The concept of quiet streets STREETLIFE

Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - June 1, 2021 - 12:00am

Last week, I wrote about that BusinessWorld article, “Gridlocked Philippine capital tries to embrace bikes amid pandemic.” Our good friend, Rene Santiago, got viciously attacked for his two opinions, one of which is that “sidewalks should have a higher priority than bike lanes.” The second one was that bike lanes should be preferably on secondary roads and not on main thoroughfares. I agreed on both.

That the government instinctively drew bike lanes along major thoroughfares is not surprising as they put DPWH as the lead. “H” stands for “highways,” in case you forget, they’re in charge of all national roads, which in most cases in urban areas are the main thoroughfares, oftentimes with 4 lanes, 6, or up to 12 lanes (in the case of EDSA) and where speed limits vary from 20 to 80 or more kph. We see those newly painted “shared” half-lanes, in 4- and 6-lane main thoroughfares in Metro Cebu.

Most of us bikers are happy with this new-found interest of the government to provide bike lanes, and many of us turn a blind eye on the safety aspects of this roll-out. But if we are to be serious about this, we need to reflect further on the safety implications in locating these lanes. There are numerous discussions on the direct relationship between deaths caused by vehicle-person collision versus and possible death on the internet, indicating a steep rise when speeds go beyond 30 kph. DPWH documents state that 25% of people struck by a vehicle travelling at 40 kph would suffer fatal injuries, and at 50 kph, this risk increases to 85%. DPWH roads are designed for 30, 40, or up to 80 kph, the more “major” the thoroughfare, and higher the number of lanes, the higher the design speed.

You don’t need to be an engineer to understand that 2-lane roads are generally safer than anything that has more lanes than it. While bikers do want to get to their destinations as fast as others do, rushing traffic is always something to fear, and we try to find ways to avoid them. That’s why I have always advocated for defining bikeway networks along secondary, non-busy streets, as Rene suggested. There are plenty all over the city, and these can be easily improved with even lesser investments. I bike to Cebu City Hall from home before and half of the time, I pass through small streets.

I agree with Rene, the overriding policy should be to build bike lane networks on secondary streets, NOT on major, 6-lane or more, 40 kph or more, thoroughfares. London, in the United Kingdom, even has special programs for that, aptly called “Quiet Streets.” Bikers generally dread high-speed highways filled with speeding SUVs, trucks, and 40-footer vans. We prefer a quiet, easy ride on side streets where children play and neighbors chat with each other. Quiet streets. Unless necessary and unavoidable, we should refrain from building bike lanes in major thoroughfares. And when we can’t and are forced to do so, these should be separated, fully protected lanes. Let’s not wait till the first accident, or worse, a fatality, to happen.

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