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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, August 18, 2020
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with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Bike and walk


Last week I took a quick TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) course online, on the topic “Practicing COVID-19 Preventive Measures in the Workplace,” and there was one item in the assessment portion that asked what is the safest form of transportation during these times.

The correct answer, according to the course, is the bicycle. I know I got that answer right because that was my answer and since I got a perfect score in the test, TESDA (or whoever made the course) agrees.

What makes a bicycle COVID-safe? First of all, bikers usually have no passengers. Secondly, because it has by design, no air conditioning, and can only be operated outdoors, the danger of contamination is greatly minimized. We also don’t have any bike-sharing programs here in the Philippines so there is no danger of contamination by touch.

As long as there are no pillion or back riders on bicycles, the humble bicycle should retain its status as a COVID-safe form of transportation. Even if biking does become popular and passengers find ways to hitch a ride, we can always count on our rule-happy IATF to make up the new rules and equipment for the Filipino people to spend on in order to go about our daily lives.

There are basically two things that reduce the popularity of bicycles as a transportation option for Filipinos. The first is our tropical weather where when it’s not hot and humid as hell, we are drowning in torrential rain showers. The second would be the state of our roads that have never been designed with bicycles in mind.

We cannot do anything about the climate and weather in this country but there are tons that our public officials can do to make our roads safer for cyclists. Making cycling safer so it becomes a feasible option for more is one thing our government should be seriously exploring as part of our new normal.

All it takes is one look at the so-called “bike lanes” in most towns and cities for one to understand just how dangerous it is to use bicycles in this country.

Bike lanes that are supposed to keep bikers safe from motorists are usually nothing more than painted lines on regular roads. These strips of paint are treated just like any other strip of paint on our roads: absolutely nobody in the Philippines obeys paint. Motorists, pedestrians, commuters and cyclists do not care about paint on the road. Pedestrian lanes, lane dividers, intersection boxes, double yellow lines are routinely ignored. Vehicles stop at pedestrian lanes, pedestrians cross where there are none. Overflowing and counter flowing takes place anywhere people please. Cars illegally park anywhere, including painted bike lanes while bikers bike anywhere.

The new COVID-19 normal is a golden opportunity for government officials to take road design seriously and decide once and for all to design and build proper sidewalks, bike lanes, curbs, gutters and roads. If roads can be redesigned to be made safer so biking is encouraged, we could create an entire generation of environment-friendly and community-changing bikers.

As things are right now, we have roads but we have neither sidewalks nor bike lanes. Everyone can do anything, anywhere. Cars can park anywhere, blocking sidewalks and bike lanes. Allowing sidewalks and bike lanes to be taken away mean pedestrians and cyclists can justifiably do their thing on the road.

Aside from the liberal application of paint almost everywhere, nothing much has been done to improve the segregation and safety of most roads in this country. For those who have noticed the proliferation of pedestrian lanes on our roads, note that nobody still uses those painted areas. Jaywalking is still prevalent and because of that, motorists do not feel the need to respect the ubiquitous but useless pedestrian lane. The same can be said for bike lanes and most other lane markings.

If we want to be serious about making biking and walking an integral part of our future communities, the right infrastructure has to be built now and unfortunately for those who have stocks in paint companies that involve more than just painting the road.

We are so obsessed with widening our roads but sidewalks and bike lanes remain afterthoughts. The current “best” ones see slight improvements not because of thoughtful design, but because there happens to be extra budget for tiles or planters.

In an ideal world, a proper bike lane and sidewalk would be separated and protected from traffic with physical barriers, especially if major thoroughfares are involved. Cities should be able to get away with painted lanes only for secondary and tertiary roads. On top of that, parking would be regulated and loading/unloading areas for public transport would be designated.

I know that’s a tall order, especially when everybody is still struggling with COVID-19 but this sort of infrastructure is something our city planners and visionary leaders should at the very least be aspiring for, even while stuck in quarantine. If they can come up with curfews and checkpoints for the short term, they should, at the very least, have a long term vision when it comes to the things we are constantly build build building.*  

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