How bike-friendly infrastructure can promote healthy living

A few weeks ago, artist renderings and photos of an elevated landscape promenade under construction connecting Quezon Memorial Circle to Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife generated a lot of buzz online. 

The project of the Quezon City Government envisions a greenery-adorned walkway with wide ramps and stairs on either end to make it easier for pedestrians (including PWDs) and cyclists to access both parks, something which locals pointed out is very difficult with the fast-moving motorized vehicles around Elliptical Road. Complementing this are Class 1 bike lanes, totally segregated from motorized transport, surrounding the outer area of Elliptical Road, which are currently being built.

While bike-friendly infrastructure like this overpass and safe bike lanes are considered the norm in many other countries, they’re still a novelty in the car-centric streets of Metro Manila.

Benefits of bike infrastructure on society

There’s a noticeable hunger among residents of Metro Manila for spaces to enjoy nature and bike safely. One only has to look at the recent popularity of the Pasig River Esplanade and Intramuros, sections of which were recently pedestrianized. 

Bike-friendly ramps in the underpass crossing from in QC Hall to QC Memorial Shrine (Photo by Kara Santos)

A study from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) points out that cycling is not just an enjoyable individual activity, but one that can benefit society as a whole.

It says: “From improved physical health to reduced pollution levels, cycling is a sustainable mode of transportation that has significant positive impacts on the environment, economy, and public health.”

A cyclist takes a breather at Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife (Photo by Kara Santos)

Providing safe bike lanes is the first step. Better infrastructure encourages cycling as an alternative to driving, thereby decreasing carbon emissions and improving air quality. This has a positive impact on society, including improved public health, reduced pollution levels, and enhanced economic sustainability

Not only does biking cut down on fuel use, but it also offers physical exercise, reducing the risk of various health conditions like diabetes, depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

What’s it like biking in other countries?

I’ve experienced how blissful biking in other countries can be and can’t help but feel sad for Metro Manila every time I go home to our traffic-clogged streets. 

Author biking in Osaka, Japan. Most riversides areas have bike lanes and linear parks.

During a trip to Japan, we went biking in Osaka, where I was amazed by how the streets and sidewalks were designed to make it safe for everyone to bike. You’d see mothers carrying two kids on bike carriers on the way to the park, salarymen in suits boarding old-school bikes after a day of work, and bikes with baskets parked outside grocery stores for locals to do errands more easily. Everyone seemed to bike regardless of social status or age. 

On another recent trip to Taiwan, my husband and I rented bicycles for three days to bike around Taipei. We got to cycle along scenic bike paths right next to clear riversides and streams. In the busier parts of the cities, these segregated bike paths weaved seamlessly under, over, or right next to expressways connected to major city roads through tree-shaded paths and linear gardens. 

Author biking in Taipei, Taiwan. A wheelchair ramp is separate from the an elevated bike bridge.

We never had to dodge traffic for fear of being run over. No potholes or obstructions ruined the flow. Biking felt so safe that whole families and little kids could bike around easily to go from one area to the next. What’s more, in intersections and pedestrian crossings, car drivers respectfully gave way to pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

Along the routes we took, there were numerous rest stops with water stations, public bike repair facilities, vending machines, bike parking areas, and clean public restrooms. Some restrooms could even accommodate a whole bicycle inside. 

While biking to a temple on Treasure Hill, we encountered a lively group of wheelchair users enjoying a picnic at the park after visiting a nearby temple. I realized how easily the elevated ramps made it for them to get around, and how mobility can make PWD’s lives more fulfilling as they’re not just trapped at home.

Best bike practices in Quezon City

While many cities in Metro Manila still do not have adequate cycling infrastructure in place, there is hope in Quezon City, which has made strides in promoting cycling as a mode of transportation. Recognized as the Most Bicycle-Friendly City in the Philippines in 2023, it currently boasts a network of 178 kilometers of cycling roads, with plans to expand this to 350 kilometers by 2025. 

I’ve used bike lanes along Commonwealth Avenue and Katipunan Avenue, portions of which are protected by plant box barriers. I appreciate how biking along certain streets feels much safer these days compared to how it was a decade ago. It’s surprisingly more pleasant to bike along Quezon Avenue going to and from Quiapo these days, with its separate safe bike lane. Unfortunately, the bike lanes noticeably disappear once you cross into Manila. 

Many footbridges, such as those crossing Commonwealth Avenue and Katipunan Avenue (near UP Town Center), and the underpass linking QC Hall to Quezon Memorial Shrine have bike ramps so it’s easier to push bikes up and down. These are very useful for those who cannot physically carry their bikes up and down stairs.

Local laws have been put in place to promote green and active transport in the city, contributing to a bike-friendly environment. For instance, Quezon City’s Bicycle Parking Ordinance requires government offices, MRT and LRT stations, and commercial establishments to provide bicycle racks, promoting convenience and accessibility for cyclists.

Building bike-friendly infrastructure plays a crucial role in promoting healthy living and sustainable urban development. But beyond the projects, greening the city is part of what will make urban cities more livable. Planting more trees along streets not only beautifies the environment but also provides shade and reduces temperatures, enhancing the usability of outdoor spaces.

Initiatives like Quezon City’s elevated promenade and extensive bike lane network showcase the potential for transforming cities into more inclusive, environmentally conscious spaces. By prioritizing cycling infrastructure and urban greening, cities can enhance public health, reduce pollution, and create vibrant, livable communities for all residents.

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