Bike signage by the Santolan LRT Station Footbridge. Photo via Wikimeda Commons (Judgefloro)

Cycle City: What does it take to make bike lanes work?

Why bicycles as a mode of transport work in the Netherlands

  • August 15, 2018

  • Written and photographed by Aldrin B. Plaza

  • Additional images by John Roux

There is always a lot of talk about going green and clean. The use of alternative fuels, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and alternative modes of transport are just some of the initiatives that local governments and NGOs have been pushing. For more than a decade now, Philippine legislators and interest groups have been clamoring for the establishment of bike lanes to encourage more people to use bicycles as a mode of transport.

The Metro Manila Development Authority or MMDA has also proposed establishing bike lane networks on the traffic-ridden EDSA as well as the so-called “killer highway,” Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Marikina City has set a good example of establishing a bicycle lane network with connections to offices, schools, malls and the LRT Line 2 Station in Santolan, Pasig. Tagged as the biking capital of the Philippines, the city has about 52 kilometers of bike lanes constructed through a USD1.3 Million World Bank grant in 2003.

Marikina’s efforts to promote cycling include extensive and well-marked bike lanes and prominently placed signage

There are other bike lanes in Metro Manila but these, however, are hardly utilized. The bike lanes and bike parking facilities established in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus seem to benefit joggers more than bikers, and the bike lane at the Quezon Memorial circle is extremely hazardous to bikers because of speeding vehicles weaving in and out of the roundabout’s eight lanes.

READ MORE: What does inclusive street design look like?

Bicycle lanes in Holland are linked not only to establishments but also to bus stops and the metro and train stations located across the street.

What does it take to make bike lanes work? I guess there is no better example than the biking country of the Netherlands, also known as Holland. Known for its windmills, tulips, cheese products, red-light districts, and multi-million Euro flood mitigation dikes, 40 percent of the country’s commuters go by bike. The rest go by trams, buses, trains and motorbikes. Only the very affluent go by car. I lived in Rotterdam for a year, and was a bicycle commuter during my stay there. The five-kilometer ride from my apartment to Erasmus University took about 15 to 20 minutes, one way.

Several factors contribute to making Holland a bike-friendly country. First, the Netherlands has a flat to gently sloping terrain making it ideal for biking. Second, the climate is cool all year-round, with summer month temperatures averaging between 20 to 22 degrees Celsius, with low to mild humidity. Third, the air is clean—no smoke belchers in sight!

Bicycle lanes passing through residential communities provide ease of commuter movement from one’s home to elsewhere.
A major highway intersection in Rotterdam with bicycle lanes built parallel to the city highways

I have no statistics, but many vehicles run on LPG, including public buses (you can tell by the smell of the emissions from the tail-pipe). Then, street-sweeping trucks clean the city streets of dust and small pieces of trash everyday. Of course, if 40 percent of Metro Manila’s commuters went by bike too, that would greatly reduce the toxic emissions that make biking in our cities so unpleasant and unhealthy.

The fourth, and most critical factor is the country’s bicycle-ready infrastructure. Bike lanes or bike pads (fietspad as they call it, fiet is the Dutch word for bike), run parallel to city streets and highways with their own traffic signals and signs that work in harmony with traffic signals for road vehicles, trams and pedestrians. There’s no worry about getting an accident so long as you follow the traffic signals and signs. Even vehicles speeding at 100 kph will stop dead in their tracks so long as you have the right of way.

Take note, helmets are not a requirement for riding a bike—that’s how confident the Dutch are of their bicycle infrastructure. Parking spaces for bikes also abound and can be found at almost every corner of every street (no exaggeration). Residential buildings, offices, schools, supermarkets and public parks have parking areas for bikes. In short, it’s part of every building’s architectural design.

Bicycle parking areas such as this one in Den Haag connect the commuter to various destinations and other modes of transport.
Bicycle lanes link neighborhood communities to different establishments such as this bicycle lane passing through the Ikea Home Depot in Rotterdam

Fifth is the inter-connectivity of the different transport modes. Inter-city trains have spaces allocated for passengers with bicycles (there is an additional fare), and river ferryboats have bike parking for passengers free of charge. Many people who live and work in two different cities own two bicycles, with one parked at the train station in the city of one’s workplace and one at home.

For example, I lived in Delft and worked at Rotterdam. On workdays, I would bike from my house to the train station in Delft, then park my bike and take the train to Rotterdam. Arriving at Rotterdam, I would take my bike parked at the station and use it to ride to my workplace, then, it was vice versa back to my home in Delft. Some people prefer to buy a foldable bike, which when folded is about the size of a small suitcase. This can be brought onto the train without additional fare.

READ MORE: Can we really design discipline into our “nakamamatay” streets?

A well established bicycle infrastructure also offers cheaper means of transport for businesses as well
Ample parking spaces for bicycles is a necessity to make bike lanes work

The sixth factor is access to inner neighborhoods. Though city streets terminate at one point within a residential community, bike pads do not. Bike pads extend into the inner neighborhoods, making them easily accessible to family members visiting friends. Since bicycles are part of the mainstream of vehicular movement in Holland, there are traffic rules for bikes as well, which are strictly followed—no ifs, ands, or buts. A friend of mine was apprehended by the police for riding a bike without lamps attached. It was still early in the evening, but she had to pay 20 Euros for that violation.

Perhaps one of the biggest detriments to bicycles gaining more ground in the Philippines is the Pinoy’s snob factor. Rarely do you see an average office worker, architect, teacher, engineer or lawyer biking to and from work. In our society, the average Pinoy perceives the bike as a toy for kids to play with, or a poor man’s vehicle. Some gated subdivisions refuse entry to bikers, and some al fresco establishments won’t even let bikers eat with their bikes parked beside them! Thanks to the sports community, in particular, those who organize and participate in triathlons, duathlons, bike races, bike tours, outings, and events like the annual Firefly, two-wheelers are slowly gaining a more positive reputation.

Traffic lights for bicycle lanes coordinate traffic movement with other public and private vehicles and pedestrian flow

The biggest detriment to biking as a significant alternative mode of transport, however, is quite simply inaction on the part of our local and national governments. If the cities of Metro Manila can’t maintain their own traffic and street lights, or agree on traffic regulations (the blighted color coding scheme, for example) and what to do with their garbage, the idea that we will one day have a logical network of bike lanes seems like a pipe dream.

Heat, dust and pollution aside, the reason there aren’t more people cycling is the absence of bike lanes. It’s not a chicken and egg situation. As the mysterious voice in the movie Field of Dreams whispered to Kevin Costner’s character, “Build it and they will come.” In droves. 

Original article first appeared in BluPrint Special Issue 2 2011. Edits were made for Bluprint online.
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