Iloilo City is the bike capital of the nation. A key to its resiliency has been its enviable pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
Iloilo City has been one of the bright spots in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Political leadership under Mayor Jerry Treñas, with support from Senator Frank Drilon and Governor Art Defensor Jr., as well as a cooperative and well-informed citizenry, has kept the virus in check in the city and the province itself.
Another key to Iloilo’s resiliency has been its enviable pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
Iloilo City is the bike capital of the nation. In the last eight years or so, the city has completed numerous transport infrastructure projects that emphasize the importance of pedestrians and bikers. These include the now famous Iloilo Esplanade, Aquino Avenue, and a bike network around the city’s many universities and colleges.
The Iloilo Esplanade (for which this writer served as design consultant) started the ball rolling seven years ago. The Esplanade is now in its ninth phase, stretching the original 1.2 kilometers to over five kilometers of linear, riverside park. Bikers now use this along with pedestrians. The added green space is equivalent to the size of Quezon Memorial Circle Park in Quezon City.
Aquino Avenue, leading to the airport, was the second project with an emphasis on pedestrians and bikers. Senator Frank Drilon and the mayor managed to convince the Department of Public Works and Highways to allow 40 percent of the highway’s right of way to be developed as segregated pedestrian and bike paths.
The original two kilometers has extended several more kilometers and plans are to use the same template well past the city. Much of the highway leading to the Iloilo International Airport is now gifted with bike lanes, as well as the city’s circumferential road.
As these areas were opened to bikers, bike-riding groups, like the one led by artist Rock Drilon, grew several-fold. Many bike shops opened even before the quarantine.
Today, because of the infrastructure in place and the acceptance of bike riding, Iloilo is one of the few cities in the country with a bike network that allows its citizens to go almost anywhere on a bike, safe from the virus. Sidewalks for pedestrians have also been kept clear and improved in all areas, and especially in the city’s Heritage Downtown core.
Rock and his group took this bike advocacy one step further by convincing the city to install 50 bike racks in important destinations. Mayor Treñas supported the initiative and Rock then gathered dozens of Ilonggo artists, including Cesar Arro, Margaux Blas, Ronnyl Bulahan, Kinno Florentino, Allain Hablo, Kat Lalazarte, Shiela Molato and Arel Zambarrano, to collaborate on the project. They painted each bike rack with a unique design and these were installed in the succeeding two weeks.
Mayor Jerry is such a supporter of biking that he is often seen taking his folding bike around. He has also been getting funds and donations to be able to distribute bikes. Recently, through the initiative of LTFRB Region 6 director Richard Osmeña, an event was organized that yielded cash donations, enough to purchase 15 Japanese bikes for Iloilo City Government frontliners. One million pesos’ worth of PPE and alcohol was also donated from the proceeds of the event.
The current pandemic has led, of course, to a surge in bicycle sales and the use of bikes as a means of mobility during the pandemic. Membership in social media community groups dedicated to bike riding has also increased. Local businesses, like Megaworld, have supported the annual bike festival for which Iloilo has become known.
The city has also installed a bike loop to connect the several universities in its center, like the University of San Agustin and the University of the Philippines. When these institutions open again, students will benefit from the system. In the meantime, everyone else is currently using the loop.
The good thing about the introduction of bike riding in the city of the last few years is that drivers of cars, jeepneys and other vehicles have learned to share the road with bicycles. It takes all road users’ cooperation to make a transport system work. Even the police in Iloilo ride bikes to keep public safety.
The test of any bike system is, of course, its use by children. Weekends see a lot of kids using the network.
Iloilo offers proof that creating a good sustainable bike network is possible in a large Philippine city. It also makes the case that bike riding and walking are essential modes of transport, as well as avenues for recreation, culture and art in any city.
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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at [email protected]. Thank you to Rock Drilon and the office of Mayor Jerry Treñas for the images used in this article.