Pia: Now is the best time to pass the Safe Pathways Act

Sponsorship speech on the Safe Pathways Act (SBN 1582 under Committee Report 101) 

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano

Delivered on June 3, 2020 (World Bicycle Day)

Mr. President and my dear colleagues, I come before you today to sponsor Senate Bill No. 1582 under Committee Report No. 101, otherwise known as the “Safe Pathways Act”, taking into consideration Senate Bill No. 1518 filed by this representation, and Senate Resolution No. 411 filed by Senator Francis Tolentino.

 

I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues, Senator Grace Poe, who expressed her intent to be a co-author and co-sponsor of this bill, and Senator Francis Tolentino, Senator Manny Pacquiao, and Senator Sonny Angara, who are co-authors of this measure.

 

There is no better time to sponsor this measure than today, as we join other nations in celebrating World Bicycle Day (June 3).

Mr. President, as a health advocate, biker, and triathlete, I have been fighting for this cause for as long as I can remember.

For almost a decade, I have been advocating for bike lanes and sustainable transportation. I filed my first Sustainable Transportation Bill in this chamber, with the help and support of my fellow advocates in 2011. I refiled similar bills in succeeding Congresses.

The benefits of cycling and walking are known to many, if not all, and yet, many metropolitan centers like ours fail to change gears and disrupt the current transportation system, even if that system does not work.

Fast forward to today… Suddenly, we are living in the time of COVID-19, which has forced us into a new normal. All over the world, public transportation systems were shut down in an effort to flatten the curve. But people have adapted. In lieu of buses, trains, and cabs, many, including our very own health [care] workers and frontliners, have turned to more resilient and safer  ‘alternatives’ like biking and walking.

The World Health Organization, in its technical guidance on moving around during the pandemic, advocated cycling and walking as an alternative for people to “reach workplaces when possible, meet essential daily needs, or provide assistance to [the] vulnerable.”

 

In Europe, China, and the United States, and all over, urban cycling networks surged after lockdowns were imposed. In cities like New York, Mexico, and Berlin, they set up temporary bicycle lanes to facilitate people’s mobility.

And Mr. President, amid the continuous threats of COVID-19, we are gradually realizing the upside to our shift towards sustainable transportation.

 

The decrease in the number of motorized vehicles has allowed us to see the clear blue skies, a sight we have missed in the cities for years… Environmental groups and government agencies, including our own Department of Environment and Natural Resources, confirm that the air is cleaner.

In a time of high anxiety, biking and walking provide more comfort as it is easier to social distance this way. They also promise better physical and mental wellbeing because of the physical activity involved. Moreover, the cost of buying and maintaining a bike is very low compared to owning a private vehicle and even commuting.

Sustainable transportation is now part of the new normal, and we welcome this change in people’s mindset. But we cannot simply put cyclists and pedestrians on the road without ensuring their safety. We need to be able to support them with the right infrastructure, which we sadly lack in our car-centric streets.

 

I bring the attention of the body to the photo, which is a photo of medical frontliners from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. They are testing out the new bicycles donated through the Life Cycles PH community.

The fact that most of our healthcare workers and frontliners are using these modes of transportation stresses the urgency of our call. Every day, they face risks apart from COVID-19, as they continue to traverse unsafe roads while going to work. We need to protect them.

 

Mr. President, this is the objective of the measure we are proposing today.

The Safe Pathways Bill seeks to create a network of pop-up bicycle lanes that can be used by our essential workers during the pandemic. The lanes shall strictly be for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles, and shall connect users to essential destinations like medical facilities, among others. The lanes shall also have enough space to accommodate one-meter physical distancing.

 

One of the recommendations made by Dr. Antonio Dans from the UP College of Medicine is to prioritize building loops of bikeway systems that link roads along hospitals, such as those within the City of Manila. This will guarantee that our frontliners will remain safe even before they reach the hospitals where they work.

This objective of our proposed measure is aligned with the call of our colleague, Senator Francis Tolentino, who filed Senate Resolution 411 urging the DPWH, DILG, and MMDA to designate, develop, and improve bicycle lanes in Metro Manila, which transitioned to General Community Quarantine beginning last Monday, June 1.

 

The bill shall also create a designated network of emergency pathways along local roads, to give pedestrians, cyclists, and non-motorized vehicle users safe and convenient access to frequented destinations. Motorized vehicle passage shall be restricted in these pathways during peak hours.

 

Meanwhile, public places, government offices, schools, places of work, and commercial establishments like malls, banks, and hospitals shall provide adequate parking spaces for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles.

 

The public and private sectors shall develop the necessary infrastructure and facilities to promote the use of these modes of transportation, including parking spaces, showers, changing areas, and hydration facilities.

Furthermore, the bill mandates cyclists and other non-motorized vehicle users to obey existing traffic laws, rules, and regulations.

As Chair of the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, I am also duty-bound to ensure that the government remains cognizant of its goals of creating a more sustainable future for all. This bill shall mandate our appropriate agencies to permanently adopt these networks of bike lanes and walkways even after the pandemic, as part of our long-term solution to address congestion and pollution.

 

The call of our advocates in the health, environment, and even sports sectors is stronger now than ever before. Various government agencies, both local and national, have expressed their commitment to immediately implement our proposals; some cities have made their own initiatives, like Taguig and Iloilo.

 

Iloilo City has a dedicated bike lane along its Diversion Road and on selected thoroughfares in the downtown area. Its bike lane stretches more than 11 kilometers. Taguig City also has a 6.9-kilometer protected bike lane on the stretch of Laguna Lake Highway in Bicutan.

Our bike lane is also separate from the pedestrian sidewalk, and then there is also a permanent lane that separates these bike lanes from the road used by motor vehicles for protection, as you can see in the photo.

Moreover, in time for the World Bicycle Day today, the Taguig City government has set up additional bike lanes along Cayetano Boulevard and Bayani Road. It is also set to launch a comprehensive bike program, which includes the creation of an office dedicated to biking, the establishment of new bike routes in the city, and a bike lending program for city employees.

Mr. President, the time is now. This crisis presents us with opportunities we must take now. We can seize the moment and institutionalize policy changes that will leave our children with cleaner air, a healthier future with bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, and emergency pathways.

Thank you! #

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