Of skyways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila
Note: This post is contributed by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, an environmental professional and UPOU graduate student. This is based on a longer and more detailed article, which was posted in Linkedin.
(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects and TechInsider)
Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about
Sky bike lanes, anyone?
For a Metro Manila resident like me, this may seem 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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). There is one city (Marikina City) that built bike lanes, unfortunately, Marikina is just a small part of Metro Manila. (Still, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.)
I have always envisioned a greener 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.
“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden – it dawned on me that maybe my idea is not a crazy one! I am still organizing my thoughts. While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. My proposal is to set up a team and seek support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements (e.g., 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, etc.) while the another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (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. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. We need to 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 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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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);
- 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;
- We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs)? (May 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.
- 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.
- Foremost in mind is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking;
- 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; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles;
- 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?
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).
I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. (A longer version of this article is available in Linkedin.)
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