THE easing of pandemic restrictions across the Philippines and the return of most normal activities have been most welcome. What has not been welcome, however, particularly in and around Metro Manila and other congested urban areas such as Cebu and Baguio, is the return of paralyzing traffic. This, along with heightened concerns for the environment in the wake of the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, has inspired a growing activist movement among supporters of bicycling and other alternative forms of transportation, who are determined to make their advocacy an issue in the election campaign. We believe it should be.

Bicycles as an alternative form of transportation enjoyed a brief surge of popularity at the height of the pandemic, when public transportation options were severely restricted. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and local governments in the metro and other parts of the country responded by expanding bike lanes along some major roads, and did, at least for a brief period of time, promote bicycling as a safe, environmentally friendly option. Bicycle shops also saw their business boom during the period, one of the few business niches that were successful during the worst part of the pandemic-related recession last year.

As often happens with promising initiatives, however, the momentum toward creating "bike-friendly" streets was quickly lost as soon as the heavy pandemic restrictions began to ease. While some of the new bike lanes have endured — for example (and somewhat surprisingly), the one running most of the length of EDSA — others have returned to their usual misuse as space for parking and street vendors. Most disappointingly, some new infrastructure — in particular the Estrella-Pantaleon and Kalayaan Bridges linking Makati with Mandaluyong and Pasig, respectively — has been completed without provisions for either bicycle or pedestrian lanes, despite those having been promised by the builders when the designs were first presented.

The advantages of bicycling are obvious. It is a healthy activity, although one must observe sensible safety precautions given the Philippines' hot climate and normally crowded streets. It is also a very economical way to travel. Depending on the costs of one's normal commute and how much he or she might be willing to spend to purchase a bicycle, the machine could pay for itself in a matter of weeks or months, with transportation being virtually free after that. And of course, bicycles are supremely environmentally friendly, creating absolutely no harmful emissions from their use.

Be that as it may, bicycles are not for everyone, and due attention still needs to be given to developing proper infrastructure to relieve ever-increasing traffic congestion, and the negative economic and environmental consequences that go along with it. Where we believe the growing "bicycle advocacy" may have gotten off on the wrong foot is by presenting the issue as one of "bikes vs cars." The automotive sector is an important economic sector in the Philippines and will inevitably always be necessary; supporting it so that it can contribute positively to more efficient transportation and technologies and the country's overall economic well-being is likewise necessary.

Nevertheless, bicycles and other forms of alternative transportation must be a part of the national conversation on development and a holistic approach to balancing economic growth, mobility, environmental sustainability and quality of life. This early in the election campaign, little of consequence has been offered by candidates to give insights into how they might approach infrastructure development. Some candidates in both national and local campaigns have acknowledged the subject in general terms — they can hardly avoid it, as infrastructure has been a constant top priority of the Duterte administration — but not yet with any real substance.

We expect that to change as the candidates learn more about their prospective constituents' views and wishes, and turn those insights into proposed policies. We urge those with broad advocacies for the public good,such as promoting bicycles and other alternatives, to continue to make their voices heard and to oblige candidates to answer them, offering their views in order to give voters more information to make their choices.