While still under study, MMDA chair cool to bike lanes along EDSA

In this photo released on June 2, 2020, cyclist group Bikers United Marshalls set up an improvised bicycle lane along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
Bikers United Marshalls Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Lingering hopes of bike lanes along EDSA just got dimmer after the new leadership at Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) expressed reservations to the proposal.

“Just one mistake, someone might get run over. It’s a highway, and you can’t avoid those challenges in safety,” MMDA chair Benhur Abalos said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“We’re trying to align it by international safety standards. We don’t want cyclists to have to pay for the mistake of a car driver. There are so many reckless drivers here who don’t care,” he added.

Ultimately, MMDA is still studying the proposal and Abalos, upon assumption to office in January, said bike lanes may be located at the right most lane of the 23.8-kilometer highway, together with motorcycles, a position that did not bode well with the sentiments of transport and commuter advocates.

But his latest statement only dashed optimism even that contested plan will push through. Over 200,000 private 4-wheel vehicles ply EDSA and the newly-minted MMDA chair indicated the area may not be meant for 2-wheel transport modes that can traverse narrower roads in cities and municipalities.

“I don’t have a problem with bike routes in each LGU. But we’re still studying EDSA as a whole. We have to weigh again the safety, the number of vehicles, etcetera. We have to take so many considerations here,” he explained.

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“It’s being done experimentally in other places. As long as it’s safe and it doesn’t affect traffic congestion too much, maybe it can even be permanent,” Abalos said.

On top of that, Abalos, former Mandaluyong mayor, also asked how a bike lane will be configured. “Let’s say, do they need to be elevated? Should they be on the pedestrians? Would it be too expensive?” he asked.

Transport advocates at AltMobility PH, a commuter group, were initially hopeful the pandemic that ushered biking popularity will be an enough push for reform, but progress had been stalled even before Abalos took office.

The transport and public works departments had been supportive of bike lanes in EDSA to accommodate riders left by insufficient public transport where health protocols limited capacity to 50% of typical usage since June. In fact, a transport department-led plan to “transform” EDSA last year included bike lanes, only to be thumbed down by the old MMDA leadership.

On Monday, AltMobility PH and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities renewed calls for bike lanes not only in EDSA, but around the Metro after the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act allotted budget for their construction. 

“He’s (Abalos) saying that if there’s any space left, then we can have bike lanes. I think that’s very concerning. I think these statements paint a snapshot of what the MMDA really thinks about bike lanes,” Jedd Ugay, chief mobility officer of AltMobility PH, had said.

For his part, transport economist Robert Siy said: “What’s missing for us is the sense of urgency.”

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