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On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

On teaching children how to ride a bicycle

After some hesitation, we finally decided it was time to remove the training wheels from our daughter’s bicycle. She’s enjoyed biking whether we walked alongside or were on our bikes, and she was already tall enough to stick out her legs to regain balance if the bike tilted to one side or the other. So we thought it was probably time to remove the training wheels so she will learn to bike on 2 wheels.

She’s a fast learner and after I pushed her a few times, she could already pedal ahead and straight. The turns took some time as she immediately stuck out a leg when she thought she would fall upon making a turn. The confidence grew and the following day she was already turning while keeping her balance. She now cycles every afternoon but we still forbid her to go by herself and beyond our eyesights. So we usually have one adult or our high-schooler to bike with her. Sometimes, her grandfather, who cycles at 78, also shadows her and gives her pointers.

The view as I followed her along one street in our neighborhood.

I always tell her to take the lane and not wander to the middle of the road or the edge of it. Our main worry is always the motor vehicles that tend to speed as if no one else is using the road. Some motorcycle riders are reckless and so are many car drivers. It is as if they were not driving/riding in a residential area. So we always remind our little one to position herself where she can maneuver to avoid these vehicles. And we always remind her to be aware of her surroundings as being alert will help keep her away from danger.

I think we should teach our children to bike at an early age. It is a very useful skill to learn and nurture, whether its for recreation, exercise or transport. She already knows how to swim, which was and still her preference over cycling. Our daughter was already biking (with training wheels) at 4 but it took some time for her to grow (she was really small for her age then) and gain strength. She just turned 7, and we think she can now out-pedal us if we didn’t ask her to slow down. 🙂 I think its time to get another bike, too, as the wife’s also returned to cycling in order to shadow our daughter. I’m usually left to run after them…

Infanta, Quezon Arch

I was just writing about the arches you typically came across as you traveled by road around the Philippines. A former student of mine posted a photo of the arch welcoming travelers to Infanta, Quezon from Rizal province, and I asked to have a copy of the photo. He is an avid cyclist who goes on long rides. The arch bears the seal of the town but few other symbols (that I am familiar with) that could have represented the municipality. Here is a typical low-traffic highway with two lanes and dirt shoulders along either side of the road leading to something mysterious (see that fog/mist at the end of the road?).

Road to Infanta, Quezon [Photo credit: Dexter Cuizon]

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

How many bike lanes can you make with…?

Someone in a social media group subscribe to posted about the future Bataan – Cavite interlink bridge that will cost 175.7 Billion Pesos for 32.15 kilometers (~5.465B PHP per km). That’s a lot of money but is understandable for a major infrastructure project that will required much state of the art engineering and construction for its implementation. I casually mentioned that it was a nice project but belongs to those I’d classify as “nice to have but not really necessary or urgent at this time.” Others were more direct in saying it was another “car-oriented” project. The price tag is quite hefty and a similar amount could have been used for other, more urgent projects around the country that could benefit more people than this bridge. So for the sake of discussion, let’s try to estimate how much of another project can we make out of the estimated cost for such a bridge.

Perhaps among the more popular items due to the pandemic are infrastructure and facilities for active transportation (i.e., walking and cycling). Many cities have initiated projects that encourage more walking and cycling in order to promote healthier lifestyles as well as to reduce car dependence. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the US estimates that bike lanes can be developed for $5,000 to $50,000 per mile depending on various factors and conditions. That’s 150,000PHP to 1.5M PHP per kilometer at 48PHP : 1 USD. [Ref:] Using these numbers we can easily estimate how many kilometers of bike lanes we can produce for 175.7 B pesos. That simple division exercise will give us from 117 thousand (at 1.5M/km) to 1.171 million (at 150k/km) kilometers of bike lanes. For comparison, the Philippine national highway network is 32,932 kilometers. The numbers could mean bike lanes could laid out for the entire national road network with much to spare for provincial, city and municipal roads for connectivity. Funds can even be allocated to improve pedestrian facilities! This begs the question then of how such resources can be used in a more comprehensive manner to benefit a lot more people. From the bragging point of view, won’t such a bike lane network be more impressive than one bridge?

What else can you think about that can be funded by amounts similar to the Bataan – Cavite Bridge or other projects you can tag as “nice to have but not really necessary or urgent”?

