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Protected bike lanes can do more than just ease Metro Manila’s worsening traffic congestion

Every holiday season, vehicles are expected to choke Metro Manila’s thoroughfares. In fact, the Metro Manila  Development Authority (MMDA) expects the volume of vehicles on EDSA to increase by 15% during the “Ber” months.

This doesn’t just translate to inconvenience and constant risk of tardiness, but to actual monetary costs. A study by AltMobility and Friedrich Naumann Foundation showed that Metro Manila commuters spend 188 hours in traffic per year (equivalent to 23.5 days of vacation leaves), costing a whopping P27.221 billion in losses to the economy based on average hourly salary in the capital region.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) meanwhile estimates the economic impact of road traffic at P3.5 billion a day for Metro Manila and another P2.4 billion for its surrounding provinces like Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal, and Laguna.

And as though that’s not enough, traffic congestion is also responsible for air pollution, which in turn affects our health.

In a recent Need to Know video, DENR said 80% of air pollution in Metro Manila comes from the vehicle emission. 

A joint monitoring effort of DENR and Clean Air Asia meanwhile found the level of pollution increases during “Ber” months until January, when traffic congestion worsens.   

According to DENR data for 2022, Metro Manila air does not meet the World Health Organization’s air quality recommendation. In fact, Mehan Garden in Manila clocked in three times more particulate matter than the average annual recommendation of WHO in that year. 

All this exposure to poor air quality has the Philippines reporting some 66,000 premature deaths annually. That’s not mentioning the health consequences of sedentary hours spent in traffic.  

So how do we help ourselves? Enter protected bike lanes and active transport

Cycling translates to healthier people and safer roads. According to DOTr Active Transport Program manager Eldon Dionisio, “Cycling helps reduce the risk of serious diseases, such as cancer (reduced by 40%), heart illness (reduced by 52%), and prevents around 40% of premature death and depression. Furthermore, cycling also helps curb obesity and prevents the incidence of type II diabetes.” 

AltMobility and the Naumann Foundation add that biking can help adults meet the minimum required level of physical activity which in turn could reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

“Considering both direct and indirect-direct costs of contracting NCDs, biking generates P0.26 worth of health cost savings for every kilometer cycled. If only 5% of Metro Manila trips are served by cycling, the annual health cost savings would amount to P738.3 billion, which is equivalent to the amount required to build 246 kilometers of bike lanes,” the study said.

Moreover, AltMobility and Naumann Foundation found that as the number of cyclists increases, an individual’s risk of getting hit by a motorist decreases.

“As such, cycling promotion can also help mitigate the steep economic cost of road crashes in Metro Manila, which amounted to as much as P75.32 billion in 2019,” it said.

Apart from its plans of establishing a network of 2,400 kilometers of bike lanes all over the country — building from the 564 kilometers of bike lanes already constructed in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao — the DOTr’s Active Transport Project Office is always pursuing the establishment of protected bicycle lanes; Class 1 which is separated from the carriageway and Class 2A which is protected with physical separators, Dionisio said.

“These designs are based on the standards issued by the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) which is based on various international standards as well. In fact, aside from the establishment of new bicycle lanes, the Department’s Active Transport Program includes the improvement of existing infrastructure by widening, paving, and increasing their protection from motor vehicles,” he said.

Dionisio added, “other concerned national and local government agencies should align with the prioritization of sustainable modes of transport to allow the Department to establish safe and protected infrastructure.” 

Active transport as a solution to traffic congestion

Because going back to Metro Manila traffic: Cycling can help reduce traffic congestion. According to Dionisio, biking could be an effective traffic solution by “moving more people per unit space,” adding that “one bike is equivalent to 0.2 to 0.25 car unit.” 

“Surveys conducted in 2021 showed that at least 50% of road users are willing to shift to active transport should safe infrastructure be available,” Dionisio said.

In fact, a Social Weather Stations survey conducted between May 2020 and March 2023, bicycle-owning households outnumber car-owning ones by a ratio of 4:1.

The percentage of cycling households (with at least one member who cycles regularly) increased from 11% in 2020 to 29% in 2022 and to 36% as of March 2023, the survey added.

In the SWS surveys, among the top reasons for shifting to cycling are to save on fares at 56% and to improve one’s health at 46%.

“On a global average, a kilometer covered by bike generates a social benefit of around P39.00, whereas cars and buses cost society P21.00 and P16.00 per kilometer traveled, respectively,” Dionisio said.

AltMobility and Naumman Foundation study, likewise, found that using a bicycle instead of a car could save a household about P281,462 a year, which can be spent more on food and healthcare. This is based on the basic expenses of owning a vehicle such as registration, fuel, parking fees, and regular maintenance.

When a car user shifts to a bicycle, it means one less motor vehicle on the roads, which equates to one less source of air pollution — and billions of savings for the government. 

