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How safe are painted bike lanes?

Iloilo City has the best bike facilities in the Philippines. Period. It has long stretches of protected bike lanes designed by no other than award-winning landscape architect Paolo Alcazaren. Adding to this feat, Iloilo is undoubtedly the Philippine’s most bike-friendly city. But being the best, there is still a lot of room for improvement and it takes more than just infrastructure to truly earn the title.

Photos have been making rounds over social media about the designated bike lanes in main roads of the city in the city’s effort of adding 32.86 kilometers of bike lanes to complement about 20 kilometers of existing bike lanes. These are probably the second phase of the series of bike lanes put in the city following the university loop. More or less, a meter of the roadside is painted green with standard white delineating lines to separate the bike lane from the vehicular lanes in the carriageway (yes, this is how we highway engineers call that part of the road being used by vehicles).

Personally, I don’t think these methods are safe. I could recall some of my colleagues inviting me to join them in bike commuting to work where I had a swift response of negation knowing first, I’m not confident with bikes and second, I don’t feel that the infrastructure can provide much safety.

Cycling is one of the most cost-efficient means of transport that gives you a means to move from one place to another and a good physical exercise. Much more at the wake of COVID-19, physical distancing is another advantage for cycling.

Putting Iloilo City into context, the city’s terrain is relatively flat. This gives the city more advantage in being bike-friendly as we can use our bikes without thinking of exerting so much effort to travel for a few kilometers.

Assuming I have the confidence to bike, I would probably choose to bike only at separated bike lanes such as that in Sen. Benigno S. Aquino (SBSA) Jr. Avenue (Yes, that’s the official name of our so-called Diversion Road). But to bike around University Loop? Or at the new sites done by the city? Sorry, but I won’t.

We have been witnesses of various road crashes and as a road safety specialist, I would not recommend the infrastructure to do its job alone. It has to be intertwined with transport rules and regulations both in the national and local levels.

In the Sixteenth Congress of the Philippines, the late former senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago introduced Senate Bill No. 400 entitled, “Bike Friendly Communities Act”. The bill cites the need for proper infrastructure to support reduction of noise and air pollution, reduction of traffic congestion, reduction of needed parking spaces, and protection of road infrastructure from damage. These promising ideals of the late senator for biking in the Philippines are surely being sought after by cycling enthusiasts, environmentalists, and even transport planners.

The bill cites the need for proper infrastructure to support reduction of noise and air pollution, reduction of traffic congestion, reduction of needed parking spaces, and protection of road infrastructure from damage.

In Section 7 of late Defensor-Santiago’s bill, bicycle infrastructure should include:

  1. bicycle lanes which are to be separated by a physical barrier;
  2. provision for bicycle parking that is secure, visible, accessible, and not in the way of pedestrians in all public places, government offices, schools, and major business establishments;
  3. sidewalk improvements;
  4. traffic calming and speed reduction improvements;
  5. pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements;
  6. traffic signage pertaining to bicycles;
  7. off-street pedestrian and bicycle facilities; and,
  8. traffic diversion improvements.

This bill alone provides solutions to so many problems to cities in the country, especially the most progressive and most successful ones like Iloilo City. This bill sadly did not materialize into law.

Going into the preceding checklist of an ideal bike-friendly city, Iloilo City has a long way to go. Even the first criterion of protected bike lanes will make the painted bike facility provisions seem ineffective. The city alone may not have the resources to pull off what it desires to become; more especially now that finances are tight.

Iloilo City is aiming for nearly a hundred kilometers of bike lanes.

However, making use of what we have, there is still hope and it lies to motorists and cyclists. Etiquette is best when practiced. The City of Iloilo has so much in its hands right now and if we want to make the city successful in what they desire – to become the most bike-friendly city – we have to put enforcement of ordinances in our hands by strictly following it and setting an example to our colleagues, friends, and family. We have existing ordinances like the City Regulation Ordinance No. 2014-193 which mandates establishments both public and private with existing parking spaces to provide bike parking spaces and City Regulation Ordinance No. 2016-299 that covers safe us of the protected bike lanes of SBSA Avenue. I do hope the city government would put in some time to also cater in their local legislative agenda the increasing length of painted bike lanes and put in black and white the protection of bike commuters, pedestrians, and motorists alike. Iloilo City is aiming for nearly a hundred kilometers of bike lanes. And on a personal note, I do hope one day that my Reason No. 2 will not stop me from choosing to bike commute in the Philippine’s Most Bike-Friendly City.

One reply on “How safe are painted bike lanes?”

Very insightful comment indeed! And thank you for citing the bill (and foresight) of the late former senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Fear for one’s safety is really one of the things that discourages people to cycle. We must insist on it, however, because if we don’t use the painted bike lanes then the motorists will have the confirmation bias that, indeed, they are being unused. But if they see that people are, in fact, using the lanes, the mentality among motorists themselves gets shifted (ay, may ga-bike man gid dira). This will then create a positive feedback loop where cyclists use the bike lanes, motorists become more careful, the city becomes more bike-friendly, the bike-friendliness encourages more people to cycle, and so on. So, while it’s true that the rule of law has to be upheld, it also matters for the public to demand–courageously demand–what is their due.

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