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If you build it, will they come?

There seems to be a belief among the more zealous advocates of sustainable transport that if “you build it, they will come.” It seems cliche but this saying is not necessarily applicable to many things especially when referring to transport infrastructure. There are examples of roads, terminals and other transport facilities that have been built but sadly are underutilized mainly due to the demand just not being there and taking much time to attain. The last is usually due to the fact that certain conditions or prerequisites have not been satisfied. One such example of this is the case of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), whose payment for the loan that covered the construction costs was premised on a very high traffic demand forecast. It took some time for more people to use the expressway as the traffic from the major developments (Clark, Subic, Tarlac and Bataan industrial and commercial developments) just didn’t happen as immediately as assumed in the forecast. Still, there is a strategic value to such major infrastructure considering it as an investment and something that will cost a lot more in the future if not built today.

In Metro Manila, the MMDA has allocated or designated lanes for cycling along several major roads. These included the lanes they created out of painting existing pedestrian sidewalks and marking these as bikeways. One section is between Magallanes and Ayala while another is from Ortigas to White Plains. These are poorly designed, “pwede na yan” types of bikeways that people on bicycles would find very difficult to use because the course is full of obstacles. And how about the plight of pedestrians who would have to share these narrow paths with cyclists? Such mixed signals on providing for the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are not necessary unless of course the main objective of this exercise is just to get the  attention of a wider audience that is the general public, which I would strongly agree is needed to advocate for sustainable transport. Focus on the ultimate goal, however, should not be lost for what appears as small victories. Perhaps an even stronger initiative should be towards having the DPWH revise road design guidelines to incorporate walking and cycling requirement especially for national roads.

IMG10205-20150228-0947Bicycle lane along Julia Vargas Ave. in Pasig City

Cebu City enacted an ordinance essentially promoting cycling through the planning and implementation of bikeways, bike lanes or shared lanes. However, initial efforts seem to be following the MMDA’s “pwede na yan” approach. I think Cebu could do better and come up with a better plan for integrating and mainstreaming bikeways into the transport network. But of course, a lot still needs to be done for pedestrian facilities.

In conclusion, building transport infrastructure is not an assurance that it will generate its intended benefits at once. However, some infrastructure are more strategic than others as perhaps they form part of a network. Expressways in Luzon are among these strategic investments. High standard highways in Mindanao are also essential. Rail rehab and building in Luzon is strategic. The same in Mindanao perhaps is not. Mass transit systems in highly urbanized cities are required but perhaps many should start with buses rather than rail. Bridges across islands are not urgent. International-standard airports in major cities are necessary but not all provinces require such airports. Its not a simple task to determine what will work and what wouldn’t. While it is easy to attribute so many benefits in order to justify a project, such practice would usually result in white elephants that few people benefit from.


University of the Philippines Diliman Bikeways Flyer (2005)

Searching for material on the proposed bikeways network at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, I came across a draft of a flyer. The flyer was intended for use in consultations with stakeholders including members of the UP Diliman community (e.g., staff, students, faculty and residents). I recall that there was also a committee established for the purpose of planning and implementing the UP Diliman Bikeways. Unfortunately, the network was not fully realised and took a few years before a major component was implemented but under a different project – the UP Diliman Model Traffic Safety Zone project.

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

A copy of the flyer in PDF may be found here:

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

At present, UP Diliman is again considering the bikeways network proposal and has initiated some studies towards determining its feasibility including what routes would be most viable. Incidentally, our students in one of the engineering elective courses offered by the Institute of Civil Engineering is currently surveying candidate routes and they should be finished with this task by middle of March. It would be interesting to see which “corridors” can be proposed as the next components of the network to be realised.

