One of the bills in Congress that should be certified as urgent is the Safe Pathways Network Act. Many millions of Filipinos are already on bicycles and there will be even more in the coming years. They, however, cycle under hazardous conditions — every day cyclists suffer major injuries or are killed on local roads. Our obligation is to make sure that cyclists are safe. Legislators need to give full meaning to the directive in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 that pedestrians and cyclists enjoy the highest priority in the hierarchy of road users.
Between November 2020 and May 2021, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey found that the percentage of urban households with bicycles increased from 11 percent to 24 percent and that the number of households with bicycles outnumbered those with cars 4 to 1. One out of every five households also uses a bicycle for essential travel. The trends are unmistakable. Just look at bicycles parked at malls, office buildings, shops and construction sites — on any day, these are likely to be full of bicycles.
Why are there many more Filipinos on bicycles? First, many are using them out of necessity. With rising fuel and transportation costs, cycling helps families cope with a high inflation environment. With money saved on transportation, they have more to spend for food, health care and education. Bicycles help Filipinos cope with and overcome poverty. Second, bicycles keep people in jobs and in schools by offering predictable travel times, especially in an environment where public transportation is insufficient and where motor vehicles can often be stuck in traffic. Ask any daily cyclist, and they will tell you that if it were not for their bicycle, they will likely be wasting an additional one to two hours every day on travel.
Third are the many Filipinos who could use a car or motorcycle but recognize that every motor vehicle adds to the heat, pollution, road congestion and carbon that our cities and our planet can no longer afford. Their travel choices are helping to make our cities and towns more livable for all of us.
Not only are large numbers of Filipinos already on bicycles, but many millions more would be ready to use one if conditions were better. The SWS found that 80 percent of Filipinos agree that "more people will use bicycles as transportation if the roads will be safer for them"; 85 percent agree that "it is possible for my city/municipality to become a great place for walking and cycling"; 87 percent agree that "roads in Philippine cities and municipalities will be better off if public transportation, bicycles and pedestrians are given priority over private vehicles"; and 75 percent agree that "cycling is just as effective as other types of transportation in going to different places."
Cyclists need to have a network of safe protected pathways in every city and town connecting key destinations, with infrastructure that meets global safety standards. If motor vehicles are allowed to travel on a road at speeds above 30 kilometers per hour, a bike lane cannot just be marked by paint — there needs to be physical separators or barriers to prevent cars and motorcycles from mixing in the same space as bicycles. If physical separation is not possible, then the road should be re-classified as a "slow street" with priority at all times for pedestrians and cyclists, reduced speed limits for any motor vehicle using the road and traffic-calming infrastructure (speed humps, raised crossings, narrowed lanes, etc.) that forces vehicles to slow down.
Any law on cycling should avoid introducing rules, such as bicycle registration, that would discourage cycling. Similarly, safety gear can be recommended but should not be mandatory. Road designs that protect cyclists are more effective in saving lives than compelling them to wear helmets, bright clothing or use lights that many may not be able to afford.
We often hear the argument that the main roads should be prioritized for cars while bicycles should travel only on secondary roads. People walking or cycling deserve the shortest and most direct routes because they are propelled by their own energy and do not have any negative impact on the environment. Those privileged to travel in motor vehicles powered by fossil fuels can take the longer routes.
Every one of us has a colleague, friend or loved one who uses a bicycle regularly. Whether they are cycling out of choice or out of necessity, their lives are precious. As the safe pathways bills are reviewed and finalized, we trust that legislators will remember that the safety of Filipinos on bicycles is of far greater importance than enabling more motor vehicles to move faster on local roads.
Source: Manila Times