One of the coronavirus fads that local governments should give serious consideration as a potential path forward for any post-Covid planning sessions that are hopefully being held is the rise of bicycling as a form of recreation, and more importantly, an alternative mode of transport.
Based on the increasing number of cyclists on our streets, more people have taken it up during this pandemic. After all, biking is healthy and environment-friendly, it is conducted outdoors, and unless more than one person is using a bike, social distancing is automatic.
Unfortunately for the growing numbers of cyclists, not much has been done over the past year to make our roads safer and more convenient for everyone. The only initiative has been the half-baked bike lanes thoughtlessly painted on certain streets. This bare minimum compliance may be seen by apologists and those with low standards and expectations from government as better than nothing but if you come to think of it, paint has been only wasted on these useless lane demarcations that more often than not fail to serve any useful purpose.
All kinds of vehicles, whether moving or parking, still regularly encroach upon these token bike lanes, rendering them useless by forcing bikers back into regular traffic. Government’s empty gestures that come without any sort of master plan are a waste to time, effort and resources. Any town or city that wants to take cycling seriously has to put up protected bike lanes but that kind of commitment to revolutionizing the transport system would require a major paradigm shift, a lot of political will, and a leap of faith for the executives involved.
Take the example of Paris, France that has, over the past year, successfully added 650 kilometers of cycle ways as a public health measure when the country emerged from their lockdown last May 11. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo argued that the lanes would decongest public transit and limit the use of cars.
Mayor Hidalgo had already been an advocate of bicycling even before the coronavirus crisis, promising that every street in her city would become cycle-friendly by 2024. The pandemic has accelerated her “Plan Velo” transport changes where the space required to make Paris cyclist-friendly would mostly come at the expense of motoring. Under her plans, the city was to remove 72 percent of its on-street car parking spaces.
Such a bold plan, affecting so many car owners, is probably unthinkable in towns or cities where leaders are less progressive and visionary. Imagine the outcry if the mayor of either Bacolod, Talisay, or Silay announced something similar. No politician would permanently convert free on-street parking areas into bike lanes, even if the Paris experiment has resulted in a spike in bicycle use without negatively affecting businesses.
If you come to think of it, a single parking spot serves only one person. If the lanes being used for parking are converted to proper bike lanes, hundreds can safely use it every day instead of the few that commandeer those public spaces for their own use. Businesses located beside those lanes might lose that one customer but they can gain so much more traffic when the number of people passing by on their bikes increase.
We are not even considering the benefits of cycling to the general public health and the environment.
The Paris model is probably too much to swallow for unimaginative “city planners” but if the people in charge would only take cycling more seriously, they can change the landscape and transform the currently broken transport system into one that is greener, healthier, more efficient, and sustainable.
It starts with a decision to make proper (meaning protected) bike lanes and choosing people over cars because, if you take a really good look at it, our streets are currently designed for cars and not people.
Build Build Build is making our streets wider and thicker but not a lot of thought goes into it. Our so-called “engineers” only design for vehicles, trying to increase the capacity and strength of roads but failing to address the traffic and transportation problems that have plagued our towns and cities.
Our sidewalks suck. Parking is unregulated, bike lanes are non-existent. There are absolutely no rules. We keep building stuff with neither a plan nor vision.
We have the wide roads that can make our city’s main roads or high streets pedestrian and cycle friendly. We may have the disadvantage of a lazy people and a hot climate but they can be taught to walk or bike if safe infrastructure is built for them. It won’t take much in terms of budget to retrofit our roads to include proper sidewalks and a bike lane, a speed limited road, and regulated parking. What it will require, which we don’t have right now, is someone with the political will to embark on the transformation of our towns and transport systems from the local level.
If Paris can do it, any of the cities in the Metro Bacolod area should at the very least consider taking that course of action.*