After long-standing calls from the cycling community, bike lanes were finally created across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But while their creation seemed easy, many cyclists and advocates still find it difficult to consider the country's bike lanes as safe and sustainable to this day.
Social media has been abuzz with sentiments and commentaries about bike lanes anew on whether or not they actually serve their intended purpose—and serve them well. This was after voice-over talent Inka Magnaye expressed her being "so annoyed" at bike lanes, noting they didn't create an extra space as they're just carved out of a "car lane." She cited an instance when they had to counterflow while driving past cyclists, who then, had to squeeze themselves closest to the sidewalk.
"It still isn't safe for riders," Magnaye said in an apparently now-deleted comment, adding that it's just a band-aid solution that "isn't even a fresh band-aid" to the country's ongoing public transport problem.
Magnaye was directly commenting on road safety advocate James Deakin's Dec. 19 blog, "What to do with the bike lanes?," where Deakin suggests redesigning bike lanes to become "truly segregated and safe" for cyclists, else just scrap them altogether in favor of cars. He also suggests turning bike lanes into dedicated motorcycle lanes instead if the situation remains.
"Now before I go on, let me just make it clear that I do support the need for cycling lanes and I really wish this was it," he says, noting he's a cyclist himself. "But this is not how we want the lanes to be, and forcing us to use this is like painting on a bulletproof vest."
The Metro Manila Development Authority has recorded 2,397 bike accidents in Metro Manila last year. Of that figure, 33 resulted in death while 1,719 resulted in non-fatal injury. About 645 incidents resulted in damage to property.
#LetsTalkAboutCycling criticism on bike lanes
Even before these recent observations, cyclists and advocates in PhilSTAR L!fe's #LetsTalkAboutCycling Twitter Spaces session last March 10 already questioned the safety of bike lanes.
Reporter Jacque Manabat, who covers the transport beat, said the bike lanes are unsafe, as they're merely a paint job. There's also no follow-up from the government, Manabat said, as the focus has been on bigger infrastructure projects, including the widening of roads.
"A painted bike lane is basically just paint," added Lester Babierra of the First Bike Ride. "Tuwing rush hour na at kapag desperate na ang mga sasakyan, nadi-disrespect ang bike lanes because enforcement is not really that effective."
Journalist and triathlete Raffy Tima, meanwhile, recalled how the bike lane was where he once figured in a minor accident.
"Para sa mga nagbibisikleta rito, takaw aksidente talaga ang bike lanes natin," Tima said. "'Di lang ang infrastructure ang kulang, kung 'di awareness ng motorista," adding that the lanes were even turned into parking spaces by some car owners.
Journalist and cyclist Ivan Mayrina, for his part, noted that while bike lanes are an "afterthought," he's still personally happy that they exist.
"I'll take something over nothing. It's not perfect, but it's there," Mayrina said, adding that there are more ongoing problems on the road like manholes and irregular pavements.
"I wish for many more things like safer bike lanes, stronger push in active transportation. Pero are we putting money where our mouth is? Sana eventually maging mas active pa ang gobyerno in pushing cycling as a major means of transportation," he added.
Sustainable and inclusive transport modes as real, long-lasting solutions
In an article for The Philippine STAR's 36th anniversary, Ira Cruz and Keisha Mayuga of AltMobility PH stressed the importance of going beyond our car-centric mindset and putting the needs of the majority first—the commuters, pedestrians, and bicyclists, who comprise more than 80% of the Filipino commuting public. This includes broadening the nationwide network of protected bike lanes and welcoming the use of personal mobility devices like e-bikes and scooters.
"The real long-lasting solutions are projects that reduce private vehicle dependency and instead 'induce demand' for sustainable and inclusive transport modes such as walking, biking, and public transportation," they said.
Cruz and Mayuga proposed to dedicate a car-free day for commuters as a start. "But, at the same time, the government must provide a sufficient volume of public transport, as well as protected bike lanes and wide and PWD-accessible pedestrian walkways. We believe that Filipinos will happily take non-car alternatives if such options are, more than merely available, abundant, convenient, affordable, and safe," they added.