Micromobility policy atlas from the Shared-Use Mobility Center

Here’s a quick post sharing a policy atlas on micromobility from the Shared-Use Mobility Center. It looks like this will be something like a work in progress since there surely would be more policies and infrastructure in more cities and countries as micro mobility catches on with people. Already having many users prior to the pandemic, micro mobility, especially cycling, has gained even more during the lockdowns and afterwards when people opted for this mode over public transport (usually because of a lack of it), private cars (expensive), motorcycles (not their thing), and walking (too slow for their taste?).

Here is the link to the atlas:

Dominant trips during the day

I read this post on social media stating:

“The work commute is statistically the longest and least frequent type of journey we make in a day. Yet it dominates transport planning.Now more than ever, cities must build cycle networks to support recurring local trips: to the corner store, café, community center, or school.”

I am not sure about the context of the word “dominate” as it is used in the statement but this originates from the Dutch so perhaps there is a difference, even slight, between their case and ours. I would like to add though that aside from “going home” trips, the most dominant in the Philippine context are “to work” and “to school”. And dominant here covers frequency and distance traveled. Consequential are travel times as these are affected by the quantity and quality of facilities and services available to commuters.

I think there should also be restructuring of how surveys are conducted to capture these more frequent trips. Typical surveys like JICA’s usually ask only about the main trips during the day so those will have responses of “to work”, “to school” or “to home”. For the metro level, maybe that’s okay but at the local levels, LGUs would have to make their own surveys in order for data to support initiatives for local transport, most especially active transport. A possible starting point would be the trip chains collected that appear to be a single trips with “original origins” and “final destinations”. These can be separated or disaggregated into individual trips made by different modes rather than be defined or associated with a single (main) mode of transport. That surely would expand the data set and redefine the mode shares usually reported.

On sharrows

The term ‘sharrow’ basically short for shared right-of-way and refers to lanes or roads that are ‘designated’ for all modes of transport including and especially non-motorized ones such as bicycles. It also refers to the lane markings. There have been some mixed experiences and opinions about sharrows; particularly referring to whether they are effective. Here’s an article from the director of technology of Smart Design, which is a strategic design and innovation consulting firm in the US that gives another opinion (an evidence-based one) about sharrows:

Anderson, J. (September 30, 2020) “Safer with sharrows?”, World Highways,

I guess the experiences in different countries vary according to several factors. Perhaps these include cultural factors that also relate to human perceptions and behavior? Education is also definitely a factor here aside from awareness. And we have to work harder on these and together, rather than play the blame game on this matter that relates to safety. How many times has the observation that Filipinos tend to regard road signs and markings as merely suggestions rather than guides and regulations?

On the transformation from car-oriented to people-oriented streets

I saw this article shared by a friend on social media and share it here as an interesting piece providing ideas and the thinking or attitude required if we are to transform our streets:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “4 ways to go from “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”, Medium, [Last accessed: 9/30/2020]

It is actually interesting to see how this plays out in Philippine cities. The ‘honeymoon’ or ‘grace’ period from the lockdown to the ‘normalization’ (read: going back to the old normal) of traffic might just have a window and this is closing for active transport. National and local officials, for example, who seemed enthusiastic and quickly put up facilities for active transport have slowed down efforts or even stopped or reneged on their supposed commitments. The next few weeks (even months) will show us where we are really headed even as there are private sector initiatives for active transport promotion and integration.

What if our government officials used bicycles for their commutes?

Here’s another quick share of an article about cycling:

Reid, C. (2019) ‘Cherish The Bicycle’ Says Dutch Government — Here’s That Love In Map Form, Forbes, [Last accessed: 9/29/2020]

The Dutch have perhaps the densest bikeway network in the world as shown in the article and the link below showing bike lane maps. They also have a government that is pro-bicycle. You wonder what transportation and infrastructure would look like if our government officials biked to work or used public transport on a regular basis. Perhaps these will affect how they make policies and decisions pertaining not just to transport but on housing and health as well? It would be nice to see a counterfactual discussion or paper on this and other scenarios that could help us improve transport and quality of life. This is a big “what if” that many people are actually clamoring for so government can be grounded in the way they make plans and decisions.

Here is the link to Open Cycle Map, which is affiliated with Open Street Map: