Solving the traffic problem, two wheels at a time

COUNTER FLOW - James Deakin - The Philippine Star

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been riding my bicycle more and more to work. Sure I smell a little ripe when I arrive, but by my calculations, I’m up around 220 pesos a day just in fuel and parking—which buys a lot of deodorant and cologne. (Don’t be too sure, James. – Ed.)

And, as I live exactly 10 kilometers from the heart of Makati and central BGC, on any given day—no matter how bad the traffic is—the commute never takes any longer than 30 minutes. In fact, most days I get home a lot faster on a bicycle than had I driven.

But even more important than all the fuel and time savings I’ve made, I’ve also shed off 30 unwanted pounds and managed to keep it off. It’s a lifestyle that has seen my sugar levels stabilize, cholesterol and blood pressure normalize, allowing me to tackle things I  never once thought possible. Like an extra cup of rice every time my wife busts out a killer adobo.

But as much as I would love to recommend this to everyone, sadly, until the government can come up with some decent infrastructure and policies, and the public  (as well as commercial establishments) could undergo a complete CTRL+ALT+DEL in their attitude towards bikers, I’m having trouble wholeheartedly encouraging anyone else to join me.

It’s such a shame, really, because the solution to our traffic problem relies heavily on alternative transport. You hear about the cost of building skyways, flyovers, mass rail transit systems, extra lanes—all of which contribute to pollution—when the most basic tried and proven zero emission solution sits right underneath our noses—or in this case, asses. Yet not just is there no attempt to encourage the use of bicycles, there seems to even be a disturbing prejudice against the bike commuting community.

Aside from the fact that there are no bike lanes, or none that are properly enforced anyway, it’s the general disregard that motorists have for cyclists that is the biggest deterrent. I’m not saying that this is a one way street (I have seen inconsiderate riders out there as well) but when a motorist gets cocky, it can very often be fatal to a rider, whereas it is rarely, if at all, any threat to a motorist when its the other way around.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times that cars will overtake you just to slam on their brakes to turn in front of you. Or those that pull out of a side street, check both sides for cars, yet look straight through you like you’re invisible and drive right into your path.

The lack of concern is actually shocking. Most times, the aggression seems to have graduated from a resentment that stems solely from you not having to suffer the same congestion that they do.

The sad reality here is, if these ignorant road bullies succeed, they would have only driven the cyclist to either hop into a car, motorcycle, bus or jeep and take up an even bigger footprint—both environmentally and physically.

I’m not trying to cause an even bigger rift between motorists and cyclists here; to the contrary, I write this with the sincerest hope that we could respect and appreciate each other. As I am both a die-hard motorist and an avid cyclist, I know that it can be done. But certain laws need to be made clear first.

Firstly, a bicycle is a legal form of transport. Meaning that once it is ridden on public roads—except freeways—It is subject to the same road rules. We cannot run red lights, stop signs and the like. We cannot ride counterflow to the traffic or make illegal turns. In return, we must be given the same respect as every road user.

Being a non-motorized vehicle, however, we have the unique privilege of riding on paths and sidewalks. This is a universal rule around the world. But by doing so, we must give priority to pedestrians. So there is a hierarchy.

But sadly, the ones who understand the rules the least are usually the ones tasked to enforce it. Take last Monday as an example. I posted a story on my Facebook page about me being forced to leave a restaurant because I wasn’t allowed to chain my bike to a lamppost outside it.

I didn’t shame the place anymore because it is just one of thousands that discriminate against bikers (and I’d rather use my voice to praise the responsible establishments) but this elicited about 200 replies from people who all shared horror stories of being forced off their bikes, refused entry to buildings, refused parking, to being refused service in a drive thru—which shows that we do indeed have a problem here.

There are even some villages that will not even let you in; or in the case where you are doing work within the village, force you to park your bike by the guard house and walk or wait for a smelly jeep to take you around the village. They may argue it is common property, but does that grant them immunity from common sense?

It is sad to know that despite the fact that the bicycle is older than the car, there is still this sense that we are second-class road users. The only way that can change is by recognizing bikers as responsible commuters, being clear about the rules, and offering incentives to encourage people to use their bikes or their feet for short distances.

Just remember that one more cyclist on the road means one less vehicle. Sure you can argue that if that person catches the bus then the theory is flawed. Until you take into account that the average commuter tends to catch two or three different public utility vehicles to get to work. Each way. No matter which way you cut, slice or dice it, as far as congestion and pollution is concerned, there will never be a more convincing argument to support taking a car over a bike.

So the next time you see a cyclist on the road, try and not look at them as a problem but as the closest thing to a solution to your traffic woes.












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