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Story Publication logo May 30, 2017

Want to Save Lives on Philippine Roads? Slow Down Motor Vehicles.


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Roads Kill

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Last April, 33 people were killed in a bus crash in Nueva Ecija.

Almost two years ago, a man on a bicycle, Christopher Jose D. Luis, died in a crash on Macapagal Boulevard.

At first glance, the two horrific crashes have little in common. The bus plunged into a ravine; the SUV that hit Mr. Luis as he biked to work was barreling down the boulevard.

However, the two crashes do share a risk factor for road crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths. They both show how speed kills.

The bus driver was reportedly speeding on the mountain road, a crash-prone site. The crash was the sixth in the area in recent years.

There are no reports of how fast the SUV driver was traveling on the boulevard when he crashed into Mr. Luis. However, he was going fast enough for the SUV to land on the traffic island and crush the cyclist; Mr. Luis died on the spot.

Taming vehicle speeds on Philippine roads is a difficult challenge. Still, there are two bright spots in the country: Iloilo City and the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. They offer lessons on how roads can be designed to effectively manage speed and to protect the people who walk and bike.


How do you build a city that is sweet to its cyclists?

First, you put up bicycle lanes. Then you work and bike together, like the people of Iloilo City do.

Elvie Razon-Gonzalez learned to ride a bicycle as a child in Metro Manila. But when she lived in the megacity, she didn't dare move around on two wheels.

In Metro Manila, pedal pushers don't have their own protected space; they ride in moving traffic. However, the person on a bicycle is only flesh and bone. He or she is no match to the person in a car, who is protected by an exoskeleton of steel.

As a result, two-wheeled travel in Metro Manila can be fatal. From 2005 to 2013, 1,127 people on bicycles died in road crashes.


In contrast, Iloilo City is a haven for Ms. Razon-Gonzalez and people on bicycles. The Queen City of the South provides them with bicycle lanes, including a four-kilometer protected lane.

The protected bike lane is raised; plants and bollards also keep motor vehicles out of the lane. People who walk and jog use the lane, too.

The bike lanes have become everyone's safe zone. This was something Ms. Razon-Gonzalez found out in 2014. In that year, she, a gastroenterologist, and John Paul, her surgeon husband, moved their family from Manila to Iloilo.

"I rode in the bike lanes until I found the courage to bike on the roads," she says. "The lanes are a safe place where people who are not hardcore riders — women, students, the elderly, and children — can bike."


How do you build a city that, like Iloilo, is sweet to its cyclists? Building bike lanes, including protected lanes, is an important first step.

Iloilo City is home to "the longest dedicated… bike lane in the country along a major thoroughfare," says Paulo Alcazaren in a Facebook post. The landscape architect designed the four-kilometer protected bike lane on Aquino Avenue.

The maximum speed limit on the avenue is 60 kilometers per hour (kph). However, it is not enforced; cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles all hurtle down the avenue's 10 lanes.

On such a road, having a protected bike lane is vital to the safety of vulnerable road users. The protected lane is a buffer zone between people on foot and on bicycles and speeding vehicles.

In Iloilo, everyone works and bikes together to create a bicycle-friendly city.

David Robert De Leon teaches high school math at Central Philippine University. He bikes to the school every day. He and four co-teachers founded a cycling club that counts many students among its members. Mr. De Leon and his colleagues teach them how to safely ride their bikes.

As a result of the club's efforts, the university has installed 18 bicycle racks on campus. Many students, teachers, and staff started biking to the school, too.

Wilfredo Sy Jr. is an architect. He has done pro bono work on the design of a "university loop." When completed, the bike lane will connect nine schools and may benefit 58,000 students.

Jay Treñas, a city councilor, bikes to work on Fridays. He passed an ordinance requiring all buildings in the city to install bike racks. Finally, cycling groups have mushroomed in Iloilo City. For these avid cyclists, any reason is a good one to ride. They get on their bicycles to celebrate women, to honor Filipino heroes, and to sweep the bike lanes.

With every bike ride, they are building a city that is safer for Ms. Razon-Gonzalez and for many others like her who enjoy the sweet freedom of two-wheeled travel.


