Call it madness or insanity, it doesn’t matter, but you wouldn’t be far off defining what bicycling is in Metro Manila’s streets, whether you are traversing a major city artery or a simple side street in your barangay. However, you could still see a semblance of order arising out of our cities streets’ cauldron of confusion if you care to do so, only, with a word to the wise, this could ironically drive you to madness or insanity, (choose your own definition or poison, if you like.)
Bike Lanes are for the Mad Bicyclist
Bike lanes are supposed to protect bicyclists from the real world threat of motorized transport and occasionally even from non-pedaling pedestrians. The concept behind bicycle lanes are sound and should actually work to the advantage of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. However, again taking off from the madness/insanity point of view, the bike lanes we see in Metro Manila, particularly those along parts of, (and we do like to emphasize, “parts of” which we will explain later why this is important) Marcos Highway and EDSA in particular, are but plastic remedies to an all-flawed mentality that pervades the minds of local politicos – give some of the people some of the benefits due to them and hope that all of them will forget what they came for and move on. It’s like, “OK, some bicyclists are asking for bike lanes… let’s see… here (pointing to a map of Metro Manila)… we could paint a line here and there, plus construct some sort of barrier here and there… oh wait, there are excavations here and there… well then, let’s leave that there and jump to the next corner and continue from there… hmm… that seems nice… ok call all the newspaper publishers, TV and radio stations and let us announce to the world and all the bicyclists in the country that we now have a network of bike lanes and they should rejoice because we poured all our efforts to design these bike lanes so everyone can benefit and be safe!”
Isn’t it great! (Please try to say that aloud without sounding sarcastic, we dare you!) Well, it’s great for the contractor, great for the storeowner, great for the politicos who used taxpayers’ money to build it. Well, then, let’s celebrate like mad! (Dare!)
A Mad Model for Bike Lanes: Ants
There’s a lesson here somewhere to be learned….
Image from here.
We know that ants are efficient social insects. They build colonies underground or wherever they could, where the colony is safe from invading ants belonging to another colony or species. Have you observed how they follow the food trail left by other ants who have gone ahead hunting for food sources? In a single line, they follow the trail back and forth, from the food source to the colony and then back again for another round trip. You can try this experiment (warning – not a scientific one): find an ant trail, and run your finger across the trail, trying not to touch or hurt an ant. You will notice that they will momentarily stop, hesitating to turn left or right, like they are sniffing around for the scent of the trail that was lost after you run your finger across it. You will notice that after a few seconds, they will find the scent or trail again and continue on. They follow this trail knowing with their tiny ant brain that it will lead to their intended destination. It doesn’t matter whether they’re going or coming. No detours or construction sites can deter them from moving on.
There’s a mad lesson here to be learned by our city planners who plan to put bike lanes in their community: if you want to construct a bike lane, make sure they are continuous and can connect point A to point B without having to pass through insurmountable breeches along the lanes. Bike lanes can only be useful if bicyclists can navigate them without having to look for alternative pathways somewhere along the lanes because the lanes are blocked and littered with holes, construction debris, and parked vehicles owned by the store owner along that part of the bike lanes. Bicyclists can never be as efficient as ants in whatever stretch of the imagination but can we please have bike lanes where we don’t have to rely on our imagination in order to get from point A to point B, without having to make detours, without being afraid of falling into a hole, being on the path of a large SUV or truck, or even colliding with a fellow bicyclist coming from the opposite direction.
Is there a sane way to bike in Metro Manila?
Well, remove the word “sane” and we could tell you without any mad or insane reservation that yes, you can bike in Metro Manila without having to worry about non-existent parts of what is supposed to be a sane way to bike around the city; we are of course referring to well, bike lanes. Why, you’d be mad to bike in Metro Manila anyway, whether there are bike lanes or not. But not to worry, if you are a true-blue bicyclist, a biker to work or a weekend warrior, you’d have known long ago that you are insane and that madness is in your genes. Proof? You are still bicycling, are you not?
While any person of any country can come up with a random bright idea that could solve worldwide problems of any sort, we Filipinos can be bright too, when it comes to resolving our own problems. However, we can still learn a lot from other countries when it comes to bicycling ideas. Here are 5 Bicycling Ideas from other Countries Filipinos Need to Adopt and could really benefit us a lot.