Eleventh Hour: Building bikeable and walkable communities

By Celine Tabinga


A climate change mitigation report recently released by the United Nations confirmed that now, more than ever, immediate and deep cuts in emissions, combined with systemic and transformative actions across all sectors, are needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. For the transport sector to help keep the target temperature in reach, it will have to reduce and slow down the growth of road travel, particularly in cities.

In our current setup, Philippine cities are plagued with air pollution, road traffic injuries and fatalities, detraction from the public realm, commuters stuck in long queues, and of course, the infamous crippling traffic jams that cost the economy an estimated EUR 61 million or P3.5 billion daily, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Given how our road design prioritizes vehicle movement, it is no surprise that transport is one of the most energy-intensive sectors in the Philippines. In 2018, according to the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) 2018-2040, the transport sector accounted for 35.7 percent or more than one-third of the country’s Total Final Energy Consumption (TFEC), reaching 12.2 metric tons of oil equivalent.

We need to urgently rethink our transport systems where we can simultaneously respond to the needs of the majority while adopting a trajectory that focuses on low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure. We need to prioritize this since we are still grappling with the impacts of the pandemic while having to now face the skyrocketing prices of fuel brought about by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Without action, transport challenges in Philippine cities will persist and likely worsen in the future. We have seen time and time again how expanding highways and building more roads are ineffective solutions to our mobility problems as it encourages traffic congestion.

Our government needs to start finding solutions to reduce our dependence on oil, not because it can curb greenhouse gas emissions, but primarily because it is the morally right and practical thing to do.

One of the most effective ways to do that is to invest more in efficient, reliable, affordable, and quality public transport infrastructure. By providing such, those without private vehicles and those in underserved areas can have more equal access to jobs, education, services, and other economic opportunities all at a lower cost.

Cycling and the prioritization of pedestrian needs are also gaining national prominence as safe, empowering, cost-effective, democratic, and efficient transport modes due to limitations brought by this pandemic. When cities make sure that cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is connected to public transport, that’s when they really start to build out low-carbon and resilient infrastructure because you give people the option to not use private cars.

Rebooting the public transport sector will be a huge challenge but collective strides have already been made. We’ve seen examples from the national awardees of the 2020 and 2021 Mobility Awards, such as Iloilo City, Pasig City, Mandaue City, San Juan City, Marikina City, and Naga City who are making inclusive mobility a priority by setting up active transport (cycling and walking) infrastructure.

“Here in Iloilo, we have noticed that more people are using bicycles as means of transportation because of the bike lanes. We are hopeful that this will promote healthier lifestyles while at the same time will further our efforts to combat climate change. Aside from the existing bike lanes, we are now helping DPWH develop additional bike lanes along the circumferential road, and this will even add more protected bike lanes in Iloilo City,” Mayor Jerry Treñas said during the awarding of Iloilo City as the 2022 Most Bike-Friendly City (Gold) last April 7.

“We know that cycling is not only good for our health in terms of exercise, but in the case of Mandaue where transport is the highest contributor to our greenhouse gas, the introduction of the bike network will help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And, as the pandemic showed, it was the most convenient way of moving around when public transport is limited,” Mayor Jonas Cortes said as he received the 2022 Most Bike-Friendly City (silver) award for Mandaue City.

Through the Mobility Awards, we’ve also realized the impact of businesses such as SM Masinag, Cebu Business Park, and Robinsons Antipolo in supporting civic and government initiatives through awareness-building and providing the necessary end-of-trip facilities needed by their consumers and employees alike. Through their examples, we can see that there is recognition and momentum for active transportation.

Having better public transport and building bikeable and walkable communities are not an end. It is a means to accelerate the energy transition of the transportation sector, especially in the road subsector. It complements efforts to advance renewable energy development because having these mobility options reduces fossil fuel (gasoline and diesel) importation and savings from fossil fuel importation can be shifted towards investments for renewable energy development.

Moreover, one of the long-term benefits is the avoidance of new greenhouse emissions from excessive land-use conversion and aggressive urban sprawl from road widening and expansions to accommodate cars and motorized vehicles. Embracing it in the next decade will be a determining factor in reaching climate goals.

To build the cities we need post-pandemic, post the oil crisis, and post the climate crisis, we need to reimagine our transport system in a way that supports and prioritizes people, promotes a green recovery, and decarbonizes the sector. The champions in the previous runs of the Mobility Awards show that through political will, cities in the country could model the way for accelerating this inevitable paradigm shift.

Moving forward, we need to collectively challenge the prevailing system that favors cars more than people. As citizens, we have a say on which path we want our streets to look like in the coming decades. Let us demand our new set of leaders to prioritize commuters and those who have less in wheels.




Celine Tabinga is a Climate Reality Leader and an urban transition analyst at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. She is currently the National Coordinator of the Mobility Awards, a platform that recognizes acts of leadership by Philippine local governments, workplaces, and commercial establishments promoting cycling as a reliable, efficient and sustainable mode of transport among their constituencies, customers, employees and communities. 


This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.