Let’s revisit the Marikina Bikeways

Calls for more walkable and bicycle-friendly cities and a lack of local data for these modes of transport got me thinking about Marikina. The city has its own bikeways office, the Marikina City Bikeways Office (MCBO), that was under City Planning and Development Office but borrowed staff from other offices of the city. The MCBO has gone through many challenges since the time of Bayani Fernando, who instituted the office, and his wife Ma. Lourdes under whose terms the office was downgraded. I’ve learned that the office has been strengthened recently and is implementing a few programs to promote cycling especially among school children. I wonder, though, if Marikina has been collecting and keeping tabs on cycling related data. I recall that during the conduct of the study for the Marikina bikeways network, it was established that there was a dearth of data on cycling and data collected pointed to cyclists primarily comprised of workers in factories or construction sites in the city and neighbouring areas. These are the regular commuters using bicycles instead of motorised vehicles. It would be nice to see if these increased in numbers (observations along major roads like Sumulong Highway seems to support the increase) and if there have also been shifts to motorcycles as the latter became more affordable in recent years. Enforcement is still an issue with regards to the bikeways as not all paths are segregated. As such, those lanes painted on the roads are more susceptible to encroachment by motorised vehicles. Still, Marikina is a very good example of realising people-friendly infrastructure and many LGUs could learn from the city’s experiences with the bikeways.

IMG09156-20140813-0934A bicycle bridge along Sumulong Highway in Marikina City

Recently, some students consulted about designing bikeways in other cities as well as in a bike sharing program being planned for the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. These are good indicators of the interest in cycling that includes what discussions on the design of cycling facilities and programs intended to promote bicycle use especially among young people. We strongly recommended for them to check out Marikina to see the variety of treatments for bikeways as well as the examples for ordinances that support and promote cycling.

Proof of concept

I recall a quote from the cold war era when Nikita Kruschev was supposed to have asked “how many divisions did the Pope had under his command?” This was basically a challenge to the Pope after the latter made some statements regarding the Soviet Union and its military action in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. A similar challenge could be made, albeit vastly reworded, for many advocates of various transport programs and projects to prove they had the numbers or the proof to support their calls for certain projects or programs to be implemented. Often, the proof comes in the form of examples or demonstrations of their proposals. Simplest perhaps would be to present examples of best or good practices in other countries (e.g., bicycle paths in Europe, transit in Singapore, walkways in Japan, etc.).

One that is still fresh in my mind is what has been said to be the “challenge” of Malacanan to the DOTC to present a “proof of concept” for BRT as a pre-requisite of the proposed project in Cebu to be approved. This “challenge” boggled the minds of many experts and advocates of public transportation as BRT is well established around the world and there are many cities with BRT systems worth emulating (To be accurate, there have also been failures but these were mainly due to compromises made that led to the systems not adhering to essential BRT requirements.). What’s stranger was the response from DOTC to do a demonstration via an experiment at Bonifacio Global City to simulate BRT operations. Obviously, this experiment could not be a really good approximation of BRT (something along Commonwealth would have been more suitable) given the conditions at the Fort.

With the recent approval of the Cebu BRT project, we now look forward to its construction and operation. I am aware of how much work was put into the non-technical aspects of this project (i.e., social and institutional) and so a lot of eyes will be on changes to Cebu City’s transport system once the BRT becomes operational and the expected rationalisation of the existing public transport routes and vehicles would take place. There will definitely be a transition period and it is not known how long this will be or how much opposition the change will encounter. Doing workshops and consultations, and getting commitments here and there is one thing. Having the BRT operational and actually affecting the operations (and revenues) of conventional road transport is another matter.

Many cities will look to Cebu’s experience and probably emulate it should the BRT be a success. Metro Manila is too complicated for other cities to identify with unlike Cebu, which likely has similar transport and traffic issues to cities like, for example, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan De Oro or Legazpi. Of course, there will be exceptions and unique problems for each but density-wise, Cebu compares well with more cities in the country than Metro Manila. Here’s hoping that the BRT would finally have its true and actual “proof of concept” in Cebu and that this can demonstrate the benefits of such a system to other Philippine cities along with a necessary rationalisation of existing public transport modes.

Innovations for cycling and walking

I usually browse the net for the wealth of information now readily available on transport facility designs that are pedestrian and/or cycling friendly. In the Philippines, there has been an increased awareness lately for people-oriented systems encouraging cycling and walking. These have extended to calls for more bikeways and walkways to enhance mobility, with several projects being implemented to further the advocacies for non-motorised transport (NMT). Of course, there are already existing examples of both good and bad practices around the country including ideal and undesirable cases in Marikina City, which is the first (and only?) city in the Philippines to have a comprehensive network of bikeways. 

