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The case for bike lanes

There is a strong push for more bike lanes to be developed along both major and minor roads. Many pop-up bike lanes that were implemented and permanent bike lanes constructed in 2020, mostly during the lockdowns, to address the needs of ‘frontliners’ who opted to bike to work have been retained and even upgraded to adhere to guidelines issued by the DPWH. While these bike lanes are not yet as comprehensive as desired and most are not the protected types, recent developments have threatened their existence and consequently the safety of cyclists (especially bike-to-work) and the promotion of cycling as a primary mode of transport.

Biker with a passenger – angkas is not just for motorcycles but can also apply to bicycles as well

We need to transform our streets where it is possible in order to take advantage of the increasing popularity of cycling that has convinced some people to select cycling at least for their last mile trips and hopefully for the most part(s) of their commute. From a transport planning perspective, we should also determine if these mode shifts can be sustained and perhaps increased with proper integration of public transport and active transport thrusts.

The recent removal of protected bike lanes or barriers that serve to protect cyclists using the lanes in some cities are examples of regression rather than progression. These come as a surprise as these cities have made leaps and bounds so to speak in developing their bike lane networks. Where did the orders to do so originate and are staffs of these cities communicating, discussing and coordinating these actions? Apparently, there are internal conflicts and perhaps, I dare say here, politics involved. It is also possible that within LGUs, the concepts, visions and plans for transportation are not harmonized or understood making one project by one clique unacceptable to another or others. I know from personal experiences that LGU traffic engineering & management and operations staff are often not in synch with their planning counterparts. This is not and should not be a given since both need to collaborate in order to address transport and traffic issues that need more comprehensive and progressive approaches compared to what have been practiced before.

LGUs cannot rely on strategies and tactics that are along the lines of “ganito na ginagawa noon pa” or “ganito na inabutan ko”, which only proves these were ineffective (i.e., why not try other techniques, methods or strategies instead?). Transformations and paradigm changes to solve transport problems cannot be achieved by denying the change, innovation or new ideas required for emerging as well as persistent issues/problems.

Bike lanes at BGC

We were at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) a couple of weeks ago after almost two years of not going there mainly due to the pandemic. We frequented BGC before especially since my wife’s office is there and, if it weren’t for the ‘old normal’ traffic, the place offered a lot in terms of restaurants and shops. When traffic wasn’t as bad, we even had our Saturdays there with our daughter as her Kindermusik sessions were originally there before we transferred to their branch at The Grove. It’s not yet post-pandemic but traffic is back to ‘old normal’ levels.

I was expecting to see the bike lanes along C5 and at BGC when we traveled there. I will post separately about the bike lanes along C5. I just wanted to share here a few photos the wife took of the bike lanes at BGC. It is truly a welcome development not just here but in many places across the country where cycling offers another option for trips of various purposes including commuting between homes and workplaces. The protected lanes along 9th Avenue are wide and can be replicated elsewhere in order to encourage more people to use bicycles. The connectivity of bike lanes, though, leaves much to be desired if one expects people to use bikes for longer trips.

Entering BGC from the C5 ramp, one immediately notices the bike lane at the right along 32nd Street.
The bike lane is clearer at the approach to the intersection. There are no bike boxes (yet) at BGC but they can probably consider this improvement for their intersections.
Here’s what it looks like when cyclists arrive and congregate at the approach to the intersection. The corner island also acts as refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. Note that this is a wide section of 32nd Street, which is one of the major streets at BGC.
Protected bike lane along 9th Avenue with a clear sign vs. motor vehicles using the lane. The width is a full lane (i.e., more than 3m wide) so this can be used for two-way bike traffic.

On why people are afraid to bike

There is an interesting graphic shared by a friend on his social media account. I am also sharing it here. The source may be found at the bottom right of the graphic.

