Pedaling the City Streets

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


COMMUTERS riding bicycles to work or school were once invisible to my line of sight. You see, I grew up in a neighborhood where biking was just for summer and weekends to explore the Davao river or the downtown area.

During my visits to other countries abroad, I saw people ride the bicycle to work or school. In Japan, I observed that students and teachers have bicycles because their university does not allow motorized vehicles inside their huge campus. Cars had to left in the parking lot outside the uni, and for those who take the train, train stations had bicycle racks for the hundreds and maybe thousand commuters who rode the bicycle from their homes to the train station going to work.

Germany, most of the students in our dormitory owned bicycles that were stored in a room just for bikes. All university buildings have bicycle racks for their students and faculty members. We even visited a university town where the number of bicycles actually outnumbered vehicles. It is normal to see passengers who carry their bicycles inside buses and trains – they bike from their homes to the bus stop then ride the bus then bike again to their offices. We even toured the countryside riding bicycles that you could rent for a day.

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I have yet to see the bike lanes of Marikina but I am sure that the World Bank grant (or loan?) is paying off by providing greater accessibility and safety for their people. I read that bike-sharing schemes are now being tried out in UP Diliman campus. I am waiting for the Non Motorized Transportation project (possibly Bike Sharing) that the ADB has promised for Davao City.

Why go far when we could also observe a high usage of bicycles in Tagum City especially in the communities along the bypass road to Maco. Both students and workers cycle to their destinations. When I pass by, I always give them a wide berth when overtaking to give them respect.
Why respect? They are taxpayers who also helped build the road. With this perspective, I gladly share the road with them cyclists. Another thing, these cyclists will never cause seriously injury to a pedestrian or even a fellow road user – it is always motorized vehicles particularly motorcyclists who run over pedestrians as well as crash into vehicles (I saw one last Saturday night, it was the motorcycle driver’s fault for over speeding and for failing to realize that his motorcycle had brakes).

With a planner’s lenses, I can see that our road infrastructure planners and designers are blind to the needs of the non-motorized modes of transportation. One can just look at the dismal conditions of sidewalk where these exist. The DPWH and local office of the engineer would always have budget for the improvement of roads for motorized vehicles but nary a centavo for the sidewalks badly needed by our people.

Check the manholes of the city, many of these are covered with concrete slabs that are aligned parallel to the road (pass by F. Torres and you will see what I mean). This alignment is very dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians alike – I remember seeing on our local news of a young lady whose leg slipped between these concrete slats thus injuring her, she should have sued the contractor or the supervising agency for constructing a road safety hazard. I do not know if it is plain ignorance or worse but I guess road safety design for non-motorized transportation is not taught in college engineering.

Check out the street infrastructure where one can park and chain a bicycle safely, apparently there are none. There are no bicycle racks for people who bike to work but motorized vehicles are afforded to occupy half of the roads as their parking space. Parking space occupied by two regular vehicles can have racks that accommodate more than a dozen bicycles. All it takes is having a comprehensive understanding on the whole spectrum of road users rather than see only motorized vehicles.
These are but a few observations that I have made on how bicycle friendly Davao City is – it is not despite having a biking ordinance that still needs an IRR. Forget the exclusive lanes for bikes because we cannot afford these at this time – let us begin by having a road sharing scheme where motorized vehicles are encourage (and forced) to respect bicycle riders by giving them enough road space for them to safely commute to work.

The more bicycles on the road, the better cyclists will be visible to vehicle drivers and to the honorables of the city hall and session hall.
With my eyes now wide-open, bicycles are almost everywhere. Everyday people – construction workers, carpenters, balut vendors, sweet corn vendors, informal garbage/recycled goods collectors among others ride their inexpensive second-hand but durable bikes that one can buy from importers from Japan. Weekends are the realm of the rich bikers who proudly display their expensive mountain bikers complete with their mountain biker’s get-up to conquer the mountain trails and hills of the city. I hope these weekend warriors will join us when we advocate for a once-a-week bike to work tactic to pressure local governments to ensure safe roads for bikers.

By the way, I finally have my own personal human-powered, environment and cardiovascular friendly vehicle – my folding bicycle. After weeks (or months) of research in the internet, talking with friends and even consulting my wallet – all pointed that I should first try it by buying a pre-loved or a second hand bicycle. So now parked in my garage is a folding bicycle that fits my current needs – I want to ride the bike to visit my dad, do some errands at the nearby malls (with bike racks), and maybe just have fun exploring the streets with thirty kilometers per hour speed limit, a bike that is comfortable to steer and sit, a bike that fits into a corner of the small house, and a bike that is cool to ride.

For you vehicle drivers out there, respect your fellow taxpayer by sharing the road with bikers. To my fellow bikers (naks!) there is only one set of traffic rules in the land so obey traffic rules – a red light means stop for ALL vehicles. If we want respect from our motorized fellow road users then we just have to also follow the same rules. Eyes on the road everyone. rpalabado@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 20, 2014.

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