Recently, I found this article entitled “Urban Innovations That Could Turn Your City Into a Bicycling Paradise” on one of my favourite websites It contains some of the more prominent examples of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly designs that have been implemented elsewhere that we could probably take note of as good practice references when we do plan and design similar facilities in our cities. I’m sure there are many people out there, and not just architects or engineers, who would have good ideas for people-friendly infrastructure design. We need to encourage them to come out and propose these ideas that can be adapted into sound design according to architectural and engineering principles (i.e., the designs would still have to follow standards or guidelines, e.g., seismic, wind, etc. in order for these to be safe for use and last long.

Government agencies especially the DPWH and local government units should be open to new ideas or innovative designs to help transform our transport system to become more people-oriented than vehicle-oriented. There should be initiatives from within these agencies to come up with innovative designs while keeping the details up to standards or following established guidelines. So far, there have been no notable push for updating road designs, for example, despite road safety assessment findings and recommendations that should resonate more within agencies and LGUs if they are not comfortable dealing with NGOs or civil society groups advocating for people-friendly infrastructure.

I believe government engineers are competent and have the talent to come up with innovative designs and guidelines but there is a lack of incentive for them to do so and to think out of the box. The bottom-line is still to create an enabling environment for such design ideas to come out and be implemented. Perhaps the academe could lend a hand here with their strong linkages with government planners, architects and engineers. The schools could provide the environment for encouraging new thinking in as far as transport infra is concerned and the leading universities would have the resources that can be harnessed towards innovative designs.



Walking vs. cycling?

I remember an episode in an old series, The West Wing, where White House staff had to meet with various proponents of renewable energy. The very same proponents advocated for the RE they thought should get the  most attention, and therefore funding support from the government. They ended up criticising each other’s advocacies, even pointing to the flaws of each and basically putting each other’s proposals down. The POTUS (ably played by Martin Sheen) had to intervene and scolded these people for working against each other rather than working together to push a common RE agenda.

This is pretty much where we are now with many proponents of sustainable transport initiatives. People and certain groups would advocate for walking, cycling, BRT, rail transit, etc. as if these are exclusive from one another. The results have often been haphazard facilities such as entire pedestrian facilities being painted and designated as bikeways and regular bus services being mislabeled as BRT. I have some friends who insist that cycling is the way to go simply because they cycle between their homes and workplaces, not fully understanding that this mode is not for everyone especially with the various issues in urban sprawl affecting our choices of residence. Clearly, what is good for one person is not necessarily applicable to everyone else, and that is why we should have options for travel or commuting. These options would have to be integrated, complementary, affordable and people and environment-friendly.


IMG08759-20140609-1012The MMDA fenced off entire stretches of sidewalks and painted the pavement red to designate them as bikeways. This basically alienates pedestrians and while the wire mesh fence has its benefits from the perspective of safety, it also effectively constricts the space that cyclists and pedestrians have to share. Note also the trees and poles that pedestrians and cyclists would have to evade or risk injury.

IMG08799-20140610-1657Along EDSA, the same treatment of fences and coloured pavements was applied ahead of Temple Drive/Corinthian Gardens. The space is just too constrained for sharing given the trees and poles and then you have the smoke belching buses adding to the misery of people using these facilities.


While there have been some quick wins for pedestrians and cyclists, it seems to me that many if not all do not seem to be as sustainable as we want them to be. Many cases are classic for their being “pwede na yan.” There is no innovation in design or no design involved at all much like what we typically see as best or good practices abroad. Marikina still has the best examples so far for integrated bikeway and walkway design though there are many examples of good pedestrian facilities around including those in Makati and Bonifacio Global City (I tend to resist saying Taguig because that city practically has no say in how BGC is developed.). Quezon City (along Commonwealth) had a little promise and the UP Diliman campus but perhaps that can be realised with the rise of a new CBD in the North Triangle area. Of course, we look forward to developments in Iloilo City what with the bikeways being constructed along the long Diversion Road. Still, I believe that there should be a conscious effort not just from the private sector but from government agencies, especially the DPWH, to come up with new designs and guidelines that LGUs could refer to. That agency so far has not measured up to the expectations of many for it to take a lead in revitalising our roads so that facilities can be truly inclusive and environment-friendly.

