Last week, I had errands around the city. I had to deliver a belated Christmas gift to a friend in San Juan, take care of papers in Robinson’s Galleria in Ortigas, attend a milk tea meeting in Serendra, return a router to the other side of BGC, do a last-minute errand in Glorietta, and have dinner in Salcedo Village.
I felt rather lazy that day and started out at around 2pm. I took my time, finished everything I had to do and got home at around 7 P.M.
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I didn’t pay a centavo for parking. And I didn’t pay a peso on public transportation. Or taxi fares. Or Grab fares. And come to think of it, I probably would have paid a thousand bucks or more if I did take a taxi or Grab.
How’d I do it?
I rode a bicycle.
I’m one of the few, the proud, the brave, the masochistic, the borderline crazy, who choose to pedal around the city for work and pleasure.
If I was talking to you in person, you’d probably be looking at me with a mix of disbelief, and pity. Because to most Filipinos, riding a bike around a dangerous city like Manila, with its traffic and road-rage prone drivers is inconceivable. And I have been treated badly by security guards insisting I get out of sight lest their bosses and building administrators see me loitering in front of the buildings.
But these days, I choose to bike commute for practical reasons more than green. It is certainly one of the fastest ways to get from point A to point B in Metro Manila.
For example, it usually takes an hour to get from my house on the border of Makati and Pasay to central BGC plus another 30 minutes or so to look for parking. On a bicycle, using the same route up McKinley, it takes about 45 minutes, though I try to get to my destination fifteen minutes early to freshen up.
My street weapon of choice is a folding bike so I really don’t have parking problems. I fold it up, take it in with me, and stash it under the table. If I have a meeting at a hotel, I call ahead and the concierge is happy to keep it safe with the rest of the luggage.
The question people keep on asking “Isn’t it dangerous?”
I like telling people curious enough to suspend their disbelief and pity that “the slower traffic is, the safer it is to ride a bike.” In a city where carmaggedon is threatening to be a daily occurrence, even walking is faster than going 0 km/h during rush hour. On a bicycle, zipping by 10… 20…. 30… cars super-glued to the road during “rush-hour” is like being the proverbial turtle beating the hare.
However, the moment that the traffic does get moving, cycling does have its hairy moments.
To be blunt about it, bike commuting is not for everybody, definitely not for the weak of heart and, most definitely not for the reckless.
Take everything mommy and daddy told you about looking left and right before you cross and multiply that caution a hundredfold. Being on a bicycle involves being aware of everything going on around you from the jeepneys, the pavement, ruts on the road, skewed manhole covers, pedestrians, and motorcycles and e-scooters jostling for that same narrow space on the road. A couple of seconds of losing focus on the road can get you seriously hurt.
It just pays to be well-equipped. Don’t scrimp on a helmet as it will save your life. Get the brightest lights so that you can see and be seen at night. Cyclists have been using N95 masks as pollution protection way before the threat of lung disease from the ashfall from Taal. Bike mounted bags are also a great investment as packing too much gear on a backpack may cause undue strain on your body.
For longer distances, the multi-modal way of transportation using a bicycle and a mix of other transport alternatives is the way to go.
There was a day I had meetings in Ortigas and Alabang. From my meeting in Ortigas, I biked to the P2P terminal in Starmall in Shaw, folded up the bicycle, brought it with me inside the bus, rode to the Starmall Alabang P2P station, and pedaled to Festival Mall. Some of the P2P buses are converted tour buses so they have a luggage compartment to securely stow bikes.
The sad truth, we’ve got a long way to go before bike commuting becomes viable to many. It’s not just about safety on the roads but also bike infrastructure at the destination. Elsewhere in the world, there are secure and convenient places to park full-sized bikes. I’ve seen office buildings in the Central Business District where bike parking is one the topmost or bottom-most parking area without a CCTV in sight. Furthermore, cyclists are prohibited from using the elevators to bring their bikes to the parking area.
There is hope, though. Just cycle through the bicycle-only bikeways of Marikina, or check out Pasig’s “Bicycle Transportation Promotion Ordinance” where the city government has made it mandatory for buildings to provide bicycle parking racks. Check out Facebook groups like mnl.moves and Bike-To-Work Pilipinas to see how many people from all walks of life have adopted cycling as a lifestyle. You’ll get to see bike commuters in barongs and long sleeve polos, and marvel at some bike commuters whose bike to work and back from Antipolo to BGC… everyday.
In the end, all of us really just want to get to where we’re going in the fastest, cheapest way. I think that bike-commuting opens up options about getting around the city.
Do I choose to drive and crawl to where I’m going?
Do I choose to spend on ride-share and taxis? I may be relatively more comfortable but I will still get stuck in traffic.
Do I choose to squeeze into the crowded buses, jeeps, or MRT?
I chose to sweat, to save money on gas and parking, and pedal my way around the city.
See you on the road.