Of sky ways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila
Note: This article first appeared in my Linked Pulse page. (Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)
UPDATE: I am requesting feedback from Metro Manila residents. If you are from Metro Manila (or usually travel here), please answer a brief survey form here. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!
Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about
Sky bike lanes, anyone?
For a Metro Manila resident like me, this seems like a bright idea. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has always been cited as among the most urgent problems that the country’s administrators should be dealing with. In fact, a study done by traffic and navigation app, Waze, revealed that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on earth”, on a city level perspective (Waze, 2015). Through the Waze study, it was estimated that travel time here–from home to the work place–is about 45.5 minutes. The article did not indicate actual points of origin and destination but let us assume that the average is a good representation of the respondents’ daily commute. However, there may be some discrepancy if the respondents are mostly commuters who use public transportation. (I assume that Waze is mostly used by private car drivers and passengers at this stage.)
Clearly, the government and private sector need to put their acts together in order to come up with clear solutions. The traffic situation in Metro Manila can only be solved through a combination of policy, infrastructural, and behavior-based interventions. (For this article, let me focus on an infrastructural intervention as I also plan to discuss the other two in one of my future posts.)
One of the steps that we can consider is the building of bike lanes–not on the existing road networks but high up there, on elevated platforms. Obviously, Metro Manila’s roads can no longer accommodate new and separate bike lanes. However, is this idea of elevated bike lanes feasible? It has been lingering in my mind for the past couple of months.
The Klarasden’s sky way – can a bike-focused version be done?
They say that the universe “hears” us if we just verbalize our thoughts. I think what happened recently demonstrates that this saying is indeed true. You see, I came across a TechInsider article about the project, Klarastaden, through Linkedin just the other day. (I must thank my new online friend, Pia K Töre-Wallin, again for sharing the link!)
A bike-focused version of the Klarastaden’s sky way is something that crossed my mind a couple of months ago, as my husband and I were walking and discussing how the lives of Metro Manila urbanites are impacted negatively by the horrendous traffic situation. I told him about my dream to build floating or “sky bike lanes” as I called them. Back then, I was half-thinking it is a crazy idea. However, the other half of my brain is saying that the idea is very feasible.
Biking and the provision of bike lanes had always been proposed by environmental advocates but let us admit that Metro Manila can no longer afford to build separate roads for bike lanes (or even divide the existing roads to allow a portion for bike lanes).
Nowadays, there are brave souls who bike to work (how I admire their courage!), right alongside trucks, buses, jeepneys, and cars, so one can imagine the risks and dangers that these bikers are facing everyday (not to mention the health impacts of pollution). Marikina City was able to allot separate bike lanes, unfortunately, it is a small part of Metro Manila only. Nevertheless, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.
I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families.
I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families .Unfortunately, the city has no more extra space. And that is why I told my husband, “We should build sky bike lanes!”, in my most resolute voice.
“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden – it dawned on me that, perhaps, my idea is not a crazy one! Yesterday, when I opened my Linkedin, I saw that two of my friends (one of them is Pia) also found the idea cool! I eventually surmised that I can probably work on this topic as my master’s thesis. (I am completing my course work, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management, this year, at the University of the Philippines – Open University.) [UPDATE as of 16-Feb-16: I am glad to discover yesterday that two cities–Copenhagen and London–are actually thinking of building this type of bike lanes as well! In fact, as of this writing, Copenhagen has already completed Cykelslangen (or “The Bicycle Snake”) and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which they call Bryggebroen. The London version called, SkyCycle, is still under consideration. These positive news certainly motivate me to continue building this idea on and, hopefully, we can also build similar bike lanes for Metro Manila!]
While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. It is also important to know if the group of Mr. Berensson (and other stakeholders) will be willing to work with me on this gigantic project. [UPDATE as of 14-Jan-2016: I received a brief but positive and encouraging reply from Mr. Berensson. Nothing is final and no paper has been signed between us but he expressed his initial interest. If all goes well and there is no obstacle such as conflict in schedules, I am hopeful that his team will be on board.]
I propose the setting up of a team through which we can develop a feasibility study and gather support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements. For example, we will need traffic data, conduct market analysis and scenario building, look at the demographics and health outcome, calculate GHG emission reduction, compare policy studies, and do other related tasks. Meanwhile, another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (e.g., during the construction phase).
