A joint statement by MNL Moves and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities

Today we mark with the rest of the world the very first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, a declaration by the UN General Assembly that underscores the importance of clean air to everyday lives and human health. We have much to contribute to advancing the common goal of breathable, livable cities.

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) National Emissions Inventory from 2018 to 2015 shows that 65 percent of nationwide air pollutants come from mobile sources such as cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses. In the National Capital Region (NCR) alone, 88 percent of the air pollution comes from mobile sources.

Back in February, MNL Moves and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) reached out to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). We expressed our desire to help the agency’s Bike Lane Program Office (BLPO) think about approaches and test activities that can help build on its current cycling support program.

One of the first suggestions made to the BLPO was to expand their regular bicycle count, which is limited to the locations of MMDA’s bike paths in EDSA-Ortigas, Commonwealth Avenue and Roxas Boulevard. We reminded partners in the agency that the availability of data covering walking and cycling lag behind the generation of data covering other transport modes. MMDA’s Annual Average Data Traffic (AADT) count does not include pedestrians and cyclists.

ICSC, MNL Moves, and MMDA all agree: accurate data can be used to establish a baseline, compare alternatives, benchmark, evaluate scenarios, and identify or prioritize projects. By systematically counting the number of bicyclists, or bicycle volume, MMDA can understand existing usage and predict future bicycle travel at a location like EDSA, C5 and all the other roads they manage. Count data is just as critical for road safety analysis.

We supported BLPO in developing a bicycle counting template for use on EDSA. The proposed bike count in March was delayed due to the onset of the pandemic-induced ECQ. Once the steady shift to cycling as a mainstream transportation mode became evident in response to community quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila, we reengaged the BLPO and encouraged them to re-start bike count plans on EDSA.

Despite limited staff complement and an overburdened agency workforce, the BLPO led by Ms. Ching Salinas carried out plans once their team was allowed to report back in June. We consider their team’s no-fuss dedication to uphold commuter interests — who represent the great majority of the Metro Manila — as a great example of the kind of public service MMDA should be proud of.

The MMDA counted 100,792 cyclists in June and 77,484 cyclists in July in 9 intersections along EDSA alone. This is not a surprise for us. People in Metro Manila cycle every day. We just don’t see them because we don’t count them. 

It is both strategic and tactical that MMDA formally include pedestrian and bicyclist data to their AADT count. It is ideal that non-motorized count data are collected and managed by the MMDA because they already oversee vehicle counts in Metro Manila.

We remember one of the local chief executives in Metro Manila commenting that he is not supportive of building bike lanes in his city because “one death is just too many”. We agree, but instead of using this concern as an excuse to perpetuate the neglect of cycling commuters, national and local government officials should work double time to build safe and connected bicycle lane networks in Metro Manila in order to protect their cycling citizens. Whether it’s one person or a hundred thousand, each cyclist deserves to reach their destination safely and comfortably.

These cyclists are also our frontliners. Out of necessity and for lack of public transport options, they took up cycling to provide us with essential services and attend to patients. Unknowingly, their acts contributed to cleaner air.

We hope to make their journeys safer, but we also want to make our roads safer, our skies clearer and our cities healthier even after this pandemic.

MMDA counts, and everyone matters as we pedal towards a better, safer, more productive, and more beautiful Metro Manila.