AltMobility and Naumann Foundation’s study found that building a new bike lane on an existing road instead of a new car lane would save the government P26.8 billion.

“Considering the great majority of households that do not own private vehicles, building bike lanes is more cost-effective and quite literally leads to and can further increase savings,” the study said.

In a bid to encourage active transport among commuters, the DOTr, Dionisio said, is also in the process of installing bicycle end-of-trip facilities in different transport facilities to allow multi-modal mode of transport. 

“Further, the Road Sector is currently in coordination with the Rail Sector to also allow full-sized bicycles to board selected train cars,” he said.

“DOTr's Active Transport program includes the establishment of bike lanes traversing public transport (PT) facilities such as stops, stations, and terminals. Further, construction and installation of end-of-trip facilities or bike parking at said PT facilities is in the pipeline as well. Lastly, the program will also pilot the construction of proper PT stops which are integrated with bicycle lanes,” he added.

But pedestrians must not be overlooked

While the government says it prioritizes inclusivity in its infrastructure programs or projects, for sustainable and inclusive transport advocacy group Move As One Coalition authorities might be overlooking on something and that would be the pedestrians.

Move As One Coalition communications consultant Dinna Dayao told GMA News Online that active transport not only covers cycling, it includes walking.

Citing a 2020 Social Weather Stations Survey, Dayao said 44% of Filipinos walk to work “yet pedestrians — including persons with disability (PWD), the elderly, pregnant women, and small children — remain an afterthought in the design and planning of road infrastructure.

“Pedestrians are forced to climb steep, unfriendly, and inconveniently located footbridges. The countdowns on stop lights often favor motorists over pedestrians by allotting them a longer time while pedestrians have to hurry as they cross the street,” she said.

“As a result, pedestrians are at great risk of being hurt or killed by speeding vehicles on our country’s roads. More than 57,000 pedestrians in Metro Manila were hit by vehicles from 2005 to 2015, according to Thinking Machines,” she added.

With this, Dayao said Move As One Coalition is calling on the government to fulfill the declaration in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 that "pedestrians and cyclists will be accorded highest priority in the hierarchy of road users." 

“Pedestrians of all ages and abilities need improved infrastructure so that they can walk safely,” she said.

Move As One Coalition’s communications consultant also recommended to change the settings of countdown in stop lights to favor the movement of pedestrians over motorists. 

“It is unfair that the safety of pedestrians on the road be disregarded for the speedier travel of the minority — 6% —of Filipinos who own private vehicles,” Dayao said.

Aside from standards-compliant protected bike lans, Move As One Coalition is urging the government to strictly enforce the 30 kilometers per hour speed limit in cities.

Dayao, citing the World Health Organization, said “this speed limit [is] ‘where people and traffic mix make for streets that are safe, healthy, green and livable, in other words, streets for life’.”

Moreover, she said the government should build ramps and include other features that will improve PWD access… plant trees and other plants that will provide shade to pedestrians.”

For the benefit of both cyclist and pedestrians, Dayao said the Philippines should get rid of footbridges, except in expressways and tollways as well as build crossing that are “simple, direct, and at street level.”

“Elevated walkways are a waste of public funds. Many people — including PWDs, the elderly, and those with children or are carrying heavy packages — avoid using them because it often takes too much time and energy to do so,” she said.

Biking as a climate solution

Besides, the climate crisis warrants humanity to bring down its dependence of fossil fuels, including transportation.

Citing studies, AltMobility and Naumann Foundation said transport is the largest source of air pollution and energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 34%, with road transport accounting for 80% of the emissions.

If a “business-as-usual” scenario would continue for road transport in Metro Manila, GHG emissions in the capital region could amount to 19,300 kilotonnes of CO2 emissions.

“The establishment of bicycle lanes paves way for a more sustainable mode of transport. The presence of bicycle lanes allows modal shift from motor vehicle drivers to cycling, which effectively reduce carbon emissions,” Dionisio said.

Besides, Dionisio adds “Bicycle life cycles have registered the lowest carbon footprint (around 21 grams CO2 per passenger per kilometer).”

Likewise, AltMobility and Naumann Foundation said that a shift to cycling from driving could save around 245 grams of CO2 per kilometer cycled as driving emits 271 grams of CO2 whereas cycling only produces 26 grams of CO2 -including production and maintenance of a bike.

“The reversal in car dependence will also translate to a reduction of CO2 emissions and is equivalent to planting 2.31 million trees a year,” it said.

A study from the University of Southern Denmark said global carbon emissions would drop by nearly 700 million tonnes per year if everybody cycled like the Dutch.

“Dutch people cycle an average of 2.6 kilometres each per day. If this pattern was replicated worldwide, the study suggests, annual global carbon emissions would drop by 686 million tonnes,” Euronews reports.

— LA, GMA Integrated News