“Pwede na yan” bikeways?

The recent clamor for bicycle facilities have led to several initiatives in Metro Manila and other Philippines cities (most notable recently is Iloilo) to support the demand for cycling facilities. While Marikina City already has a network of off-street bikeways segregated from motorised traffic, there are few other examples of such facilities elsewhere. The more recent initiatives in Metro Manila involved the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) establishing bikeways in several areas along major roads in the metropolis. I say establish because the MMDA did not construct new bikeways like the ones in Marikina or Iloilo. What the agency did was to designate sidewalks and other existing paths for cycling by painting these over. Unfortunately, these so-called bikeways did not take into consideration the needs of pedestrians with whom cyclists must share this limited space. And so few people use them despite a high profile launch that brought together government officials and NGOs including cycling and mobility advocates and enthusiasts. I guess the big test was really not whether advocates and enthusiasts would really use the bikeways (Don’t count on the officials to use them. They have chauffeur-driven vehicles.). Would the regular commuter use them instead of the roads, despite the risk or dangers posed by motor vehicles?

2014-02-11 16.58.11Commuters waiting for a bus ride along EDSA with suspended bicycle racks behind them. The sidewalks along EDSA have been painted red, designating them for bicycle use. The big question now is how cyclists will interact with pedestrians given the very limited space they should be sharing.

2014-02-11 16.58.18Bicycles hanging on racks attached to the perimeter wall of an exclusive subdivision along EDSA.

2014-02-11 16.58.46Cyclist using the curb side lane of EDSA – these people run the risk of being sideswiped by buses operating along the yellow (bus) lanes of this busy thoroughfare. It is quite obvious in the photo that there is no space on the sidewalks to accommodate cyclists and even pedestrians. Column for the MRT-3 stations are right on the sidewalks and makes one wonder how this flawed design was approved in the first place. MMDA enforcers usually appear as if they are only bystanders and seem to be generally helpless when it comes to managing traffic.

2014-02-11 17.15.47Workers cycling back to their homes after a day’s work. Many people have opted to take bicycles for their daily commutes even if they have to travel long distances in order to save money that would otherwise be paid as fares for buses, jeepneys, UV Express or tricycles. Note that the cyclists use the outermost lane of the road as the sidewalks pose many obstacles including pedestrians as shown in the photo. Some cyclists though want more than a share of the sidewalk or a lane of the road for their use regarding pedestrians and motor vehicles as nuisance for them. Surely, some pedestrians also regard cyclists as nuisance to walking and would prefer to have the sidewalks for themselves.

Cycling is in a way an emancipation from motorized transport commutes, and savings translate to money they could allocate for other needs of their families. While there are raw data for family expenditures from census surveys, there are few studies and publications focused on transport. It would be  interesting to see how much a typical Filipino family spends for transport in absolute terms as well as a percentage of their total incomes. Such information would be essential for understanding the needs of travelers, especially for daily commutes for work and school (other trips include those for purposes of shopping, recreational, social and others). Long commutes are associated with higher expenses (e.g., in terms of fares or fuel costs) and reducing such costs through shorter commutes should free up money for necessities like food, housing and clothing. Ultimately, this would help solve issues relating to poverty and health, which can easily be related to commuting behavior and characteristics.

It is in that context that transport systems should be planned and implemented carefully along with the housing developments. This underlines the essence of the relationship between transport and land use that has been the topic of discussions for quite some time now that apparently, a lot of people in this country, especially officials and the private sector have chosen to ignore or apply selectively (i.e., according to their own advantage and not really for the general welfare of the public). A transport system is not cycling alone, or roads or railways alone. It is, by definition, a network, a set of interacting, integrated elements and each of these components of the system are essential for it to function well. It is the interaction and integration that are the key elements that we often forget as we advocate one transport mode over others as if they are independent from each other. They are not and we should complement rather than compete in our advocacies for transport so we can finally achieve an efficient, effective system for everyone.

