Transport infrastructure for the pandemic and beyond
BICYCLE infrastructure delivers the kinds of mobility, health and environmental outcomes that are highly desired during the pandemic and into the foreseeable future. For this reason, cycling infrastructure must be included in the national budget and in each city’s spending plans. At present, the absence of a budget for cycling infrastructure in the 2022 government expenditure is a major anomaly.
The insufficient supply of public transport and the health risks of overcrowding have motivated millions of Filipinos to adopt the bicycle as a reliable and independent means of transport. At the same time, the creation of protected bicycle lanes in cities across the country is encouraging more and more Filipinos to use bicycles for their daily commute. It is one of the silver liners of the pandemic cloud.
Bicycle shops are recording strong sales. Trade statistics show that 2.1 million bicycles were imported in 2020, more than double the number (around 1 million) in 2019. In shopping malls, commercial establishments and office buildings, bicycle parking is available. in great demand and often fully utilized.
On June 8 in Metro Manila, volunteers registered 38,932 cyclists along the main corridors of four metro cities in Manila. If we extrapolate it to the whole of the metropolis, there are now probably more than half a million people using bicycles to get around the metropolis on a daily basis. Similar counts on the main roads in Pasig City and Naga City show that bicycles already outnumber private cars at rush hour.
We need to make cycling safe for the growing number of cyclists. On roads where vehicles can travel at speeds above 30 kilometers per hour, barriers or level separations are necessary to keep motor vehicles out of the reach of cyclists. On roads without barriers to protect cyclists, it makes sense to lower motor vehicle speed limits and introduce traffic calming measures so that cars, motorcycles, cyclists and pedestrians can share the same space safely. Some streets can even be declared “car-free”, prohibiting all “through traffic” of vehicles.
The safety of cyclists also requires sufficient road space for cycle paths. Most of the “pop-up” cycle lanes established with Bayanihan 2 funding are already too narrow for the volume of cyclists using these lanes. Do not hesitate to transform a lane entirely reserved for cars into a cycle lane because a lane reserved for bicycles will move five to ten times as many people. Our recent experience has also shown that “if you build it, they will come”.
We need to make cycling as attractive as possible. The increase in the number of people on bicycles brings enormous benefits to society. When more and more people adopt an active lifestyle through cycling, they improve their mental and physical health. Employees who cycle are able to reduce their total commute time; they also have more control over their daily movements. For employers, this means happier and more productive staff.
From an environmental standpoint, more people cycling means less air and noise pollution, reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A cleaner environment means more liveable cities with greater potential for tourism and investment. Encouraging the use of cycling is also one of the best ways to fight climate change.
The increase in the number of cyclists improves the mobility of the entire population. When public transport users turn to cycling, it means fewer people competing for limited seats on overcrowded public transport systems. If a motorist switches to using a bicycle, it means one less private motor vehicle, which adds to the congestion on our roads.
Recent experience with the Bayanihan To Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) is that cycle lanes are quick to implement and can give immediate results. In less than a year and with a budget of around 1 billion pesos, nearly 500 kilometers of “pop-up” cycle paths were set up in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao with paint, plastic panels and barriers. Not only was this a significant response to the pandemic, but it also helped transform our mobility environment into an environment perfectly suited to health, environment, economy and climate objectives.
In the coming year, many more kilometers of protected cycle paths are to be created, including in the secondary towns of the country. To improve their usefulness, many existing “pop-up” cycle paths need to be widened, redesigned and made permanent. Bicycle parking is also vital infrastructure to support the growth of cycling. Similar attention should be given to safe and accessible walkways and paths in each barangay (village).
A great city to live in is a city where walking or cycling are safe and convenient travel options for people of all ages. It is regrettable that the proposed national expenditure program for 2022 does not contain any specific provision for walking and cycling infrastructure. This oversight can still be corrected by lawmakers before the 2022 finance law is finalized. Millions of Filipino commuters rely on them to do the right thing.
Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, town planner and planner and advocate for public transport. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @RobertRsiy