The COVID-19  pandemic is aggravating long-neglected injustices across the world. In the Philippines, aside from inadequate health systems, social protection gaps, and digital divide, the health crisis highlights mobility issues, such as car centrism and an inadequate and unresponsive transport system.

 
Thus, in observance of International Day of Democracy, this month’s #Realitalk delves into the urgent need to prioritize the needs of the majority of Filipinos who do not have cars and to promote a culture of feedback, data generation, and collaboration to make urban mobility systems more optimal for every Filipino commuter.

In this feature, Pinoy Climate Reality Leader Golda Hilario talked about why mobility is a feature of democracy and how the Philippines is faring so far in terms of addressing gaps in its urban transport system.

Golda also talked about Mobility Awards, a platform organized by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, MNL Moves, The Climate Reality Project Philippines, 350. Org Pilipinas, and Pinay Bike Commuter to recognize acts of leadership by Philippine local governments, workplaces, and commercial establishments promoting cycling as a reliable, efficient, and sustainable mode of transport.

 Nominate the Most Bike-Friendly Cities, Establishments, or Workplaces in the Philippines (Metro Manila is excluded for this round) at  https://bit.ly/MAnomination. Nominations will run until November 05, 2021 only. For more information visit www.mobilityawards.ph

What and how can the youth contribute to effectively address food insecurity amid the pandemic, rapidly declining ecosystems, and the prevailing climate emergency? How is mobility a feature of democracy and how is the Philippines faring so far in terms of addressing gaps in its urban transport system?

 

Golda: If mobility is about the potentials of a human person to move freely and the ability to get around directly using one or a combination of different modes of transport to meet her or his needs, mobility can be equated to freedom of movement, which is every citizen’s right in a democracy where the majority should benefit. How are we faring in realizing this right? 

We take a look at our cities and pay attention to the streets and city roads as our living labs to assess where we are in terms of living democracy. We see signs such as “Bawal tumawid, nakakamatay!” Remind me again what are streets for—passage for people or passage for fast-moving machines? We see footbridges—which are meant for pedestrians—with monikers like “stairway to heaven” or  with signages like “only healthy people can pass.” These are just some examples of an underlying fundamental flaw: The way we design our cities and our streets is not for meeting the mobility needs of people but for machine boxes called cars. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has the access and the means to own a car. A 2015 study done by JICA-MUCEP revealed that majority—88% of households in Metro Manila and its suburbs—do not own cars. The numbers might be greater in the rest of the country.  Yet, we have invested and continue to pour our public and private resources to cater to only the 12% minority.

One would argue that we are also investing in mass transport systems and that we have a policy framework in place that essentially says “the less on wheels must have more on road.” It is a start but conditions must be felt and experienced by the most vulnerable of the 88%, including workers in the public transport sector, especially during hard times like this COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, we haven’t done enough and we have to move with a sense of urgency, cohesion, and coordination to be truly democratic. 

How can the government and the private sector “democratize the streets” and be more responsive to the needs of the majority of Filipinos who do not own motorized transport? What programs and initiatives are needed?

 

Golda: Democratizing the streets would mean the government and citizens should be reclaiming the streets for their true purpose—as a safe, comfortable, convenient passage for people and not for the convenience of car-owners.  

In terms of policies, we are not starting from scratch. In 2020, the National Economic and Development Authority has approved the Philippine Urban Mobility Program (PUMP) in support of the National Transport Policy, which was earlier approved in 2017.

PUMP presents a clear path to how the national government can support cities in achieving the vision of “people-oriented cities empowered by efficient, dignified and safe mobility” and touches on not just active mobility and public transport but also understanding and managing the travel demand of citizens and urban freight. It provides a lot of opportunities for public-private partnerships that would benefit not only the welfare of the majority but also climate. However, it requires cities to be at the forefront. City LGUs would need engaged citizens from all sectors and groups to make it work and develop a model that is appropriate to specific situations and needs of their jurisdiction. We need not wait for the national government to have a template. We can be like lego sets where each block builds on other blocks, working as interconnected systems. 