This proposed project considers the thinking that, in an ideal world, commuters who use both motorized and non-motorized vehicles should co-exist and share the roads. In fact, in this kind of world, separate or even partially segregated bike lanes are not significantly necessary. In such a world, bikers have more confidence, knowing that they are respected on the road, in the same way that the bikers also know that they need to respect the rights of other drivers. However, it takes time to build this ideal world. Behavioral change evolves over a long time and sometimes, without the necessary impetus and public cooperation, it may not even be realized. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. Either we continue to work for and wait for the ideal world to happen–without any guarantee for success–or do something about our situation now.
The feasibility study will generate more data and insights, which will help us answer the question on viability in a more scientific and comprehensive manner.
Design features and considerations
Many features and considerations must be laid down on the drawing table as we envision such an infrastructure. Here are some of them:
1. To the extent possible, the sky bike lanes must be near or accessible to and from the existing MRT/LRT lines. (It will be better if they can be integrated.)
2. The primary sky bike lanes should pass through or built alongside EDSA and C5 (the city’s core road networks) but should have connecting lanes to other major roads nearest and within the key business districts like Eastwood Business District, Ortigas Center, and Makati City.
3. This may be a far-fetched or nearly-impossible idea but industrial-sized air purifiers may be installed along the sky bike lanes. Eventually, with more people taking the bikes and leaving their cars at home, pollution level will hopefully go down – but of course, this assumes that the number of bikers will grow progressively as the population also grows. If this idea is really impossible or expansive to do, we can build natural/organic anti-air pollution systems. (See no. 4 below.)
4. To make the design greener and healthier, we can put up small sky gardens or simple plant boxes along or hanging from the inner and outer walls.
5. We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs). This will depend on many factors, of course, but we can also look at its feasibility.
We also need to look at issues related to structural soundness. Two aspects should be at the top of the list.
1. The system should apply a forward-looking design. The bike lanes will most likely become very popular that an increasing number of people would want to use it over the years. How can we ensure a stable design? Of course, we cannot build very wide bike lanes but our design should be wide enough that they can accommodate more bikers in the long term.
2. The design should also consider locational and environmental challenges (e.g., natural disasters or “acts of God” like earthquake, strong typhoons, etc.).
Moreover, the idea, if indeed viable, requires massive inputs and resources. The following are potential entry points for resource mobilization and financing.
1. Foremost in mind (as well as suggested by a friend and former project colleague, Abby Catucod) is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking. Development agencies may likewise be tapped.
2. There should be private sector “buy-in” to distribute and share some of the costs. For example, malls and shopping centers can fund the lanes near them but they may be allowed to build small side cafes or drink kiosks–these will be useful for thirsty/hungry bikers; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles (particularly for those who need them).
3. We must ensure sustainable upkeep and maintenance. For example, should the use be totally free for the public? Or should there be minimal users’ fees similar to the practice of toll fees? Will a payment scheme make the people use it less? Are people willing to pay? A market study may be able to help us answer these questions.
Policy scenarios and climate change
Finally, we also need to look at the implication and contribution to the over-arching goals on climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. For one, it must be stressed that the construction of sky bike lanes should happen alongside other transportation-related policies and interventions such as improvement of mass transport systems, use of cleaner fuels, and better transportation demand management.
I have been part of a study called, Integrated Environmental Strategies, in 2004 and through the project, our team looked at different transport-related policy scenarios and their combination. The analysis– which involved modeling (to estimate emissions reduction), health effects estimation, and economic valuation–predicted a significant improvement in air quality if all or most of the different policies are implemented. While the study team did not see any significant reduction in the level of particulate matter (PM) through the use of bike lanes alone, “applying the combination of measures…is forecast to cause a dramatic improvement in PM levels” (McNamara, et al., 2005).
Our 2004 study did not focus significantly on the impact to traffic reduction so the future team must look at this area. Some of the IES approach may actually be useful. (For those interested to read our Final Report, you may get a copy from this link. The material is also listed in the References below.)
I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. This is rather brief so I hope to keep on updating it in the course of the next few weeks or possibly write new updates.
I would appreciate it if you can respond to a quick/informal survey, which I had developed for this idea. Please go to this link. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!
McNamara, D., Subida, R., Velas, M.A., Andres, F., Vergel, K., Anglo E.,…Ibay, A.C. (2005). Integrated Environmental Strategies – Philippines Project Report Metropolitan Manila (Focus on the Transport Sector), Manila Observatory. Available at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadj320.pdf
Waze. (2015). Global Driver Satisfaction Index. Available at http://wazeblogs-en.blogspot.ie/2015_09_01_archive.html
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