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Bikes need more infrastructure, not insults

Cyclists, commuters, and other personal mobility advocates staged a walking protest around the Ayala Triangle, Wednesday afternoon, as they call for a permanent and safe bike lane in Makati. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

ON February 14, the city of Makati delivered a message that was quite the opposite of the spirit of love for Valentine’s Day, informing the city’s many bicycle and other forms of active mobility users that the protected bike lanes along Ayala Avenue would be removed the next day. To be clear, the lanes would still exist, but they would be turned into shared lanes, or “sharrows” — a word we have never heard before, and hope to never hear again — accessible to regular motor vehicle traffic.

The rationale for this extraordinarily short-notice decision, it was said, was that the Makati Commercial Estate Association (Macea) and developer Ayala Corp. had determined that converting the bike lanes by removing the bollards segregating them from regular traffic would be a benefit to commuters using public utility vehicles.

Let us not be ambiguous: The proposed downgrade of the Ayala Avenue bike lanes is an utterly asinine idea that benefits no one — not cyclists, not pedestrians, not public utility vehicles and riders, not motorcycle and car drivers. It is fortunate that the predictable public uproar, something that the highly irregular one-day notice of implementation suggests Makati officials feared, has caused at least a temporary deferral, from February 15 to March 6. That deferral should be permanent.

First of all, the proposed desegregation of the bike lanes defies common sense. Time and again, road infrastructure developers and managers in this country have fallen into the trap of asserting that providing more vehicle traffic lanes will help to ease congestion. This may be an intuitive assumption, but it is a fallacy; study after study analyzing “induced traffic” and “induced demand” going back as far as the early 1990s have conclusively demonstrated that more road space equals more traffic.

Simple examples of the failure of the “this new road or bridge or additional traffic lane will ease congestion” claim right under our noses are the relatively new Estrella-Pantaleon and Kalayaan bridges, connecting Mandaluyong with Makati and Pasig with Bonifacio Global City, respectively. Both were hailed as solutions to ease traffic congestion along EDSA, yet even a casual observation during any rush hour period reveals that not only is EDSA traffic congestion as severe as it ever was, both new bridges are routinely congested as well.

Restoring another vehicular lane to Ayala Avenue by removing the barriers for the existing bike lane will simply have the same effect. Under current conditions, bike lane users, PUVs, and PUV riders do have to contend with each other where the jeepneys and other public transportation vehicles stop, but those stops are limited to designated locations that can be controlled. Without the bike lane, excess car, truck and motorcycle traffic will be added to the mix, to the detriment of the safety and convenience of all concerned.

National development principle

Another key point, which should on its own be enough to instantly reject the proposed downgrade, is that active mobility — walking, bicycling and similar non-motorized forms of transport — has been formally given precedence by the national government in the 2023-2028 Philippine Development Plan (PDP). It states, “pedestrians and cyclists will be accorded highest priority in the hierarchy of road users.” And it is not simply an idle aspirational policy statement. The 2023 national budget contains provisions that require that both the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) allocate at least 50 percent of road space to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport; that all DPWH road and bridge projects incorporate active transport facilities, shade trees to keep pathways cool and at-grade (ground-level) pedestrian crosswalks to ensure inclusivity and accessibility; and the construction and upgrading of national roads to include pedestrian refuge islands.

For the city officials and the powerful commercial interests who pull their strings in Makati to make a decision that so blatantly flies in the face of that national development principle, and so soon after the publication of the PDP (it was published just last month), it was at best ignorant or ill-informed. If it was done with the knowledge that it was a gross contradiction of the spirit, if not the letter, of the PDP, then it was simply shameful.

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