Bike lanes for city streets

Lest I be fired by my editor, at the outset, let me state that I totally agree with the Freeman editorial the other day, “Bike lanes not for city streets.” While today’s title might seem to say the opposite, it actually does not. Just a matter of perspectives. Our understanding of many urban issues cities face today is often mixed up. The world today is an incessant cacophony of multi-sectors claiming for their rights, oftentimes affecting the rights of others. To arrive at a modus vivendi is a challenge, but we must if we want to move forward.

But first, let us start from the basics. Streets, also known as roads, highways, avenues, boulevards, are transport infrastructure. Their raison d’être is to transport people, or provide a way for vehicles which carry people (and goods). Transport, besides the usual cars, buses and rail, also includes walking, and biking. A bicycle is mainly a transport vehicle. Besides being used to bring people from their homes to work, these are popular for mail delivery, paramedics, police work, courier, and general delivery. They are part of the transport system.

It is not whether they are or not included, but rather on whether they deserve a lane of their own, today or later. All the others can demand, too – bus, jeepney, motorcycle lanes, car-only lanes, tartanilla lanes (these are transport, too, right?), but shall we do that? Common sense, dictates that we must know the relative importance of each mode, determined by their percentage share of person-trips. To complicate further, we often forget there are two purposes for riding a bike – for transport, and for exercise! You can do both but I doubt if 10% of the bikers do it for these dual purposes. We need an understanding of the use. So let’s count.

In 2009, I asked some people to do a daily bicycle count. But I told them to segregate those who are biking to work and those who are biking for leisure/exercise. “How would we know?,” they asked. “Simple,” I said, “the workers are in their work clothes, in slippers or worn shoes, and usually have old backpacks.” The leisure bikers will be sporting Tour de France attire, on US$500 mountain bikes, with Nikes water bottles and accessories, and usually in groups. Here’s a sample of their count – at CIT skywalk, going south, workers – 688, leisure – 21. I have a whole bunch of data for those who want it – just email me. The conclusions are: 1) there are indeed home-to-work trips in Cebu which are in bicycle mode (a surprise), and 2) they far outnumber the bikers who are there to exercise. I may add a third, though this is just by inference: 3) it’s not the biking workers who demand publicly that they be given bike lanes. Ask those who demand bike lanes if any of them do bike to work on a daily basis. This is nothing against leisure/health-conscious bikers – just putting transport supply and demand in the proper perspective and whether we are making sense. The important thing in any advocacy is whether we understand what we want, we have the data and basis, and whether our cause makes sense and not just for motherhood statements.

I am an advocate for bike lanes, too, but in its proper place and sense. We place them where there is a demand on the home-to-work trips. Note that this “by purpose” mode represents majority of the modal split of a city and the primary generator of peak-hour traffic congestion. More importantly, we should build them where they serve the greater number of the working class trips, integrated with the bigger public mass transport system. Then we would have truly achieved the new paradigm that “those who have less in wheels must have more in road.” The cities in the world who have efficient bike lanes build them as part of the public transport network system, not to compete with, or replace it. (Email: streetlife@villarete.com)

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