For example, advancing active mobility in cities can build on very practical measures. Ordinances such as observing slow streets,  imposing speed limits for motorized vehicles, and proper zoning or measures that incentivize and require building owners to invest in bike racks, accessibility ramps, and leveled unobstructed sidewalks can be building blocks.

 

But more importantly, we need to see opportunities and benefits in getting involved. Business establishments can optimize the opportunity that cyclists as customers bring by providing them parking racks, for example. Recognizing that workers who cycle and walk are more healthy and productive, employers should provide employees the needed support for them to be active in the first place. We need to measure success in terms of how the most vulnerable groups (i.e. pregnant women, persons with disabilities, elderly, children) within our communities benefit from these measures. 

"Democratizing the streets would mean the government and citizens should be reclaiming the streets for their true purpose—as a safe, comfortable, convenient passage for people and not for the convenience of car-owners."
GOLDA HILARIO

Now that cycling and the prioritization of pedestrian needs are gaining national prominence, what role do organizations like Climate Reality Philippines and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) play in pushing for a mobility revolution and mobility issues?

 

Golda: What would incentivize critical stakeholders to ‘act’ and keep the momentum of the ongoing “cycling revolution?” Since 2020, Climate Reality Philippines, together with ICSC, 350.org Pilipinas, MNL Moves, and Pinay Bike Commuter Community has been organizing the Mobility Awards mainly to invite and challenge citizens to recognize cities, business establishments, and workplaces that are advancing active mobility for the 88%, and also for them to challenge those who are lagging.

We piloted in Metro Manila and on cycling first, as we wanted to generate lessons that would help us help ‘move the needle’ in pushing for a bike-able Philippines. 

But more than being an awards-giving body, the Mobility Awards is also a platform for data sharing, as well as engagement and communication between and among citizens, businesses, and cities. It aims to deliver the message that we need to keep moving in making our streets and our cities friendly for the 88% and create opportunities in the process. 

For example, when we announced the most friendly cities in 2020, San Juan Mayor Zamora tweeted Pasig Mayor Sotto to build that interconnected bike lane that would connect San Juan with Pasig. We learned about San Juan’s aim to develop its tourism through cycling and walking, and how it is connected with its water history. When we awarded Marikina City, Mayor Teodoro discussed the possibility of developing bike lanes along the riverbanks to promote local tourism. Why not connect these three water cities through bicycles and bring in surrounding cities in the process? It is a challenge that everybody can win. 

We also continue to challenge ourselves in civil society because LGUs will not be able to realize this on their own as their capacities are also overwhelmed by the pandemic. What can we do as citizens? As business-owners? As employers?  Where can the Climate Reality Leaders help? Together? 

"Engagement in policy dialogue will not only give a platform to the youth, but to the voices they amplify, including those of our farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, poor communities, and other marginalized sectors that are offered even fewer opportunities to be involved."
YOUTH COORDINATORS

What specific initiatives, projects, or activities are you doing now together with your fellow youth Climate Reality Leaders that help in the transformation of food systems into a sustainable, climate-resilient, and environment-friendly one?

 

Golda: What would incentivize critical stakeholders to ‘act’ and keep the momentum of the ongoing “cycling revolution?” Since 2020, Climate Reality Philippines, together with ICSC, 350.org Pilipinas, MNL Moves, and Pinay Bike Commuter Community has been organizing the Mobility Awards mainly to invite and challenge citizens to recognize cities, business establishments, and workplaces that are advancing active mobility for the 88%, and also for them to challenge those who are lagging.

We piloted in Metro Manila and on cycling first, as we wanted to generate lessons that would help us ‘move the needle’ in pushing for a bike-able Philippines. 

But more than being an awards-giving body, the Mobility Awards is also a platform for data sharing, as well as engagement and communication between and among citizens, businesses, and cities. It aims to deliver the message that we need to keep moving in making our streets and our cities friendly for the 88% and create opportunities in the process. 

For example, when we announced the most friendly cities in 2020, San Juan Mayor Zamora tweeted Pasig Mayor Sotto to build that interconnected bike lane that would connect San Juan with Pasig. We learned about San Juan’s aim to develop its tourism through cycling and walking, and how it is connected with its water history. When we awarded Marikina City, Mayor Teodoro discussed the possibility of developing bike lanes along the riverbanks to promote local tourism. Why not connect these three water cities through bicycles and bring in surrounding cities in the process? It is a challenge that everybody can win. 

