From our friends in Cebu Philippines on their efforts to make their city more bike and pedestrian friendly.
By Radel Paredes
Today as I write this, I am set to attend a meeting with bicyclists, runners, environmentalists, lawyers, and representatives of government agencies in charge of transportation and urban planning. We will be discussing how we can make Cebu a city more conducive and safe for pedestrians and bicycle commuters.
It will be our second meeting since environmentalist friends Vince Cinches and lawyer Genevieve Tabada invited me and my cycling buddy, the architecture professor and bike enthusiast Rey Orsal of the group Tindak Bisdak a few weeks ago to a coffee shop to get our views regarding plans to put up bicycle lanes in some city streets.
It was a freewheeling discussion that sought to explore green options for urban commuting. Vince and Gen are seasoned environmental activists fighting several battles, while Rey and I were rather more specialized in our concern: We’d like to think of ourselves as ordinary bicyclists who would be happy to see as few obstacles on the road as we would rather push pedals than take a car or jeepney on the way to work or home.
We cited factors like road safety as car vehicle drivers tend to think that bicyclists don’t have road rights; the lack of bicycle lanes and pedestrian streets intended to discourage (or, as in Denmark, which adds several humps and narrow, maze-like turns, deliberately frustrate) driving; the lack of bike racks near offices and shops to make it easier for commuters to secure their bikes as they go to work or shopping.
All these require legislation in all levels, from city council ordinances to a broader national policy promoting environment-friendly transportation systems as the country’s contribution to the global movement addressing climate change.
Such legal support will greatly contribute to change the stigma that biking is not a viable solution to traffic problems as it is in fact an annoying and unsafe obstruction to motor vehicles. A legislative agenda will make it clear that the point is exactly to do just that: frustrate car owners so they will be forced to commute instead.
To further discourage car use, government should impose additional levies on imported cars, increase rates in public parking, or ask for toll and other services from car owners. These may sound radical and a bit hostile to the car-riding middle and upper classes, but these measures have been the reason more and more cities abroad have joined the bandwagon of car-free or almost car-free cities in the world. And for a good reason, considering the urgency of addressing global warming.
These cities have drastically reduced car use (limited to utility, emergency use, home-moving, and other special cases) in favor of mass transit systems like the light rail train or bus rapid transit of which biking is an integral part.
The pedestrianization of the city enables residents to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, the city government should maintain that walking and biking become pleasant ways of going around. Reduced density of motor traffic will make it possible for urban landscape architects to replant “umbrella” trees along sidewalks giving pedestrians and cyclists shade against tropical heat.
Street culture would be revitalized as stalls and street furniture of outdoor cafes and shops extending to the road would no longer be seen as an obstruction to regular traffic consisting of pedestrians. This would also resolve the perennial conflict between street vendors and the City Hall.
And so imagine the ongoing Christmas night market in Colon street, which is closed to vehicular traffic as soon as it gets dark, staying permanently. Imagine the same lively scene spreading to Parian district or around City Hall itself, where you find our showcases of heritage architecture. Such is the beauty of pedestrian streets.
Of course, it may be hard to convince local authorities who have long forgotten to take a jeepney to work, much less ride a bike or walk, to understand how inconvenient is our current systems of moving people.
Still I am hopeful that those who come to today’s forum, a freewheeling discussion for a local pedestrianization movement tentatively dubbed “Road Revolution,” will share our rather child-like optimism.
Great ideas often come across as naïve and arise in a situation of ease and fun, as in Einstein who once spoke about how he came up with the theory of relativity: “I thought of that while riding a bike.”