by Rio Constantino
Editor’s Note: Rio Constantino was a volunteer counter based in Quezon City for the citizen-driven bike count project Metro Manila Counts (MMC). MMC is a collaboration between the Mobility Awards (ICSC, MNL Moves, The Climate Reality Project Philippines, 350 Pilipinas and Pinay Bike Commuter Community) and the local government units of San Juan, Pasig, Marikina, and Quezon City that aims to establish a baseline data of bikers and pedestrians to help justify the need for better mobility infrastructure in Metro Manila.
A proper baker knows the importance of good measurements. After all, baking is as much about precision as it is about art. To bake a loaf, you need to know your ingredients, and measure out exact amounts of flour, leavener, salt and water. Similarly, there’s no way to create a good transport system without a proper accounting of all its components. It’s important to take interest not just in how many cars are plying our roads, but in how many people are moving from one place to another. Of the vast majority of Filipinos who don’t own cars, how many are cyclists and pedestrians, and how many take different modes of transport?
A few weeks ago, on June 8, 2021, 166 volunteers for the Metro Manila Counts project set off to measure the ingredients of a working transport system. Their goal was to tally cyclists and pedestrians passing through busy streets and intersections in San Juan, Pasig, Marikina, and Quezon City. Apart from recording the number of people commuting by pedal or on foot, volunteers also noted down a slew of other information: Did cyclists wear their helmets? How many were male, and how many female? The data collected would then be made available for policy-making bodies to improve transport infrastructure.
For many of the volunteers, the bike count was also a way to help out their fellow cyclists. Ian Canzon, who commutes by bike whenever he can and works as a video editor for ABS-CBN, signed up in the hopes of making a change for other riders. “One thing that surprised me…was the time when the number of cyclists had a really huge surge.” Though the final results have yet to be released, some of the locations covered by the count registered up to several thousand cyclists during both the morning and evening rush hour.
Another thing that surprised Ian was the demographics of his location. At the Tomas Morato – E. Rodriguez intersection where he was assigned, the vast majority of recorded cyclists during were male. Women cyclists were an exceedingly rare sight – another sign that there’s much more work left to be done to make our streets safer for women.
Knowing how to make ingredients work together is also an important skill in baking. To their credit, all the participating city governments contributed some of their own personnel to assist with the bike count, recognizing the importance of cycling ahead of incoming data. Quezon City’s Department of Public Order and Safety, for example, sent several staff to help volunteers stationed along Tomas Morato avenue. Citizens don’t necessarily have to be at odds with their government; at the same time, government shouldn’t fear its own civil society. The bike count demonstrates this with undeniable clarity.
Everyone matters, everything counts. In the end, mobility is about moving people, not cars. A transport system that only focuses on privately owned motor vehicles, to the detriment of everything else, is doomed to paralysis. But if you include all the ingredients in the right amounts, if you have the timing and measurement down right, then the final product will rise and rise, and so will the masses who depend it for their everyday needs.