The new normal? Hold your horses

One stark effect of the Metro Manila lockdown due to COVID19 is just how clear the skies have gotten in the past forty-odd days. I’ve written before about the air quality here, but it’s amazing to see just how much smog has lifted away from the horizon.

With social distancing becoming a fact of life in the not-quite-COVID19-free metropolis in an effort to slow down its spread and give the belabored Philippine health care system a fighting chance against it, more and more people have seen the merit in taking to the streets in bicycles for essential travel. As of this writing, one of the main forms of assistance our doctors, nurses, and medical personnel are getting to continue the fight against COVID19…is bicycle donations. There have been quite a lot.

Heck, even national government in the form of the Department of Transportation is spouting lip service about putting up cycling infrastructure now.

This is encouraging and all, but I think this is not enough. This is merely short-term excitement. Whether or not government entities will walk their talk and actually throw meaningful money and well-designed investment toward it is anybody’s guess, but having been burned by such government promises before, and frequently disappointed by its implementations, color me very skeptical. All that short-term excitement should be channeled into an actionable long-term plan.

Photo credit: JP Juinio/CNN Philippines

I want a cycling-friendly Philippines. Very badly. That said, I’m afraid it’s not going to come into fruition unless a major mindset change happens. Cycling as a form of transport already comes very easily and naturally to some of us Pinoys, but our numbers are tiny and we are distinctly a minority.

The key is to win over the overwhelming majority who think that urban point-to-point mobility in the Philippines has to be driven by a car. Cycling for transport has to become an appealing enough, a safe enough alternative, for them to finally commit and wean themselves off gasoline or diesel. Cycling for transport has to be supported by enough people, so that looking out for cyclists’ well-being becomes culturally normal – whether it be ensuring good road conditions; creation of segregated bike lanes (and for crying out loud, paint does NOT make a bike lane); making Metro Manila streets safe to cycle through without threat of bicycle theft or violence against passing cyclists; and ingraining the mindset that bicycles are not simply cheap toys, but functional vehicles that need maintenance and care, and are worth upgrading to become a more comfortable transportation option.

Take that, government. If you are truly serious about reducing Filipino reliance on vehicles and getting them into bicycles for transportation, I believe you have your work cut out for you. For the rest of us – from cycling advocates, to cycling-friendly local government units, local bike shops, and media outlets big and small – let’s keep fighting the good fight.

One thought on “The new normal? Hold your horses

  1. The Filipino culture has never been, and will never be cycling friendly hangga’t hindi nag-kakaroon ng disiplina ang kapwa Pilipino. Hindi naman din raw kasi tayo (mga siklista) nagbabayad ng tax, kaya wala daw tayong karapatan sa kalsada. *eyeroll*
    The Filipino culture loves to discriminate, at isa tayo sa mga biktima. Ni wala nga tayong maayos na bicycle parking, matinong bike lanes pa kaya? Mayroon naman tayong iilang bike lanes pero hindi natin madaanan. Ginagawang paradahan ng mga sasakyan at singitan spots ng motorsiklo. Bubusinahan ka pa at mumurahin.
    Bike parking kahit may guwardiya na, may proper locks pa, mananakaw pa din. (Sporting goods store in _______)
    Madalas ko din nababasa sa mga Facebook groups na ang opinyon sa atin ng madla ay “pampatrapik”. Against ang karamihan sa pagkakaroon ng bike lanes dahil dagdag trapiko lamang daw ito.
    Car centric ang kultura natin mga Pilipino, gusto nating mabago; malabong mangyari.
    Bike to work tayong mga Pinoy ngayon dahil wala tayo masyadong public transpo, pero pag-balik ng public transpo eh tambak nanaman itong mga bisikleta.

    Liked by 1 person

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