We also continue to challenge ourselves in civil society because LGUs will not be able to realize this on their own as their capacities are also overwhelmed by the pandemic. What can we do as citizens? As business-owners? As employers?  Where can the Climate Reality Leaders help? Together?

What can we expect from Mobility Awards this year? How will it be different from last year’s Metro Manila round?

 

Golda: Last September 7, we launched the National Round of the Mobility Awards covering cities outside of Metro Manila through a webcast over Facebook Live. This time, we will hold the Mobility Awards together with at least 25 regional partners, active mobility groups, and organizations in the country, and in collaboration with the League of Cities of the Philippines who have also promoted the Mobility Awards to their members.  

Aside from the exemption of Metro Manila and working with more partners for this year, we are adding criteria on inclusivity and innovation, which would be challenging as these invite integrative ways as to how cities, workplaces, and business establishments cater to the mobility needs of the most vulnerable and diverse groups—namely pregnant women, children, elderly, PWDs, members of LGBTQ—and likewise makes use of creative, sustainable approaches that advance cycling and better pedestrianization optimizing local resources.  

The nominations for the Most Bicycle Friendly City, Establishment, or Workplace are now open. It will run until November 05, 2021.

For special awards, we will continue with Padyak! Power to the People Awards but will also invite local messengerial companies to nominate their outstanding cyclists-couriers.  

In addition, we will be opening The Siklista ng Bayan! Awards. This time, it is the citizens who will nominate small and medium entrepreneurial and hardworking Filipinas/Filipinos who make use of bicycles as their main mode of livelihood and who keep our local economies moving even when hit by this pandemic.  They might be your suking pedicab driver, magtataho, magbabalot, or vendors delivering and supplying you with fresh food and water or newspaper every day. We are inviting citizens to tell the story of how they as customers benefit from the service provided and detail the interesting, inspiring extraordinary contributions of their nominee to the community.

The nominations for the Special Awards categories will be open by October 7 and will close on November 7, 2021. 

We will be announcing all the winners on November 25, 2021, in line with the celebration of Climate Change Consciousness Week.

What are the key findings of the citizen-led bike and pedestrian count project Metro Manila Counts? What do the findings say about the future of sustainable urban transport in the country?

 

Golda: The Metro Manila Counts is an offshoot and a side project of the convening organizations of the Mobility Awards in partnership with the local government units (LGUs) of Marikina City, San Juan City, Pasig City, and Quezon City. It was in recognition of that gap over lack of baseline information as to how many non-motorized transport users are actually on the road and of which, how many are women. It aims to understand how cyclists are moving in a hope that this will provide us with ideas on what else needs to be done to improve active mobility infrastructure. 

A total of 168 volunteers were oriented on an adapted bike and pedestrian counting tool from the US National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project. Of that total, 132 volunteers took part in the bike and pedestrian count on a four-hour window (during the peak hours of 6-8 am and from 4-6 pm) in 32 locations in four cities of Metro Manila last June 8, 2021. The remaining 36 volunteers provided the necessary support in facilitating the training sessions, data encoding, consolidation, mapping, and developing infographics.

In gist, our volunteers recorded 38,932 cyclists, 12,787 pedestrians, and 1,658 users of personal mobility devices (PMDs) in just 32 locations on a four-hour window. That is a lot! Yet, they occupy meager space on the road.

Even though an undercount, the figures have reinforced that indeed, there is a noiseless and clean revolution happening on our streets even though conditions are still not optimal for them.

However, we do have a long way to go to make streets major roads safer especially for women (only 3.1% of cyclists counted are women). And aside from the fact that there is an existing ordinance in Quezon City requiring helmets, the high percentage of helmet-use among cyclists (71.3%) is reinforcing concerns over cyclist’s safety on the road.  

There were 127 unique movements observed in the 32 locations in the four cities and this suggests more opportunity for understanding the design of intersections. ‘Counter-flowing’ or going against the flow of motor vehicle traffic is common among cyclists and there might be valid reasons that encourage potential research on understanding design and behaviors.