“Sharing the road” – bandwagons and fads? Let’s hope not!

There seems to be a lot of talk about “sharing the road” and the initiatives to have more bikeways. I hope I am proven wrong but it seems to me as if these current programs and projects are more of a fad. A lot of people (and local governments) join the bandwagon with little understanding of what needs to be done. It’s usually because of the good PR they get out of these that they agree to coming up with the token carless street or the haphazardly implemented bicycle lanes. More than PR, some cities are aware of the opportunities that come with such initiatives as international agencies and groups are willing to spend money to support such programs and projects. The question really is on sustainability and doing the right thing not only on initiating things or coming up with programs but on the substance itself. And by substance I mean that programs should also go into the details of designs. Too often, the “pwede na yan” approach is taken and this just won’t do.

2014-02-28 08.31.21The MMDA painted the sidewalks in White Plains and designated them as bikeways, in a way alienating pedestrians.

A vision for what people want to have is there but it is ultimately how the achieve the vision that needs a lot of work. For example, bills are being filed in congress to force the creation of bicycle lanes along major highways. (And mind you there are a lot of similar bills filed in congress that upon closer inspection actually have little substance.) The premise here seems to be that if you build them then people will start cycling. That was not the experience in Marikina, which boasts of the country’s only bikeways network that includes many off-street sections. These bikeways were built at a time when the perception and analysis pointed to a critical mass of cyclists in that city that was thought to be surely the tipping point in terms of non-motorised transport. Nowadays, the same bikeways are used by motorcycles and tricycles and most cyclists we see are not commuters (e.g., cycling between home and work/school) but recreational cyclists. It would take Marikina some effort to promote commuting by bicycles and much effort in enforcement to correct the misuse of the bikeways. The “new” bikeways in Quezon City appear to be poorly conceptualised as the MMDA decided to paint the sidewalks along EDSA northbound without addressing the obstacles like electric posts. Still, it is an effort to put NMT in the consciousness or awareness of the general public (thanks in part to media’s making these news worthy items).

Cities like Pasig and Taguig like to show-off Ortigas Center and Bonifacio Global City, respectively, as their faces when in fact the cities have not done much in their original cores. The running joke is that the real Taguig is not the areas to the west of C-5 but the old Taguig, which is to the east. This Taguig is the one plagued by narrow streets and the proliferation of tricycles. It was not so long ago that a former mayor imposed e-tricycles on BGC (where they were not suitable) while not doing much to lift a finger in the mayhem of tricycles in old Taguig (e.g., along Gen. Luna). As for Pasig, you just have go along the Pasig River and the Manggahan Floodway to see what it has accomplished so far in those areas.

There are no quick fixes to the transport and traffic problems our cities are facing. In the case of Metro Manila, much is at stake for the long-delayed mass transit projects. And the DOTC’s announcements of projects being formulated or proposed are no longer taken seriously as they have not delivered on any of these despite 4 years of this current administration. For other cities, it is important to learn the hard lessons from the experience of Metro Manila. There is also a need for a drastic change in transport and traffic policies in our cities. Iloilo, for example, has built an expensive bike lane along Ninoy Aquino Avenue (Diversion Road) and has marketed its Esplanade as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Yet the city has not acted on the clamour to revisit the overpasses along Gen. Luna (Infante and Jalandoni flyovers). The latest information I got from the city is that there are issues in the design of the bikeway along the Diversion Road as the surface (they used pavers) is not suitable for cycling. It seems, also, that the city and cyclists were not consulted by the DPWH when the bikeway was designed and constructed resulting in many cyclists using the Diversion Road itself for traveling. This last example is a lesson for our local governments and national agencies that they need to cooperate with each other and turfing has no place in transport and traffic if we are really serious about bringing solutions to problems we encounter everyday.