The invisible bicycle rider
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - June 18, 2019 - 12:00am

When talk deviates towards the use of bicycles for transportation, most of my friends generally start off with a litany of reasons why people wouldn’t bike. The weather is too hot, the air is polluted, there are no bike lanes, it’s not safe – the list goes on and on. Well, occasionally, you would come up with someone who does bike, and he or she will only tell you that they bike “in spite of” all those things. The latter are the minority, of course – we still live in a country where biking (or cycling) is not “cool”.

Many countries and cities do take biking seriously - most of Europe, especially the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Asia – Japan, Korea, and China. People argue that it’s because of the cooler weather, though I couldn’t think of anything more uncomfortable than biking in winter. Apparently, they do, and on the other side of the spectrum, people bike a lot, too, in the hotter part of Africa and Central America. There are a lot of bikers in Singapore, too, which generally has a hotter climate than the Philippines, since they’re almost at the equator.

So, it’s not many of those things. Ten years ago, we started talking about the state of bicycle transport in Cebu City, so we did a little “study” – just a simple traffic count of bicycles along the city’s main arteries. I asked CITOM to do the count atop six skywalks in the city – CIT, Macopa Street, Imus, Mabolo, Country Mall, and Lahug. The daily results were surprising – in the first four, the count ranges from 700-1,200 per direction, and it was 200-400 for the last two. This was in 2009. There are many more today!

What was even more surprising is that the bulk of these bike rides were bike-to-work trips! These are not the bikers you see on TV sporting Tour-de-France attire with all the paraphernalia to boot, but there are ordinary citizens, mostly workers and students which is why the counts were lumped during 6:00-8:30 a.m. and 5:00-6:00 p.m. timeslots and pretty flat in between. Overall, the “enthusiasts” (that’s how we call them) ranges only between 5 to 10% of the total. Of course, these percentages would have been higher during weekends, but we only did the counts on weekdays.

“Where are these bikers?” you ask. It seems they become invisible especially to those who drive their own private cars. If you really want to see, them, you must consciously and intentionally look out for them. Try it, they’re there. Or, we are! I have been a “bike-to-work” biker for two years now, and honestly, it’s only in the last two years that I consciously see them, from where I am riding on my bike. Before that, I don’t see them, even if I know they did exist because of that count we made in 2009. Maybe that’s the reason people generally don’t support biking for mobility. They think we don’t exist. We do, only that to many, especially those comfortable in their cars, we’re invisible.

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