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Count cyclists, pedestrians for a moveable Metro Manila

by Arielle Celine Tabinga

Note: Celine Tabinga is the Mobility Awards coordinator and ICSC’s urban transition analyst currently helping develop and support ICSC’s gender work and low-carbon resilience agenda.

Philippine cities can be bikeable – this has been proven by the cities of Pasig, San Juan, and Marikina. Hailed as the most bike-friendly cities in Metro Manila in the first ever Mobility Awards, these three cities have championed the use of bicycles and other active mobility options to support their constituents’ transport needs as the pandemic ensues.

The Mobility Awards, a platform that recognizes acts of leadership by Philippine local governments, workplaces, and establishments promoting cycling, features the three winning cities in its latest video, where officials share their initiatives and the key lessons from their experiences.

As one of the pioneering cities to adopt bike and pedestrian-friendly initiatives and policies in the country, Silver Awardee Marikina City has shown that a thriving bicycle culture is possible if we provide people with the necessary infrastructures and programs that promote active mobility in the city.

Mayor Marcelino Teodoro sees the intrinsic value of investing in bikeable and walkable streets in boosting the local economy – aiming to further improve and expand the city’s bike-friendly initiatives“We need to be mobile in order to become more economically productive and in order to have more access to different services. We want people to use bicycles not simply for recreational purposes but as a way for people to move,” he said. 

San Juan City has consistently worked towards making the city more bikeable since the International Bike Day in 2020. The local government has successfully launched dedicated and protected bike lanes throughout the city and has partnered with various private companies to provide innovative solutions to facilitate the safety of the bikers on the streets of San Juan. Since the pandemic started, they have been working and coordinating with other neighboring local governments to establish interconnected bike lanes to protect cyclists even outside of San Juan – proving themselves worthy of the Gold Award. 

“I’m very honored that San Juan has been chosen for this, and it gives me a lot of added inspiration to continue making San Juan bike-friendly,” San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora said.

Placing first as the most bike-friendly city in Metro Manila, Pasig City has proactively worked towards making their streets more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly even before the pandemic started. Making their roads safer through bike-friendly infrastructures, the city underscores the importance of active public engagement and consultation, not just with active mobility groups, but also with groups representing senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and parents caring for young children in order to truly understand the mobility needs of its people.

Mayor Vico Sotto talked about the establishment of bike lanes in Pasig City in a social media post, saying that “although some car owners will continue to complain and ask for the three car lanes back,  two car lanes; a motorcycle lane; and a bike lane will actually have a higher carrying capacity. The main goal is improving road safety & promoting alternative modes of transport.”

The forward-looking leaders of Pasig, San Juan, and Marikina all made a conscious effort to prioritize the needs of the underrepresented majority and showed us what smart leadership looks like. However, their initiatives alone are not enough. Cities, especially in Metro Manila, need to work together to sustain the protection of cyclists and to provide for the mobility needs of the majority. 

The growing dependence for bikes will continue to change the current set-up of the streets in the Philippines. According to the latest data from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), bicycle imports in the country doubled to 2.1 million units in 2020 due to public transport restrictions amid the pandemic. More and more people are choosing to ride their bicycles to go to work, to run important errands, or even to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Supporting this is the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey commissioned by the Department of Health in the last quarter of 2020, which states that 8 out of 10 Filipinos prefer that bicycles and public transportation be prioritized over private vehicles.

The numbers give us a glimpse of how many people are cycling, but the picture remains incomplete. Where are the cyclists? What roads do they take? How many women and how many are men? How many are differently-abled? These information will help city planners and decision-makers design cost-efficient infrastructures that serve the purpose of cyclists, and public transport commuting public. We need to plan accordingly to accommodate the growing number of cyclists in our roads. We need to start counting cyclists to identify demands and trends to reflect what they actually need. 

Counting people on bikes and on foot is necessary to deliver the best mobility options for all. Accurate data on all modes of transport and user groups, without a selective bias, is necessary to inform decision-making. 

The Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, together with MNL Moves, the Climate Reality Project Philippines, and 350 Pilipinas are planning to count cyclists and pedestrians in Metro Manila in response to the lack of data for both modes. Calling cyclists, pedestrians, and commuters who move around Metro Manila – join us in opening our cities for everyone, not just to those with cars.

For more information on the upcoming bike and pedestrian count, tune in to the Mobility Awards website and Facebook page.

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