Is Davao City ready for biking?

IT’S 11 a.m. and after preparing his bag to work, Jubert Juit sets off with his bike to Brokenshire Hospital. Even before the local government put the city under General Community Quarantine on March 15, Jubert had been biking his way to work.

Working as an operating room technician of the Nursing Service Department, Juit bikes from Catalunan Grande to work which is approximately 12 kilometers (km).

He leaves the house at around 11am and arrives at 1pm before he settles down to start his duty by 3pm. With public transport getting more and more challenging because of the quarantine, Jubert decided that biking would be a good option to switch to.

Jubert is the first beneficiary of the Lend-a-Bike project Davao chapter founded by his fellow frontliners who are also bike enthusiasts.

Seeing the medical frontliners’ need for easier means of transportation to work, Kahlil Raul Sobong, a nurse working at Davao Doctor’s Hospital and his friend Martin Zaldivar, a bike shop owner in Davao City decided to come together and initially lend about five bikes to interested frontliners in Brokenshire Hospital and Davao Doctor’s Hospital where Sobong have friends.

“Then, more brilliant ideas come as we have observed that from the stories of these biker frontliners, there is really a need to establish this project. Commuting problems arise since there is no more public transportation in the city. Others can’t afford to walk for miles. And during this time, a simple machine called bicycle will make its mark on this pandemic. It was clear that frontliners are in need of alternative transportation,” Sobong told SunStar Davao in an online interview.

But the Lend-a-Bike project, which they officially launched on the 29th of March, branched out faster than they could anticipate only proving the dire need for bicycles as means of transportation for essential workers amid the pandemic.

Because of this, Sobong and Zaldivar tapped some of their friends to help with the group’s system organization. They were able to arrange the group by ‘lender’ and ‘borrower’ categories. To assure the safety and security of the bikers and the bikes themselves, the group organized the Lender Agreement Form. Aside from the bikes themselves, the group also offers free repair and maintenance services for the members – if only to encourage more bike riders around the city.

Since its conceptualization, the group now distributed more than 160 bikes to essential workers. One of them is James Recto Berja, working as a waiter in the hospital cafeteria of Davao Doctor’s Hospital. Berja works from 5am to 5pm and travels from R. Castillo to Quirino Avenue.

When the quarantine started, he was able to borrow a bike from a friend but shortly after it was damaged and he had to walk 5 kms to work. He thought the Lend-a-Bike project was a blessing to workers like him who needed to work despite the pandemic. It was his wife who discovered the group on Facebook.

“Kaluy-an nakita ni Sir Noel Araña ang post unya ning sulti siya nga naa daw siyay pwede ipahuram bike sa ako ug bentaha pa gyud daw kay silingan ra mi dali ra niya mahatag (Fortunately Mr. Noel Araña saw our post on the group and he said he has a bike he can lend us. It’s also an advantage since he lives close by and can immediately bring the bike to me),” said Berja.

“Dako gyud kaayo ang kalahian kay mas mapadali ko maabot sa among ginatrabahuan kaysa sa una nga gabaktas lang tawon ko, maabtan pa tawon kog ulan (It’s really a big difference since transport to work is easier now compared to before when I needed to walk. I even got drenched by the rain),” he added.

For some, Lend-a-Bike project is but a community where people meet and advocate for biking with its economical, health, and environmental benefits.

‘We need bike lanes’

But as more and more got encouraged to try biking to work, accidents involving bicycles and motorcycles or four-wheeled vehicles had also become rampant. This is despite the roads being more spacious because of the absence of Public Utility Vehicles during the ECQ.

Juit shared how in his two months of biking, he had already been involved in four minor road accidents. One of them, he recalled involves a parked car on the side of the street. The driver, without caution, opened the driver’s side. It was too late for Juit to brake. He fell down from his bike but after a few minutes decided to still go to work.

Ever since biking became a trend for essential workers, they had only been asking for one thing from the city government: bike lanes. It would be life-risky to compete with motorists for a little bit of space. Bikers continue to meet accidents and they continue to clamour for bike lanes.

