ILOILO CITY, Philippines – By day, the historic heritage street of Calle Real is bustling with activity, as Ilonggos go about their daily lives in the decades-old business district.
By night, however, Calle Real comes alive in a different way. The roaring jeeps and cars are gone, and instead incandescent street lamps light up the quiet street, rendering it a scene straight out of the Spanish era.
This was one of the stops on a Tuesday night biking tour held by members of iFOLD, a group of cycling enthusiasts who hold regular biking activities around the city. For this particular night, the group held what it calls a “visi-tour” for Rappler – a tour-by-bike to the famed tourist spots of Iloilo City.
One of the group’s members is Wilfredo Sy Jr, an architect by profession who also runs café and bike rental shop Fitstop, where visitors can avail of tours to discover the city on two wheels.
Iloilo City, after all, is hailed as one of the Philippines’ most walk-friendly and bike-friendly places. Aside from hosting an annual biking festival, the city is also investing in infrastructure to encourage more people to bike. A 5-kilometer bike lane runs on Diversion Road, and soon, another 4-kilometer bike lane is set to connect to that, running through the city’s university area.
Through its weekly night rides, iFOLD hopes to encourage more Ilonggos to bike to work and around the city instead of using motorized transportation.
The proposed university bike loop, a project in which Sy is involved in, would go around 6 major tertiary institutions and would stand to benefit some 58,000 students.
“Part of the logic why we did it with university groups first is that there are active cycling groups there,” Sy said.
He also pointed out that even before Iloilo City had bike lanes, people were already going around the city on two wheels.
But the city is banking on the idea that with better bike infrastructure that would help protect cyclists as they go around the city, more people would be encouraged to use bicycles instead of cars.
Tour by bike
One of the ways iFOLD is promoting cycling is by linking it up with tourism. On this particular “visi-tour,” the 20-kilometer route would cover the heritage areas of the city that most tourists only get to visit in the daytime.
From Fitstop’s headquarters along Diversion Road, the group kicked off the tour on the bike lane running on the highway – a smooth, easy ride, as the lane helped protect the group from motor vehicles sharing the road.
For around two hours, the bike tour covered Iloilo City’s famed tourist hotspots, such as the Jaro Cathedral, the old Iloilo provincial capitol, Calle Real, and Plaza Libertad, among others. With the city streets almost deserted at night, it was like being on a private city tour without the bustling crowds.
With a total travel time of just around two hours, bike tours like these also highlight the fact that one can get around Iloilo City quite easily by bike.
But the challenge, Sy said, is convincing people that biking to work – for many, just a 5-kilometer distance – is possible.
Raising awareness is also another challenge, because even with the bike lanes, other road users seem to have an apparent disregard – or even outright hostility – towards bikers.
“There are jeepney drivers or taxi drivers who try to corner you. Sometimes you can talk it over with them,” Sy said.
“On the other hand, there are traffic enforcers who even help us out during a bike ride, stopping traffic for us when we cross the road,” he added.
But Sy is also aware of the risks that bikers like him face. In May 2016, Sy figured in a road crash, after a vehicle rear-ended his bicycle, sending him tumbling down on the road. Fortunately, he did not sustain major injuries and was able to recover completely after two months.
This is where road safety education comes in. Sy hopes that more people would be educated on how to properly use bike lanes, and that motorists accord cyclists respect while sharing the road.
Despite these risks and the challenges they face, Iloilo’s biking enthusiasts hope that their weekly rides – making them a staple presence on the city’s roads – would promote more awareness of cycling and encourage others to join their community.
Aside from promoting a healthy lifestyle and an alternative mode of transportation, the group’s weekly night rides allow them to see their own city with new eyes. This is one thing they’d like to share with their fellow Ilonggos.
“Sometimes we revisit old places, sometimes we look for new routes. We constantly explore the city,” said Sy. – Rappler.com