Walking in Metro Manila is no walk in the park. The too-few sidewalks are dirty, cracked, and narrow. There is a dearth of shady trees to shield people from the hot sun or rain and to buffer them from cars and traffic. As vendors and motor vehicles encroach upon the sidewalks, people on foot often walk on the carriageway itself and risk getting hit by motor vehicles.

As a result, walking in the megacity can be fatal. More than 57,877 persons on foot were injured or killed in Metro Manila from 2005 to 2015, says Thinking Machines. "Pedestrians made up 46.2% of Metro Manila's 4,024 road fatalities since 2005," reports the data science consultancy. "That's more than the number of drivers (39.8%) or passengers (14%) that were killed."

In the megacity, there are a few areas where people on foot can feel safe. The Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City is one of them. Since 2010, the school's administrators and staff have been working together to make pedestrian safety a priority on the campus. In that year, Ateneo's campus safety and mobility office audited the facilities for walking on campus.

Then Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ, president of the Ateneo de Manila University, convened the Ateneo Traffic Group in 2011. "We will need sharp minds and resolute wills to design a new framework for campus mobility," he wrote in a memo.

The group's members reviewed the university's policies on traffic management and identified areas for improvement. The campus safety and mobility office carried out the group's recommendations. Here's how the two offices turned the Ateneo campus into a paradise for people on foot.

• They reduced speed limits

Speed kills. The faster a motor vehicle is running, the greater the likelihood of a road crash and the more severe the crash.

It was a speeding van that ended the life of Ateneo student Julian Carlo Miguel C. Alcantara in 2009. The boy, nicknamed "Amiel," was reportedly crossing the street on campus, with his nanny and a sibling, when the motor vehicle hit him.

The impact was enough for the boy to sustain severe head injuries, which led to his death. It reportedly shattered both of the nanny's legs.

Charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and serious physical injury were filed against the woman who was driving the van. The trial is ongoing.

In 2009, the speed limit on campus was 40 kph, reports Josephy Almosera. "After Amiel's death, we lowered it to 30 kph," says the assistant director of Ateneo's campus safety and mobility office. This conforms to the World Health Organization's recommended speed limit of 30 kph in school areas to keep children safe.

To reduce the speed of motor vehicles and to allow pedestrians to cross safely, the campus safety and mobility office placed speed bumps before major pedestrian lanes. In some cases, the office consolidated pedestrian lanes into a properly designed and constructed speed table. The speed table prevents motorists from going fast and keep people on foot safe.

Since speed was reduced on campus, no one has been injured or has died in a road crash, says Michael Canlas. He is the director of the campus facilities management office.

• They made walking safe and fun

Mr. Almosera surveyed the school's sidewalks in 2010. "I looked for areas that needed improvement," he says. After walking 11 routes that covered 8.3 kilometers of sidewalks, he found plenty. In some places, the sidewalks were only about a meter wide. Some of them were unpaved; a few had protruding tree roots and rocks, which could trip the person on foot.

Worst of all, the sidewalks were not connected or continuous. "The child tended to keep crossing the street because there were unpaved paths on one side and a paved sidewalk on the other side," he says.

Today, there is a 10-kilometer network of sidewalks on campus. The sidewalks have been widened to 2.5 meters, says Marcelino Mendoza. He heads the campus safety and mobility office.

Mr. Mendoza has seen that if you build and maintain facilities so that people can safely walk, more people will walk. "Students used to drive from one building to another," he says. "Now they walk."

Ateneo's connected sidewalks have made the campus a "friendly" one, says Mr. Canlas. "Students and guests alike can walk around and appreciate the old buildings and heritage trees within the campus."

They trained guards to manage the movement of people and vehicles

Mr. Almosera's 2010 survey showed that there were 49 guards involve in traffic management. Only 31 of them were trained to manage the movement of people and motor vehicles on campus. So Ateneo requested the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to train all guards in traffic management.

Today, the guards keep the children safe as they cross the streets. They also keep an eye on erring motorists; they can issue tickets for violations such as driving over the 30 kph speed limit and failure to give way to pedestrians on pedestrian lanes. Each violation carries a penalty of P3,000 pesos.


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Health Inequities

Health Inequities

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