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After years of prodding the government to heed their cause, cycling advocates have finally been recognized. With the establishment of dedicated bicycle lanes around the metropolis, and the Department of Interior and Local Government’s mandate to have Local Government Units establish protected biking lanes, cyclists can finally breathe a sigh of relief. 

While it is unfortunate that it took a pandemic to effect change, it’s a change that is most welcome. DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-100 promulgated last July 17, 2020 was a landmark directive that finally recognized the presence of cyclists as co-users of our roads. It also mandated LGUs to create a network of routes in their own localities designed to protect cyclists from motorized vehicles and promote riding as an alternative means of transport. 

To give this earlier memorandum some teeth, the Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Public Works and Highways together with the DILG, recently signed Joint Administrative Order 2020-0001. The JAO, entitled “Guidelines on the Proper Use and Promotion of Active Transport During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic” provides guidance for the promotion and safe use of active transport during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this JAO, national and local government agencies are given directions on how to properly promote and encourage cycling as a means of transport. 

The DOTR itself has seen the need to establish an interconnected bicycle grid servicing the various cities of Metro Manila. This with the objective of lowering carbon emissions as the department sets up interim bike lanes servicing Manila and Quezon City hospitals for the convenience of frontliners. Even the DOH weighed-in with its own online graphic about Frequently Asked Questions on the proper conduct of cyclists using the newly set-up bicycle lanes. And yes, according to the health department, face masks are still mandatory when cycling. 

But cycling should be more than just about avoiding COVID-19 infection. More than just being a means from point A to B. Even with the protected bicycle lanes put up by the government, or the public bike repair stations  put up by Quezon City Congressman Alan Reyes along Commonwealth Avenue, cycling must be adopted by the people as a culture and a norm for it to succeed as a true sustainable and viable means of transport. And that means cyclists should also adopt practices that will ensure their safety with or without protected bicycle lanes if only to lessen riding incidents and encourage more people to consider bicycles as the main means of transport.

Jose Mari Ramos, a recently retrenched HR Trainer, is just now seeing the health benefits of cycling. Having owned a bicycle for two years, he only got to ride more heavily during the easing of the community quarantines last June. ‘Since I left work, I have gotten used to riding every day for fitness and doing errands. It is actually liberating,” relates the 46 year-old. 

As a recreational rider, he always wears a bicycle helmet whenever he ventures out. Recognizing the dangers inherent in every ride, Ramos also makes sure he wears bright or reflective clothing so that motorists will be able to see him easily. His bike is also equipped with white blinkers at the front and a red one at the rear for enhanced visibility by other road users. And as a responsible rider, he also uses hand signals whenever he intends to make a turn or change lanes. “I  resist the urge to squeeze myself in tight spots especially between trucks or between the gutter and a truck,” he adds. All basic riding etiquette that lessen the chances of incidents between cyclists and other vehicles. 

For cycling advocate Ekong Caruncho of Bike to Work Pilipinas, a 30,000-strong online community of bikers who ride to work, “sharing the road” is essential for cyclists and motorists being able to ride safely. Like Ramos, Caruncho prefers to take the extra measure of protection. “If applicable, take the bicycle lane,” he declares. 

Cycling advocate Ekong Caruncho (center) of Bike to Work Pilipinas with his biking friends

As an advocate for protected bicycle lanes since 2013, the advertising art director has noticed that there are still instances  where parked vehicles, road works or puddles can make cyclists move out of the dedicated bike lanes.  “I thank the government for putting these up for us. But there are certain areas that are difficult to traverse on these lanes,” shares Caruncho.  Despite this, he recognizes the recent government directives have been a boon to bicycle commuters. “Yeah, I believe that  the government, as well as LGUs, are catching up to what is needed.” And catching up with the realities of riding to work couldn’t have come sooner for many.

After eight years of riding to work, Ramel Graciano, a security guard for an automotive company based in Makati, continues to take his bicycle on a 30 to 45-minute one-way ride every day. This despite figuring in a riding incident with a wayward motorcycle just little over a year ago. “First, I always say that we should take care when riding, especially if we do not know the roads,” shares the 53-year old cyclist.

For someone who has been riding to work for almost a decade, he too recognizes certain practices that are needed to ensure his safety in every commute. According to Graciano,  “I always keep to the side of the road, and when I do change lanes, I always look first to the side. I also avoid riding side-by-side with other vehicles, especially the large ones, on the road.” 

And crucial to every road user, whether on cars or bicycles is the respect for law and order. “Follow the rules of the road,” Graciano reminds, as he realizes the importance of responsible road use in guaranteeing a safe ride.

This same sentiment is shared by accomplished restaurateur, Cocoy Ignacio, Jr. “As a former drive to work practitioner,  I always think from a car driver perspective when I’m biking. I follow all traffic rules and traffic signs.” He adds, “I do not hog the lanes and I make it a point to just stay at the side of the road. I also do proper hand signals when turning or stopping,” 

Ignacio, who has been cycling to work for 5 years already, also makes sure to go over his bicycle prior to each ride. “Before leaving the house I make sure the bike is in good condition. I check the tire pressure, brakes and other small things.” Certainly, basic bike maintenance is key to its reliability. 

And as a restaurant owner responsible for a burgeoning business, Ignacio makes sure he rides under ideal situations for his own safety. “I also don’t leave too early nor go home too late. I don’t feel very safe biking in the dark.”

With the government doing its part to slowly introduce road reforms and safety measures to ensure the safety of cyclists in the “New Normal,” cyclists and motorists themselves need to learn to coexist amicably in what is already a road network bordering on chaos. 

Like in any ride, a steady pace is needed to ensure one gets to his destination. For cycling to succeed, all stakeholders need to ride true and focused on a common goal of ensuring the health and safety of every rider.