YET another year passes with the turgid stalemate in place, locked down in carmaggedon. The flow inches forward, slowly, with a snail’s pace faster.
And inevitably, eyes turn to the alternatives. Instead of cars, why not a monorail? A monorail would always be on time, predictable, reliable and immune to traffic jams, though foot traffic would be a different question.
And as always, that one person will ask – why not bikes?
And why not, indeed? On paper, it makes a lot of sense, once you discount the rigors of bicycling in the mountains.
The theoretical benefits are immense. Bicycles take up so much less road real estate, emit zero emissions in operation (but not during production), are much cheaper, require less effort on the part of infrastructure once set up, and are a frame-perfect fit for Baguio’s tiny geographic identity. Costs are cheap and significantly lower than a car, making them invariably more accessible to the populace, which consists on the regular of a sizable population of students that usually cannot afford cars.
Active bikers can take their rides dozens of kilometers away, and the city’s miniscule 57 square-kilometer frame means that with a little elbow grease and enough exertion, every single point should theoretically be accessible with the pedals.
One person will ask about the possibility of switching to this mode of transport. A portion of the room will ignore it, a few will vocally support, and once the festivities are over, very little will have changed.
It is as if the idea that roads are invariably for big vehicles has become entrenched into the deepest recesses of our idea, our definition of the very object. Roads are for cars – the sizes are for cars to fit in multiples of, the sidewalks are for pedestrians, and bikers can figure out where they can squeeze.
In tragic circumstances, this sometimes includes a poor, hapless teenager hit by a truck while cycling as a result of cyclists having to share space with vehicles orders of magnitude greater in mass and velocity in a vast majority of the city’s spaces.
That’s what happens when there isn’t a dedicated space and pointed interest. When we are stuck in the ways of thinking of pro-automobile development.
But there are plenty of examples of, if not prioritization, then coexistence of bicycling transport and pedestrianization alongside so-called traditional automotive transport. Many major cities around the world have shown what proper legislation, attention, and development leaning toward bicycling can do.
Billions and billions have been poured into traditional development over the years. At the moment, very little of that is going towards supporting this niche – that should not just be a niche – community of cyclists. Roads are closed on the regular for various activities, and for various little experiments the city wants to test out – why not test out closures for cyclists to see if it clicks.
One thing that may be holding back the city is a reluctance to make such major changes to cater to a subcommunity that seems all but a minority.
However, one thing has proven clear throughout history, in many fields – providing support for something, someone, or someplace will help it grow and grow.
If you build it, they will come.
(In memory of Kenneth Manzano, 13-year-old biker, who perished in a road accident on January 25. May it be a wake-up call to the city to have safe lanes for bikers.)