The public should consider active transport, such as walking and biking, as alternative modes of transportation amid the COVID-19 crisis.

This developed after the local chief executive of Puerto Princesa expressed qualms on signing into law the local ordinance promoting the use of bicycles in the city.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said Tuesday in a statement as it urged local government units (LGUs) to construct protected biking lanes and walking paths as part of the recently signed Joint Administrative Order (JAO) 2020-0001 with other national government agencies (NGAs).

In Puerto Princesa, city mayor Lucilo Bayron has recently “returned unsigned” the proposed local ordinance No. 1069, seeking to institutionalize the use and promotion of bicycles.

Bayron, in a letter to the City Council issued on August 10, told the Council to “revisit the provisions” because of “difficulty in implementation”.

DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año said that public mass transportation, unfortunately, has become vulnerable to coronavirus transmission despite the health protocols in place which is why walking and biking must be encouraged for “less contact among the populace leading to fewer opportunities for infection.”

“Data from the ground show that the public transport system can be a breeding ground for COVID-19 transmission kaya patuloy ang ating paghikayat sa mga LGU na magtayo ng walking paths at bike lanes. Ito po ay para matiyak din na ligtas ang mga mamamayan sa kanilang paglalakad o pagbaba-bike,” Año was quoted in the statement in saying.

“At ngayon nga na we have signed a JAO with other agencies, we urge the LGUs to see this as an urgent matter para magamit na agad ng mga tao,” he added.

Año said that the DILG recently signed JAO 2020-0001 with the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) “to address the limited transportation options for essential travel and curtail transmissions in public transportation.”

He said that the JAO urges NGAs and LGUs to construct protected bicycle lanes and walking paths and supportive infrastructure like bicycle racks and changing rooms to encourage walking and cycling.

“The COVID-19 crisis is pushing us to be adaptive at itong paglalagay ng mga bike lane at walking path ay isang paraan ng pagtugon natin sa mga hamon ng pandemyang ito kaya sana ay makuha natin ang pakikiisa ng mga pamahalaaang lokal,” he said.

The City Council of Puerto Princesa has earlier proposed vesting the City Engineering Office (CEO) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to identify and mark 1.5 meters from the outer lane going to the inner lane as a “priority lane” for cyclists.

The bike lane was the centerpiece of discussions during the committee hearings and public discussions with the bike enthusiasts.

The JAO also provides minimum public health standards for active transport users, such as the use of face masks and physical distancing.

DILG Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan E. Malaya said that active transport is a welcome addition and a supplementary mode of transportation, which, according to him “hits many birds with one stone.”

He said that walking and biking opens up various benefits for the health of an individual; contribute to less air pollution; address and help in easing public transportation; and, most importantly, decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.

“We will not go wrong if we will give walking and biking a chance. Kahit saan mo tingnan, very beneficial. Ngayon, kailangan na lang ng pakikipagtulungan at pakikiisa ng mga LGU para naman hindi lang malayo sa COVID-19 ang mga tao, kundi maging ligtas din sila sa kanilang paglalakbay sa pamamagitan ng mga bike lane at walking paths na ito,” Malaya said.

City councilor Nesario Awat, author of the proposed local legislation, in an earlier statement, pointed out that Puerto Princesa is a “tourist destination city” citing that the move was “good for the health, environment-friendly, and economical”.

Complementary to the JAO, the DOH has produced a Health Promotion Playbook on Active Transport in partnership with the DILG and civil society groups. The playbook aims to assist LGUs in rolling out their own bicycle lanes. It explains the health benefits of, and contains technical instructions, including a template ordinance, implementation plan, communication materials, and a monitoring and evaluation plan for a successful bicycle lane network.

Network of Cycling Lanes

Prior to the issuance of the JAO, Malaya said that the DILG issued Memorandum Circular 2020-100 in July stating the guidelines for the establishment of a network of cycling lanes and walking paths to support people’s mobility.

“With the limited modes of transportation available today, people would understandably look for alternatives. As more and more people shift to biking as a way to get to their destinations, LGUs must be prepared to support them through the allotment of bike lanes to ensure their safety,” Malaya said.

In the said memorandum, LGUs are enjoined to review local road structures and determine sections that may be developed into a continuous cycling lanes network and walking paths, while ensuring active transport access to vital establishments, maximizing the use and value of street space, prioritizing safety and welfare of the users, and ensuring that people of all ages and abilities can access services in the locality.

Malaya said that LGUs should revisit their existing Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) to properly plan, identify, and adopt the appropriate engineering and infrastructure solutions of designated local roads to be converted or redesigned for cycling lanes and walking paths.

To ensure proper support for active transport, he recommended LGUs to enact policies and ordinances and prescribe rules and regulation on the use of roads.

(With a report from Romar Miranda, Jeshyl Guiroy, and Celeste Anna Formoso)