MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Soon, all roads to be constructed in the Philippines must feature sidewalks and bike lanes.
This was the promise of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje in a statement issued on Thursday, November 27, during a Share the Road Movement event.
In his statement, Paje said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had initially proposed a 4-meter sidewalk and 4-meter bike lane – at least half of road space – to be required "before an ECC (Environmental Compliance Certifice) is issued to any new road project."
But consultations with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) brought down the requirement to a one-meter sidewalk and one-meter bike lane.
Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Director Jonas Leones confirmed this to Rappler on Friday, saying a Department Administrative Order or Memorandum Circular is being drafted and will be released next week.
The EMB is the agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that issues ECCs for both public and private construction projects.
This is the first time for the DENR to incorporate the sidewalk and bike lane requirement in the Environmental Impact Assessment for roads, said Leones. The EIA is a process that all projects must go through before obtaining an ECC. The ECC is a required document to begin construction.
An Executive Order allows the DENR to impose this requirement, said Leones. They are basing their actions on Executive Order 774 issued in December 2008 that requires the government to create a system that "shall favor non-motorized locomotion and collective transportation systems (walking, bicycling, and the man-powered mini-train."
It directs government agencies to "transform the road system to favor persons who have no motor vehicles." (READ: 5 most walkable, bikeable PH cities)
The Department of Transportation and Communications also said it has its own plans to improve pedestrian experience in Metro Manila.
The requirement is welcomed by cyclists and advocates of sustainable transportation.
"It's a brilliant strategy that will spark a series of actions that could lead to social change," said Share the Road convener and award-winning environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr.
He called it a "catalytic intervention" that would bring upon multiple benefits to society including less traffic jams, improved air quality, healthier lifestyles, reduced dependence on costly fuel, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The Share the Road Movement has long been asking government to provide more road space for the majority of Filipinos who do not own cars.
Investing in covered sidewalks, safe bike lanes, and better mass transport systems would encourage more people to walk, commute, or bike to their destination rather than take cars.
“This is a step in the right direction for more sustainable living," said Karen Crisostomo of the National Bicycle Organization.
"It is complementary to what National Bicycle Organization is working towards: a mind-shift; changing the general public’s thinking that roads are for cars to roads that are to be shared…If implemented, and we definitely need political will and power to see this through, it will be a stark change in the system and structure of how roads are built and used.”
The DENR stands to gain much from requiring sidewalks and bike lanes since it will help them reach targets on air pollution reduction, said Leones.
At the National Clean Air Month celebration, Paje said that President Benigno Aquino III made air quality the "number one key result area of the DENR."
Under this directive, the department aims to bring Metro Manila air quality to international standards by 2016.
In the first half of 2014, Metro Manila registered air pollution levels of 136 micrograms per Normal cubic meter (ug/Ncm), in terms of total suspended particulates (TSP). The TSP standard of the World Health Organization for safe air is 90 ug/Ncm.
According to the DENR, emissions from vehicles account for 80% of air pollution in Metro Manila. This is largely due to traffic congestion that keeps vehicles on the road longer, increased population which has led to more cars, and weak enforcement of emissions regulations. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.