But unknown to many, in 2010 the late city councilor Leo Avila authored the City Ordinance No. 0409 or “The Bicycle Ordinance of Davao City” which promises to provide ‘bicycle user provisions, bicycle user equipment, bicycle facilities, traffic rules and regulations, implementation and funding, advocacy and incentives for the promotion of the use of bicycle as a mode of transportation and establishing bicycle lanes in Davao City”

“Dabawenyos love bikes but our roads here are not that friendly. Ordinances were already made and I believe that it takes the community to become engaged in road safety and sharing to ensure that accidents can be avoided,” said Sobong.

To ensure safety and security, Article III Section 7-10 of the ordinance also discusses the bike registration, user identification, user education, and user insurance. This is also to protect the bicycle riders from future untoward incidents that may happen on the road.

In particular, the Traffic Management Center (TMC) was designated to identify areas in the city that may be categorized as the signed shared roadway (a shared roadway improved and designated with signage for “bicycle use”).

The ordinance also empowers the bikers by making sure that the signed shared roadway is properly “cleaned from debris, repaved, and potholes repaired” to avoid accidents.

In a recent phone interview with current City Council Transportation Committee head Conrado Baluran, he said the ordinance still has not yet been implemented until today because it still lacks the implementing rules and regulations (IRR). “It’s difficult to implement that in Davao City because our roads, our main thoroughfares are narrow. It’s not practical for the city streets.”

Acknowledging the need, Baluran said he would discuss with the Land Transportation Office, Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board, City Transport and Traffic Management Office, Department of Public Works and Highway, and other concerned agencies so bike lanes can be identified and actions may be taken.

Metro Davao Urban Plan: Build, Better, Berde

In 2018, the Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) partnered with the Palafox Architecture Firm to come up with the Metro Davao Urban Plan. This involves the urban areas of Digos City, Sta. Cruz, Davao City, Island Garden City of Samal, Tagum City, and Maco, Compostela Valley. Arch. Jun Palafox, Jr. stressed the importance of green spaces and green architecture not only for the aesthetics but most importantly for its function.

“Priority of our infrastructure here in the Philippines is automobiles. We need to change that. Our proposal for Metro Davao is for the road cross section, the width of the road, one-third should be for trees and landscaping, one-third for pedestrians and bicycles and sidewalks, and only one-third for the moving vehicles. All over the world this is viable,” he said in a recent interview.

But now the role played by the firm has been completed and it’s up to Minda and the local government units involved to implement. According to Jal Umngan, Minda Division Chief of Planning and Research Division, the Metro Davao Urban Plan had been categorized in three easy sections: the Build (envisioning good mass transit including walkability and efficiency), Better (tourism, cultural, economic progress), and Berde (green infrastructure, ecotourism parks, and open spaces).

“What we envision is you don’t need to ride public transport if your destination is nearby. With the green spaces, you can either walk or ride your bike. It wouldn’t be too hot even if you’re in the city because of the green spaces incorporated with city structures,” Umngan explained.

Other LGU included in the urban plan had already started with portions to implement while Sta. Cruz had expressed intention to revise their Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) according to the urban plan.

Call to the government

A group of students from the Ateneo de Davao University organized a bike-run for a cause on March 1, 2020 which they called Mission for Emission. This is in the hopes of encouraging more Dabawenyos to bike and lessen the carbon footprint in the environment.

“Highly productive cities require good transportation systems. And yet for years, we’ve sacrificed our health and the environment in our ideas of development...It’s a long way to go but people-first and cycling-friendly roads might just bridge people and leaders,” said Alaska Ordoña, one of the biking students who organized the event.

With the pandemic, biking to work, to school, or to run errands might just be the new normal. And so workers and students continue to call on the city government to prioritize transportation and to make the city roads more accessible and safer for bike riders.

Frontliners like Berja and Juit, when asked if they would still bike to work even after the quarantine will be lifted said they would. Having experienced first-hand its economic benefits, they said it would be a good option. However, they still fear for their safety if they would need to compete with the roads every day.

“I think now is the perfect time for legislators to consider what Davaoeños need when it comes to our transportation. The absence of public transport exposed how much we depended on them to get by. At this point, bikes have empowered people not to depend on inefficient modes of transportation.

Hopefully our government can respond to this growing trend by making streets people first and cycle-friendly,” said Ordoña.


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