At a time when motor vehicles are polluting our air and contributing to climate change, when lives are lost daily in road crashes with private cars, when aspirations for convenient and comfortable private transport result in worsening mobility for all — one mode of transport, the bicycle, is a ready solution to many of our urban transportation problems.
In a recent social media post, Lawrence Celestino — a medical doctor, daily bicycle user and sustainable mobility advocate — explains in clear and compelling language why bicycles make sense for Philippine cities.
“1. It is pollution-free. It passes every test for pollution with flying colors, superior to nearly every other vehicle by orders of magnitude. Even its construction is the most eco-friendly, and steel bikes are almost 100-percent recyclable, should the owner’s descendants decide not to use it anymore.
“2. It is quiet. This means it does not disturb anyone not involved with it, even when almost right next to them. It is possible for an entire peloton of bicycles to pass right next to you in a cafe without your notice.
“3. It does not endanger other users. The typical old steel safety bicycle weighs between 40 to 50 pounds, and most modern bicycles will weigh a fraction of that. UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body for competitive cycling events] even had to put rules saying a racing bike must weigh a minimum of 6.8 kilograms, because it is now possible to make a bicycle that weighs less than a toddler. Moreover, transport cyclists average between 15 to 20 kph (kilometers per hour) only, which means they only go as fast as a quick jogger. It requires a combination of absurd sociopathy, uncommon athleticism, a daring attitude, and suicidal intentions for a cyclist to possibly kill a pedestrian.
“4. It is affordable. Nearly every Pinoy can afford a second-hand bicycle, and if they can’t, they can usually make one if they just hang out at a junkyard long enough. Even security guards can usually afford a fairly upscale ride.
“5. It is safe to operate. Being no faster than fast running, and no heavier than children, bicycles are generally unusually safe vehicles to operate, even for newbies. Even when you crash, you are extremely unlikely to die, unless you are in the vicinity of extremely dangerous vehicles. In that case, you are usually no worse off than walking in the same space.
“6. They are very space-efficient. Bicycles take less roadspace even than motorcycles, surpassing the roadspace efficiency of public transit in some estimates. There may be many factors in this other than that they are small when in use. They almost never discharge or load passengers on any roadspace. They take up almost no parking space. Folding bikes literally take up no parking space, since they can be parked under office tables. They are also space-flexible, meaning that four people on a bicycle don’t take up space the way four people on a bus do. A roadspace filled with bicyclists is always used to nearly maximum efficiency for the vehicular type.
“7. It improves public health. The health benefits of cycling are well-known, and even the relatively modest daily exercise of a five-kilometer commute improves the health of city dwellers, who are usually notoriously sedentary. This unloads cost from public health services, and makes the public more physically capable of responding to disasters.
“8. It is easy and convenient to repair. Ever see a bicycle with engine trouble or a flat tire causing traffic obstruction? Yeah, me, too. This just never happens. This isn’t because bicycles are invulnerable to mechanical failure. It’s just that a bicycle flat is ridiculously easy to repair, and any mechanical failure that can’t be repaired roadside doesn’t require tow-truck solutions. Most bicycles can simply be loaded onto public transport and taken to a shop that way. Bicycle on bicycle collisions generally don’t damage either vehicle and never require the intervention of police to reroute traffic. Worst case, the bicyclist takes their vehicle off the road and sticks it under the table while they have coffee.”
“9. They engender appreciation and community. Bicycles are open vehicles, and they’re relatively pleasant to ride. People riding bicycles can appreciate the beauty of bridges, roadway features, and statues far more than anyone on faster or more isolated vehicles. It is also much easier to offer greetings or have a nice conversation with other users on a stoplight when you don’t have to worry about a 500-pound machine or don’t have to talk through glass. Having a cheaper machine also means you’re more open to leaving it on the sidewalk to help during an accident. Whenever there is a roadside incident, motorcyclists and cyclists are usually present to render aid, voluntarily.”
Take it from Lawrence Celestino. A bicycle-friendly Philippines would be a happier, healthier and more productive Philippines. Period.
Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, city and regional planner, and public transport advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @RobertRsiy.