5 PH cities to block off roads for pedestrians, cyclists

Pia Ranada

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Iloilo, Cebu, Pasig, San Juan and Marikina will block off major roads from cars and reserve them for cyclists and pedestrians this week

BIKING FOR A CAUSE. Bikers join the Share the Road movement's march to the Supreme Court to file a petition for government agencies to implement road-sharing. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Five Philippine cities are blocking off major roads for bikers and pedestrians this week in support of the movement to promote sustainable mass transport systems in the country.

They are composed of 3 cities in Metro Manila – San Juan, Pasig and Marikina – and two cities in the Visayas – Iloilo and Cebu.

On Thursday, March 27, San Juan City will close N. Domingo Street from motorized vehicles from 6 am to 12 pm for “Lakad at Bisikleta sa Araw ni San Juan” (Walk and Bike on St John’s Day). The road will be reserved for joggers, pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders, and will be used for a 5-kilometer ceremonial bike ride. 

The initiative is said to be a first step to improving the quality of living in the city.

“The people and the leaders of San Juan City envision a wholesome walkable and bikable city,” said San Juan environment officer Dante Santiago.

The 4 other cities will be holding their road-sharing events this weekend, on March 29 and 30.

On March 29, Cebu will mark new bike lanes along two of its major roads, Escario Street and Gorordo Avenue, to welcome the passage of the city’s ordinance on the establishment of more bike lanes. 

Iloilo will hold its first “Fiesta Bisikleta” (Bicycle Festival) on March 30. More than 2,000 cyclists will go on a 25-kilometer “heritage tour” around the city. Non-cyclists can join the tour through pedestrian lanes specially set aside for them. 

The city will also launch the country’s first Philippine Walkable Cities Award which will recognize cities that have taken concrete steps to make their communities more pedestrian-friendly.

It is supported by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and international groups like Clean Air Asia, the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development and the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. The first awarding ceremony will likely take place in 2015.

Marikina is set to hold a fun run on March 29. One of the first bike-friendly cities, the city already boasts of 70 kilometers of bike lanes. 

Meanwhile, Pasig will begin the conversion of a portion of C. Raymundo Avenue into a permanent bike lane. Right now, it is a bike lane only on Sundays.

Pasig is one of the first cities to champion road-sharing. Three of its roads – Ortigas Avenue (formerly Emerald Avenue), MRR Pineda Road and Caruncho Avenue – are already reserved every Sunday for non-motorized forms of transport.

Pasig is also one of the first LGUs to pass an ordinance requiring business establishments to put up bike racks. 

Proof of concept

The participation of these 5 cities is a welcome development for the environmentalists, cyclists and health advocates who support the Share the Road movement.

The campaign calls on government to devote half of all Philippine roads to covered walkways and bike lanes, efficient train systems and bus rapid transit. 

DIVIDE THE ROAD. Roads shouldn't be devoted just to cars but should give space for the majority of Filipinos who take public transport. All images from Tony Oposa

Though the DENR is the only national agency, so far, to throw its support behind the movement, the active involvement of LGUs is seen as a good sign. 

“LGU involvement is 100 times more effective because in a city, the [local] chief executive calls the shots. The effect is on the ground. In the case of Iloilo, it was Mayor Jed Mabilog who mobilized for the festival. The initiative from the top met with the initiative from below which came mostly from the city’s cycling groups,” said Valerie Cruz, co-convenor of the Share the Road movement.

“With enough LGUs reserving roads for sustainable transport, the national government will be forced to pay attention. We just need proof of concept,” Cruz added. 

On February 17, around a hundred citizens walked and cycled to the Supreme Court in Manila to file a petition for the government to enforce road-sharing and improve mass transportation. 

Supporters of the movement believe roads should be devoted not only to cars but to efficient mass transport systems that will serve the majority of Filipinos who commute.

“Only 1% of Filipinos own cars yet they dominate most roads in the country,” decried environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr during the movement’s press launch.  (READ: Taming the traffic beast of Metro Manila)

The petition also asked the Supreme Court to issue a Writ of Kalikasan against 8 government bodies including the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

The Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy ordering concerned agencies to act on environmental threats, in this case, urban air pollution. 

According to the DENR, motorized vehicles account for 80% of air pollution in the country. (READ: Outdoor air pollution a leading cause of cancer – WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recently reported that 7 million people died of air pollution in 2012.

Promoting efficient train and bus systems, biking and walking can help reduce the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing air pollution. 

On February 18, the Supreme Court issued a resolution directing the 8 government agencies to comment on the petition.

None of the agencies have responded so far, Oposa told Rappler. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.