I think the graphic speaks for itself. How can we encourage people to bike whether for commuting or other utilitarian purpose if there are nuts behind the wheels of many motor vehicles? All the points raised in the graphic are true for the Philippines and are not limited to drivers of private vehicles. These are also the same for public transport drivers as well. And these cannot be solved or addressed overnight. You have to get to the roots of the problem, which are about the driver and rider education (i.e., training), and the licensing system of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

While there are driving and riding schools that have proliferated, many seem to just go through the motions of driver and rider education. Prospective motor vehicle drivers and riders often just learn enough to pass a flawed examination to get their licenses. Do they really learn about how to behave properly when driving or riding? It certainly does not show with how they deal with cyclists and pedestrians. As for enforcement, well that’s another topic to discuss in a separate post.

On the other benefits of cycling – pavements

Here is a very interesting article that tackles a not so obvious benefit of switching to cycling:

Dion, R. (July 12, 2021) Biking’s Billion-Dollar Value, Right Under Our Wheels,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/113986-bikings-billion-dollar-value-right-under-our-wheels?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07262021&mc_cid=51555c9a39&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/4/2021]

To quote: “A strategic switch to biking would dramatically reduce the depth of roads, saving untold billions over the next generation.”

This is relevant from the perspective of highway engineering particularly concerning pavement design, construction and maintenance. It is intriguing, too, since pavement design (and consequently pavement thickness) is not necessarily correspondent to light vehicle traffic volumes. In the Philippines, for example, only heavy vehicles are considered for the pavement load estimation. It is assumed that light vehicle traffic, which compose most of the traffic along roads contribute mainly to pavement weathering rather than structural aspects.

On ‘high-tech’ bike tires

Here’s another recent article about tires developed by NASA for their rovers. Obviously, the objective was to eliminate flat tires when you send them out to explore other planets or moons. The applications here, however, will have a big impact on vehicles including bicycles that have increased popularity in the last year partly due to the pandemic. These might definitely become game-changers particularly for those who bike commute.

Golson, J. (March 23, 2021) “These NASA-developed bike tires could be the last you ever buy,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/innovation/these-nasa-developed-bike-tires-could-be-the-last-you-ever-buy [Last accessed: 3/25/2021]

I had posted about the tires on my father-in-law’s newly acquired pedal assist electric bike. Here is what it looks like. Of course, rubber is still the basic material here so perhaps this will be replaced by more durable (indestructible?) material stated in the article above.

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…

Non-motorized logistics

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns led to people rediscovering what is now termed as active transport modes – walking and cycling. Not that these modes were not being used for travel as usually they, especially walking, represent the last mile/kilometer mode for most people. With the absence or lack of public transportation or service vehicles (e.g., free shuttles for frontliners, office service vehicles, etc.), many people turned to cycling. Perhaps one area outside of commuting where bicycles have plenty of potential (and I use the word ‘potential’ here because it is not yet as widespread as motorcycle use) is for delivery services. It is the general perception that there has been a surge in deliveries for various items especially food from restaurants. Why not employ bicycles either to supplement or augment the usual motorcycles used for such purposes? I took the following photos showing an example of deliveries using bicycles.

Jollibee delivery rider on a fat bike

The bicycle rider compared to a motorcycle rider – the bike is just about the same size as the motorcycle, only higher/taller due to the large wheels on the bicycle. The carrier or box is also larger than the typical carrier as it is for transporting food that can be of a large quantity or even multiple orders if these are in close proximity to one another.

Fast-food delivery via bicycle along Felix Avenue in Cainta, Rizal

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, https://www.worldhighways.com/wh12/feature/safer-sharrows

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?

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, https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2019/01/08/cherish-the-bicycle-says-dutch-government-and-heres-that-love-in-map-form/#2951914e2726 [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:

http://www.opencyclemap.org

On bicycles and transit

Here is another quick share of an article on bicycles and transit (i.e., public transport):

Cox, W. (2020) “Bicycles: A Refuge for Transit Commuters?”, New Geography, https://www.newgeography.com/content/006753-bicycles-a-refuge-transit-commuters [Last accessed: 9/4/2020]

What do you think? Are we getting there in terms of the bicycle-transit relationship? MRT and LRT lines have allowed foldable bikes to be carried in their trains but buses and other road-based public transport may not allow you to bring your bike inside the vehicle. For the latter vehicles, there are usually racks installed in front of the vehicles that can accommodate 2-3 bikes. Train stations now should have bicycle parking facilities for the last mile trips of their passengers.