Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Solving Metro Manila traffic problems: Pedal power anyone?

Better Philippines poses this one question:
If I will be given a chance I will ask our candidates one simple question to test their creative thinking and to see if they really have what it takes to solve our country’s problems. My question will be: How do you plan to solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem?
Before we can even do away with the bane of most private motorists, which are jeeps and buses, we have to find alternative means of transportation for our people.

When fuel prices went beyond $100 per barrel last year and pump prices in the Philippines breached the P50.00 per liter level, Senator Richard Gordon began proposing a number of solutions that would not only reduce traffic but also help curb our country's demand for fossil fuels.

One solution, much to the staff's private consternation, was to get more people to use bicycles.

The kernel of the idea is, perhaps, if there are lesser vehicles on the road there will be lesser traffic.  Our streets will also be used more efficiently since more people can occupy the same space if they are on bicycles than if they are inside cars, jeeps, or buses.

I almost laughed because I suddenly remembered the story of Ariel Ureta (which he has already debunked) being made to bike around the CCP after he quipped, "Para sa pag-unlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan!" which spoofed one of Marcos' slogans.

Well, the idea ain't new but maybe it gained some currency again because of all the talk about global warming and climate change -- apart from the high price of gas and diesel.  More people using bicycles would reduce carbon emissions while slackening the demand for gas and diesel.

A bill was circulating in the US Congress for some time and it proposed incentives for people who ride bicycles to work.  In October last year, former President George Bush signed the Bicycle Commuter Benefits Act and the law provides:
The benefit -- up to $20 per month -- begins with the new year in 2009. Employers may reimburse employees, tax free, for "reasonable" expenses related to their bike commute, including equipment purchases, bike purchases, repairs, and storage if the bicycle is used as a "substantial part" of the commuter's trip to work for the month.
If the Philippine government would grant the same incentive, I am pretty sure a lot of Filipinos would risk the perils of riding a bike to work everyday for roughly a thousand pesos (the equivalent of $20) a month.  This, of course, is not to mention the amount of money they'll save from not having to pay fare.

Even without such an incentive, I think riding a bicycle to work already has a lot of benefits.

One benefit would perhaps be a healthier population because of the exercise this entails and also because less people will be using jeeps or Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) that spew a lot of black smoke.  We'll all have a better chance of having healthier hearts and cleaner lungs.

If a lot of people who normally ride jeeps or buses to work begin using bicycles, there will also be a good reason to reduce the number PUVs on the road and this will lead to an improvement in traffic conditions because PUVs are often the cause of severe traffic congestion.

Then again, I tried imagining myself riding a bicycle to work and to tell you the truth, I couldn't.

Granting that bicycle lanes are created throughout the city and other safety measures are installed, riding a bicycle to work for me would entail a gruelling 20 kilometer round trip five days a week.  

And at this point, I haven't yet considered the amount of muscle I'd have to develop in order to push the pedal for two people.  This is because my wife will certainly insist on riding with me on the same bicycle because the place where she works is just 2 kilometers near my office.  And, add to this, I'd have to ride the bike up either the Quiapo Bridge, Ayala Bridge, or the Nagtahan Bridge -- all of which are kinda steep.

Apart from bicycle lanes, offices will have to install shower rooms and lockers.  Riding a bicycle to work in a tropical country will certainly entail a lot of sweating and who'd want to stay inside an airconditioned office where all the people smell of sour sweat?

(Next up, Hoofing it!)

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