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A pedal to safety

For people or groups with an interest in cycling or the use of bicycles for transport or for leisure, I encourage them to urgently go through House Bill 8156 authored by Las Piñas Representative Camille Villar. The Villar bill proposes a framework for a national law for bicycle use, and all those to be affected by it should be given the opportunity to be heard.

I, for one, support the bill in principle. But its details require further research and deliberation, I believe, so that the legislation will be a win for all parties concerned. In this line, all those to be affected by it should take the time to review the bill and to provide data and research that can help Congress better deliberate the proposal and come up with a well-informed decision on it.

The effort will be a small pedal to safety, a small pedal to a better future for cycling in the country, and a small pedal in the right direction to promoting ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria for investing in public and private infrastructure. Yes, governance, as lack of or misapplication or misappreciation of regulation can result in corruption.

If there are anti-vaxxers, or those against vaccination, then there are also anti-regulation when it comes to cycling. Some seem to be of the opinion that the use of bicycles and other personal mobility devices (PMDs) like scooters on roads do not require rules. Also, such a right to the road by cyclists is already covered by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.

I do not question the right of cyclists and PMD users to share the road. However, I also believe there should be some system of structure to govern all those on the road, including bicycles and PMDs, to ensure safe and equal access to the road. Senator Pia Cayetano started us on this direction by legislating the requirement for safe pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. Rep. Villar is taking this further by setting rules for cyclists. I hope she can expand her proposal to also cover PMDs.

“With bikes becoming more in-demand and physical distancing dictating social norms, a policy on bicycles and cyclists should now figure prominently in the government’s current and post-pandemic planning,” Rep. Villar wrote in her explanatory note for HB 8156, which was filed in December 2020. “The bill seeks to provide a framework for a bicycle law on a national level so that Filipino commuters may find a cheaper alternative to get to their destination while saving the environment from harmful emissions.”

Obviously, the proposed law intends to cover not only those who bike to work, but also those who bike for leisure. I make no distinction between the two as both also make use of public roads, although for different purposes. Bicycles, like PMDs, are modes of transport. Their use, in my opinion, should be regulated under a national code, regardless of the purpose. Again, I believe HB 8156 should be expanded to include PMDs.

Rep. Villar’s bill has four aspects: creation of the Local Bikeways Office (LBO) to implement the proposed law; creation of bikeways on all main roads and highways as well as bike parks in each city and municipality; creating a system for registration for bicycles to be used on bikeways; and, legislating the “rights, duties, and obligations of cyclists.” The latter two, I believe, will be the most contentious issues during congressional deliberations.

I list below some of the items listed on the bill, and I strongly suggest cycling groups to start doing their research to come up with a comprehensive position paper on HB 8156:

• Bicycles on public roads to be allowed only on designated bikeways;

• Cyclists will have rights and duties similar to those of drivers of motorized vehicles;

• Safety equipment will be required on bicycles, and the use of safety helmets and visible and audible signals;

• Bicycles must be parked only on designated areas, and cannot be ridden on sidewalks and crosswalks;

• The number of cyclists and riders will be determined by the number of seats; a bike built for one can carry only one;

• Bicycle ownership will require bicycle registration;

• Cyclists will be required to observe traffic rules and regulations applicable to motor vehicles; and when off their bikes, rules and regulations applicable to pedestrians;

• Cyclists can be flagged down for suspected violations, by police officers and deputized traffic enforcers;

• A cyclist cannot carry anything on the bike unless it is in a basket, bag, rack, or trailer designed for the purpose;

• Bicycles must have brakes that can stop the bicycle with 25 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour, on dry, clean level pavement; and “modified” bicycles will not be allowed on bikeways.

For the latter, I cannot understand why the bill listed feet and MPH when we use the metric system. Obviously, these measures were just copied from somewhere. I can only hope there will be research and scientific bases to back up this requirement, and provisions for how to measure, test, and inspect bicycles. Will this mean that bicycles will have their own inspection centers?

And last but not least is the bill’s Section 16 on penalties, which states that any person who violates the law will be penalized with a fine of P500 to P1,000, and if that such violation results in damage or injury to persons or property, then “appropriate provisions” of the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code will apply.

Obviously, the proposed bill gives plenty of leeway and discretion for regulators, and this may result in misapplication. So, all parties need to chime in on this urgently. Always remember that when it comes to regulation, regulators’ use or exercise of discretion, minus clear standards and accountability, can result in corruption.

 

Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippine Press Council

matort@yahoo.com

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