As we now look forward to the eventual lifting of the “Enhanced Community Quarantine” (ECQ) towards mid-May, we are now beginning to plan how life will be like by then. COVID-19’s scourge has affected our lives in a lot of ways, and this will definitely continue to affect our lives post-ECQ. Most apparent will be our [already] challenging daily commute in Manila. If this crisis has manifested anything significantly, it is this: The bike is a valuable tool in getting around, and biking under a “new normal” will be something everyone will have to seriously consider.
How was it like to commute in Manila before COVID-19 even became a thing? Heavy traffic was everywhere. [Working] trains are hard to come by, and you’d probably want to book for your own taxi (TNVS), if it wasn’t for the highly exorbitant fees.
When we move from “Enhanced Community Quarantine” to “General Community Quarantine” to eventual normalization, there will be a “New Normal”: Using hand sanitizers, wearing masks, and social / physical distancing will continue to be implemented by each individual to minimize the risks of contracting COVID-19. This, at least until we are able to find a vaccine and apply it en masse.
Sanitizers and alcohols are still readily available, and will become easier (again) to procure later on. Same goes for masks, when the supply is replenished. But can you imagine how hard(er) commuting will become given the need to do social / physical distancing? Buses (prior to COVID) burst at the seams, trying to accommodate as many commuters as possible. The same situation existed for jeepneys, both the traditional ones and the “e-jeepneys”. Our MRT, LRT, and PNR train lines are still undergoing rehabilitation. It will take a considerable time before distancing can be comfortably enforced there. How can we attain peace of mind amidst the spread of COVID-19 when our existing preferred ways of getting around already heightens the risk of getting it?
We can manage these if we increasingly involve biking under a new normal.
Earlier this Sunday, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chief traffic enforcer Edison “Bong” Nebrija posted this on his Facebook wall:
Words of support from government agencies are quite refreshing and welcoming to hear, especially when we have seen that the bicycle is the cheapest way of getting around during this crisis. He mentioned the right words, focusing on what will greatly help people’s mobility during this crisis. We can’t magically have an improved transport modes right now, but we have super “easy wins” with these things which aren’t being given enough focus these days: Alternative mobility. And as we have been advocating for quite some time now, biking is surely one of them.
Getting people to bike under a new normal
Hopefully the local government units (LGUs) will start implementing more of these initiatives which have proven effective in Pasig City. The private sector can also give a lending hand, as some of these suggestions are quite possible even without the LGU’s lead.
Bike racks / bike parking
We’ve heard the cliché countless times: Build it, and they will come! The recent COVID-19 crisis showed that bikes are a good way to get around, but when you get to your destination, it would be a reeeeally huge sign of encouragement if there is a ready place to park your bike safely and securely! Pasig City’s 2011 Ordinance pushed for providing bike parking across establishments within the city.
It would be absolutely fantastic if the day will come when a bike commuter will not have to worry anymore about where to park because bike racks are readily available. It won’t anymore be a question of “where is the nearest bike rack?”, or “is the bike rack lighted or covered?”, because they are already provided, and provided well!
On a related note… Can’t government and private entities also have bike parkings adjacent to public transit stations, like on UV Express terminals, bus stations, and MRT stations? Some trips are multi-modal, i.e., a combination of more than one type of transport. The bike surely can help getting that last mile for some commuters — just make sure to provide the parking in a very secure and quality manner, of course.
Separating pedal-powered machines from vehicular traffic helps a lot especially for those wanting to explore more of this “biking option”. Beginners to bike commuting feel a lot of pressure and stress whenever they imagine that they’ll have to go through places that motorcycles or cars just speed through.
We should make it as comfortable and easy for users of these bike lanes to encourage continuous use. Some bike lanes constructed in the past were made just for the sake of being able to say they were constructed. How I wish that the biker’s experience was thoroughly focused on!
What makes for comfortable user experience?
- Smooth and wide-enough lanes
- No surprise steep ramps
- No crevices that pose a risk or hazard to bicycle tires
- … and more! (care to share?)
It’s a matter of asking the right people to come up with a very specific and ideal picture of what will work for them.
Lastly, we need to expand and interconnect the bike lane networks of the cities of Pasig and Marikina! Seeing that we have to cater to a daytime population of about 15 million, the better we can improve our bike lane network, the better and more enticing it will be for people biking after quarantine!
Is it asking (or wishing) for too much? Shower and change rooms will help improve the hygiene not only for those who bike, but the rest of workers as well. Again, in this time of COVID-19, sanitizing is one thing, but what will surely help us against this coronavirus is continuous and quality hand- (and body-) washing.
Bicycle loans, anyone?
Here’s a not-so-crazy idea: Can we get banks and financial institutions to lend funds to people at low interest rates? These days, it is super easy just to sign up for auto loans or motorcycle loans. Sometimes there’s barely any downpayment (if there’s any, at all!)
Can we not do the same to help wean people off motor-driven machines? Can’t the likes of e-wallets like Gcash (via Gcredit) or Hello Money have tie-ups for bike loans? Sikad Loans, anyone? Any idea to help people get invested in bikes would be super welcome! Bikes, after all, are investments for health, the environment, and in the case of COVID crisis, a way to help in distancing measures.
When the quarantine ends, our lives will not necessarily go back to normal. Not for a while, at least. Each of us will have to chip in to do whatever we can to do social / physical distancing measures as part of a “new normal”. The Filipino biking community surely has a lot of suggestions when it comes to biking after quarantine. We’re just hoping the government and the private sector will listen and help implement these solutions. These solutions, after all, could not be any more significant than now, during the time of COVID-19.