Frontliners struggle every day biking to work

Madenn Segarra works in the COVID-19 ward of Philippine General Hospital (PGH). She bikes to the hospital every day, yet even as a biker herself, Segarra shared her concern for the safety of all frontliners biking to work. 

Speaking at a press conference held on Zoom for World Bicycle Day, Segarra showed the many bikes parked at PGH behind her. Biking has been one of the primary alternative modes of transportation for frontliners, as public transport was halted on the first phase of the enhanced community quarantine. 

But ever since the relaxation of the quarantine, more people and vehicles have returned to the streets. Segarra said it’s different, and even more difficult now, weaving her way to and fro the hospital with droves of cars on the road. 

Because doctors, nurses, and other medical frontliners have been working for long shifts, stretching well into the night, it is also a struggle to bike home in the dark. Segarra was hoping some advocacy groups would distribute reflectorized vests to make them more visible on the road.

Struggle to bike to work

Just how difficult is it to bike on the road? For Dr. Lon Mangubat, an anesthesiologist who also works at PGH and bikes going to hospitals for 10 years, biking to work is not something he would advise to co-workers. “I advise them not to. I’ve been biking so long I know it’s unsafe.”

The lack of bike infrastructure, interconnected bike paths in cities, and hospital loops have made cycling for frontliners a risky business every day. This is emphasized more when on June 1, the national government declared general community quarantine in Metro Manila and workers turned to biking as a mode of transport, while some commuters were stranded. (Related story: 1st day of Metro Manila GCQ: ‘Walang masakyan’)

In the same online press conference initiated by COVID-19 Action Network Philippines, media personality Gretchen Ho shared her experience simulating what frontliners and other essential workers have to go through when cycling to work.

The TV host biked from Quezon City to Taguig, going through EDSA. Ho realized it was frustrating to cycle through the city with disrespectful drivers, unconnected bike lanes, lack of bike infrastructure and road map. 

Ho says drivers and government units must give a fair share of the road to cyclists as well. "When you're inside the car, it’s so easy to say to people na bakit hindi na lang yung mga bisikleta ang nasa side street, kasi sila naman ‘yung kayang mag maneuver 'di ba? (It's easy to say those on bikes should be in the side streets because they can maneuver, right?) It’s so easy to say that. It’s so easy to dismiss that. But I realized it’s an issue of equality, of social justice.” 

Current initiatives

There are a few silver linings though. 

Beyond painting a picture of the current struggles of frontliners biking to work, the online press conference also tackled and recognized the efforts and initiatives of local government units, national government, and civil society organizations on making a bike-friendly Metro Manila. 

The Department of Transportation has proposed “almost P 1 billion” for bike infrastructure, and is coordinating with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to contribute a P150-million budget for bike lanes in EDSA.

New bike lanes were launched in San Juan City and Taguig City Wednesday, June 3. San Juan’s freshly minted lanes stretch 4.21 kilometers, connecting San Juan Medical Center and Cardinal Santos Medical Center. 

A provision on the need for bike lanes and safe pathways including the hospital loops was inserted in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which is expected to be ratified within next week.

Advocates are particularly pushing for the prioritization of establishing bike lanes connecting hospitals for the protection of frontliners going to and fro the hospitals. 

Keisha Mayuga of Life Cycles PH says, "Nurses and doctors are out risking their lives fighting COVID-19. We need to ensure their safety by protecting them immediately and for the long term.” – Rappler.com

Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum is a member of Rappler's digital communications team. When off the grid, she’s either a hundred/thousand meters above sea level – or dreaming about it. You may email her at iya.gozum@rappler.com.

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