Reclaiming the High Street for the people

After consecutive weeks of hard riding going to, around, and back from Daang Reyna on Sundays, I took a bit of a break. Although I ride and commute at a relatively fast pace normally, bridging the 26 km going there in about an hour, my brain needed some variety.

The great thing about living in the southern Metro Manila area is that good riding awaits in multiple directions. On Palm Sunday, I decided to go northeast, at a slightly slower pace, to Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

Bonifacio Global City hosting a Honda Club Philippines monthly eyeball meeting sometime in 2004. The skyline was uncluttered with skyscrapers back then.

Ever since I attended my first car club meet there in 2003, I’ve been following how it’s changed over the past fourteen years. It has done so very quickly, and in such leaps and bounds, that it’s hard to reconcile the wide-open grassy lots of yesteryear with the cramped concrete skyline of today as one and the same place. Nowadays there’s almost no discernible line between BGC and its northern border along Makati’s Kalayaan Avenue. There used to be such a wide swath of green keeping them apart.

It still attracts the active crowd, mainly runners and cyclists, but it’s also become choked on its own traffic congestion – the price to pay for its commercial development. I find its conversion into a concrete jungle sad, to be honest. The local 1.8-kilometer road cycling loop that most riders used for training laps didn’t hold my interest long enough, so I ended up just riding around.

Riding into Bonifacio High Street, I noticed that the 9th Avenue crossing was closed to traffic going north-south. From past experience, this is normally done when there is some sort of sports event going on, such as BGC Cycle Philippines or any number of footraces, as Bonifacio High Street is frequently used as a start/finish area. This wasn’t the case, though.

Additionally, there were designated temporary bike lanes around the perimeter of Bonifacio High Street. Those normally aren’t around on weekdays.

A closer look yielded the answer. Apparently this whole initiative is BGC’s way of taking back the streets from vehicle traffic, and giving it back for people to relax, play, walk, and ride around. At the very center of 9th Avenue, on the cobbled pedestrian crossing, lay lots of things that wouldn’t look out of place on a playground. There was a limbo rock bar; a couple of poles where a span of elastic rubber opened the possibility of playing the “Chinese garter” jumping game; a set of giant slippers one could fling in a giant game of tumbang preso; and giant versions of Connect Four and Snakes & Ladders, complete with equally giant dice.

On the other side of the closed street was a bike riding clinic held by the National Bike Organization. Conveniently, the cordoned-off area had a bike rental station as well, so you could learn how to ride even without your own bike. This is a great idea. I don’t know how long they’re holding the clinic for, though, and I don’t suppose they teach hand signaling or other bike-commuting techniques, but this is a start.

This being a Holy Week ride, Bonifacio High Street had its annual Stations of the Cross exhibit with large booths for the fourteen stations. This has gone on for a number of years now, but it’s always a nice sight.

Some of the stations are more distinctive than others.

Out of courtesy, I dismounted and pushed my bike along the pedestrian footpaths for these photos.

To end this little cycling adventure, for some strange reason, this exhibit of dog portraits was put in along with the Stations of the Cross exhibit. Perhaps this was put in as a little bit of sunshine to contrast to the somber mood that usually accompanies Holy Week.

Daang Reyna training gatecrasher

Earlier this year, I asked my friend Mario if he had any rides planned for one Sunday morning, and he said he was going to Daang Reyna to join his cycling club VPx for training. I was welcome to come along.

Prior to that, it had been a while since I last visited Daang Reyna. This road on the outskirts of Muntinlupa – connecting Daang Hari road to Bacoor, Cavite with Victoria Avenue bound to San Pedro, Laguna – is perhaps best known for the glass-domed Palazzo Verde garden wedding venue (nee Fernbrook Gardens), but it is also a popular mecca for cyclists.

Daang Reyna is book-ended by a gasoline station, the Evia residential/commercial development, the three-way MCX entrance rotunda, and Palazzo Verde at one end, and a much smaller circular rotunda at the other, referred to as the “Lollipop.” A single lap going out and back is 4.7 km long, making it a more southerly alternative training spot to the SM Mall of Asia seaside road loop in Pasay City. Unlike that place, which is pancake-flat, Daang Reyna has a slight uphill grade going to the Lollipop, which becomes a slightly downhill false flat on the way back.

Louger Mendor of VPx.

While there is a freedom to relish in riding solo, I feel like I may have been riding solo for far too long. That initial invite has extended for a few more weeks as of this writing, and I have slowly seen the benefits – which are only maximized by the fact that most of the VPx cyclists I’ve ridden with are far stronger than I am. It is refreshing to not be the strongest rider in a group.

One of my first rides with the VPx crew.

One of the later ones. I’ve increased my average speed.

Yours truly with Mario Ramos.

