cycling is good for all of us, even for those in motor vehicles. And it fits with what Filipinos want. A November 2020 Social Weather Stations survey had 85 percent of respondents saying they wanted their localities to be great places for walking and cycling.
People walking or cycling are able to travel independently and with physical distance without polluting the air or contributing to climate change. They have more physical activity, which prolongs lives and leads to better health outcomes. If a person on a bicycle gives up using a car, it also means that roads are less congested. And if a person shifts from using public transport, it means shorter queues and less crowding on our inadequate public transport services.
There is also something liberating about having more predictable journeys and travel times. People who bike to work generally reduce their normal commuting times and avoid the stressful struggle to catch public transport. This can add two to four hours of leisure or productive time to one’s day. Many cyclists report that moving on a bicycle can be an enjoyable and exhilarating experience, especially when overtaking many cars stuck in traffic.
Cycling is also inclusive and empowering. A person deprived of mobility may not be able to get jobs or business opportunities that fit his or her skills; the use of a bicycle can unlock economic opportunities previously beyond reach. A bicycle offers a low-cost travel option for those unable to afford public transport fares. The late John Gokongwei often spoke of how having a bicycle enabled him to support his family when he was only 13 years old, after his father had passed away. And more people cycling helps entire communities be more resilient. In an emergency, when roads are blocked or when energy supplies are cut, a bicycle offers a way of moving around when other options are unavailable.
In the Philippines, national agencies and local government units (LGUs) have been making good progress in setting up bike lanes, providing bike racks and parking, and distributing bicycles. Working together, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways delivered 500 kilometers of new bike lanes in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, funded from the Bayanihan 2 pandemic response. With prodding from the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Health, numerous LGUs have created local bike lane networks. These initiatives are making an impact.
There are noticeably more bicycles on our streets. Bicycles are selling out in stores and bike importations have doubled from previous levels. On some major roads in Metro Manila, the traffic counts show more bicycles than cars. In malls and shopping districts, bicycle racks fill up quickly. It is an encouraging start but still far from enough.
Many more kilometers of bike lanes need to be established in order to create a substantial and well-connected network. Bike lanes marked only with paint require physical barriers, fully separating cyclists from vehicles. Some lanes are too narrow and should be widened. Trees and greenery can be planted to offer shade, reduce temperatures and make them pleasant for passing through. Intersections need to be redesigned for safe crossings by cyclists. Many new bike lanes require further investment to address other conditions that place cyclists at risk, such as pavements with cracks and potholes. Bicycle racks and safe bike parking are needed in every market, activity center, schools and place of work.
As legislators finalize the allocation for active transport in the 2022 national budget, it is obvious that much more is needed than the P2 billion currently proposed in the Senate version of the bill. We ask that congressional leaders approve a larger budget of P14 billion for active transport in order that half of the Bayanihan bike lanes can be made safer and more accessible for walking and cycling. It will also enable at least 30 kilometers of protected bike lanes to be built in each of the 130 cities outside of Metro Manila. It will fund 10,000 public bike racks and bike parking facilities for distribution all over the country.
More cycling is what we need in all our cities. I cannot think of any other type of infrastructure spending that would be able to generate quick results with as much broad-based impact, visibility and “value for money” as expenditures for pedestrian and cycling facilities. Allocating P14 billion for active transport helps to deliver a budget that is pro-poor, pro-mobility, pro-environment, pro-health, pro-employment and pro-planet.