CEBU CITY, Philippines – Amid criticism over a new policy affecting cyclists, Cebu officials assured them on Friday, September 13, that they can still use bridges connecting Mactan island and mainland Cebu – for as long as they get off their bikes and lug them across, using the pedestrian path.
The Mactan-Cebu Bridge Management Board (MCBMB) chaired by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia issued the statement in a press conference on Friday, days after it announced that cyclists would be completely banned from using the Mactan-Mandaue bridges.
In the same announcement made on Wednesday, September 11, the MCBMB said that pedestrians would be banned from crossing the bridge from 1 am to 5 am.
Why the ban? It depends who you ask. Suicide prevention was the reason initially discussed during the board’s September 11 meeting.
In his presentation at the meeting, traffic and monitoring analyst Leo Bacus showed data that 4 committed death by suicide using Marceloa Fernan Bridge and the Sergio Osmeña Bridge, 3 survived the attempts, while 17 other suicide attempts were prevented. (READ: More CCTVs, AI monitoring proposed to prevent suicides on Cebu bridges)
It was noted that several of these attempts were made by individuals who got to the bridge via bicycle.
But Land Transportation Office Region 7 Director Victor Caindec said in a statement on Friday, September 13, that banning bikes was not just about preventing suicides but also traffic management and bikers’ safety.
“The bike ban of the MCBMB on the main roads of the bridge is due to the traffic being caused by slow bikes moving alongside motorcycles and high speed vehicles,” Caindec said. “Potentially fatal accidents to befall on bikers, which extends well into the issue of traffic and liability.”
Provincial consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda said that bicycles are banned on the bridge because it is a national highway.
Sepulveda and Caindec cited Republic Act No. 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code as legal basis of the ban. That law, originally signed in 1963, regulates transportation and laws on the road – and according to the MCBMB’s interpretation of the law, disallows bicycles on national highways.
Article I Section V of the law indeed prohibits “motor vehicles and trailers of any type” not registered with the LTO from using highways. However, the language of the law does not explicitly ban bicycles from using highways.
But the MCBMB, which was created through Executive Order 181 in 1999, does have the power to regulate the bridge and the policy on bicycles the bridge was passed unanimously.
Can cyclists still cross the bridge? According to the new order, they would have to get off their bikes at the starting point of either bridge and walk the full stretch to the other side before riding their bikes.
Pedestrians may continue to use the designated pedestrian paths during non-curfew hours.
What the cycling community said. Cyclists are a common sight on the bridge.
Tony Galon, an advocate for biking to work, told Rappler: “They forgot there are lots who bike to work and instead of pushing this to have a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for every Filipino, they are going the other way around.
“Biking is one way to solve our worsening traffic for people working in Cebu City and working in Mactan and vice versa,” Galon said.
Nigel Paul Villarete, a former Cebu City official and biking advocate, said in a Facebook post that a study they conducted found 9 out of 10 bikers are commuters.
“Using bikes as a mode of transportation and mobility actually alleviates the problem!” he said in his post.
Villarete called on the board to reconsider its decision. “There are Cebuanos, both in Mactan and the mainland, who cross the bridges on their way to work and these people will be adversely deprived of their livelihood,” he said.
Why it matters? According to recent data by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), between 40,000 and 70,000 vehicles cross the two bridges daily.
The Sergio Osmeña Bridge, built in 1972, is the smaller bridge, while Marcelo Fernan Bridge has two lanes in each direction. The two bridges, along with a ferry service, are the only ways to serve the thousands who need to cross between the two islands daily, often leading to prolonged traffic jams.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan said on September 12: “I urge the governor or the Board to give it consideration because we know what the situation is like here in Lapu-Lapu. And with only one of the two pedestrian lanes on both bridges open, it will create a big problem. That’s more than 10,000 students from Lapu-Lapu City who have to get to the other side and some of them use the bridges’ pedestrian lanes.”
Chan also asked the governor to reconsider the pedestrian curfew on the bridges.
“Many go home during that time and can’t afford the fare that’s why they walk. Plus, jeepneys are few and far after midnight. Anyway, if somebody really wants to jump off the bridge, the police will be there to monitor,” he said in Cebuano.
What’s next? While the board seemed set on making passengers walk their bicycles across the bridge on the pedestrian paths, it expressed willingness to discuss tweaking the curfew hours if enough enforcement mechanisms to prevent suicides and other incidents would be in place.
“We will discuss the matter,” Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, MCBMB chair, said during Friday’s press conference. Also discussed were punishment of ban violators and specifics on enforcement.
Many cycling advocates have also been pushing local government units to make their cities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
In this city, some progress had been made in improving conditions for cyclists. The Cebu City Council had introduced an ordinance that would require all new road construction, expansion or bridges built in the city to incorporate bike lanes in its design, according to a report in The Freeman.
On the national level, the Department of Public Works and Highways opened the country’s first protected bike lane along the Laguna Lake Highway in February 2019. (READ: LOOK: Philippines gets first protected bike lane along national highway)
Several bills have also been introduced to improve conditions for cyclists in the country. – Rappler.com