The lady and gentlemen of VPx.

Why I passed on BGC Cycle Philippines 2016

The original mass-participation cycling event will be celebrating its fourth running on November 20, 2016…and I won’t be there. Why? I’ve got a few reasons.

VALUE?

I always signed up as an early bird entry into these events and took the group rate (of four participants) to take advantage of the lower price of entry. The registration fee and ride pack used to represent good value. You got F2P’s excellent event jerseys, your race number and timing chip, and a bunch of extras. 2013 by far was the best year, offering a decent canvas sling bag (I used it long enough that it wore out on me), some off-brand shades, and a high-visibility yellow leg band from the Firefly Brigade that I still use today.

The ride pack from the very first running of BGC Cycle Philippines in 2013. I joined the Community Ride, so I got a shirt instead of a jersey.

The 2013 ride pack came in this canvas sling body bag – excellent for bike commuting. I used it so frequently that I wore a hole through it.

Very very useful

These shades came with the 2013 ride pack and with two lens options too. Sadly they got lost.

These days, however, even adopting this strategy, I can’t deny that participation is getting expensive. Had I signed up with three others this year during the early bird period, the PhP6,300 fee would have worked out to PhP1,575 per head. This is an okay price for me…but it no longer corresponds to the value that previous runnings of this event had. The 2015 edition offered a ride pack with changing bags for triathletes and packets of MSG-laden crisps – really?

The 2014 ride pack came in this knapsack. Decently useful, I guess, but the narrow strings make it painful to ride with for long periods.

2014 also saw this Rudy Project branded pouch bag. Erm, okay. Not as useful as the knapsack as it’s too darn small.

2015’s ride kit. Disappointing.

THE ROUTE IS RIPE FOR AN OVERHAUL

Sunrise Events is reusing the exact same route as last year.

I find it mildly amusing that an event called “BGC Cycle Philippines” sports a 40 km route that barely even uses its host, Bonifacio Global City, at all. Seriously – the meat and potatoes of the route is Gil Puyat Avenue and a bit of Roxas Boulevard.

The original 2013 edition was the only difference in this regard because it used C5. I have my pet theory about this route decision – largely revolving around the territorial dispute as to whether Taguig City or Makati City owns BGC.

Even if the organizers are justified by local government jurisdiction that Makati owns BGC, there has to be a much better place for running an event like this than Gil Puyat Avenue, which runs across three major thoroughfares of Metro Manila: Roxas Boulevard, Osmeña Highway, and EDSA via the Kalayaan Flyover. Gil Puyat Avenue itself is a busy drain pan collecting vehicular traffic – one with a patchy road surface the closer it gets to Pasay City.

Okay, EDSA traffic isn’t impacted, but I can remember lots of irate motorists plying Gil Puyat and Osmeña Highway inconvenienced by the BGC Cycle Philippines route in the past two editions.

Alaska Cycle Philippines route for 2015. You had to focus on counting how many loops you did of the course, but otherwise this was really good.

Its sister event, Alaska Cycle Philippines, has consistently used a much more compact course layout contained within Roxas Boulevard and the SM Mall of Asia area – one with much less disruptive impact. Maybe Sunrise ought to look at adopting the same. I would not mind running the entire 40 km Challenge route within Bonifacio Global City and Kalayaan Flyover as a criterium of sorts – they’ve already shown that it can work.

THE FALSE PROMISE OF “CLOSED ROADS”

It is very, very hard for event marshals and local government police to patrol the length of Gil Puyat Avenue and ensure road closure for participants. Perhaps some of it is their fault, but to be fair to them, Gil Puyat is simply a nightmare for traffic control.

Approaching the Gil Puyat – Taft Avenue intersection. Screen still taken from Timothy Lacbay’s onboard footage of BGC Cycle Philippines 2015.

There are U-turns, lots of intersecting streets, and a railway crossing, as well as the infamously poor self-control of Pinoy pedestrians and drivers. Back in 2014 I distinctly remember having to come to a stop at the railway crossing because a train had to make its way through. And while it’s easy to point fingers at pedestrians, Gil Puyat Avenue simply does not have the infrastructure to avoid disruption between pedestrian and vehicular traffic – a fancy way of saying it doesn’t have enough elevated walkways.

Nice promise, but execution has been disappointing. I would suggest getting rid of Gil Puyat Avenue altogether because any promise of “riding on closed roads” when it is factored in is hot air at best.

And just when the event finally got rid of white on its jerseys…

CONCLUSION

Sunrise Events has to be applauded for their commitment to hosting these events year on year. That said, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. Gorgeous F2P event jersey aside, BGC Cycle Philippines has gotten somewhat stale. I am sincerely hoping that Sunrise takes these criticisms into account when it plans its next edition of BGC Cycle Philippines.