The sun had set and darkness settled in. The streets look different from the outside, away from the shelter of cars and bright headlights. The only refuge was the dim from the lampposts as they cut through the night and shined on the streets. Cars hummed along like impenetrable juggernauts while motorcycles ruled the small spaces in between. The random pedestrian popped out of nowhere running across the chaotic street with blatant disregard for life. The traffic moved like a choreographed symphony. And then there was me on my bicycle.
I found myself with a helmet over my head and a worn down bike between my legs, determined to find my spot in this dance. How did I get myself into this? What compelled me to even give cycling around our city a try? It all started when I was stuck in my car, staring at the mess of traffic in front of me, unmoving and seething.
Cebu is succumbing to the stagnation of our infrastructure despite moving forward economically as a city. While I’m happy to see our city progress so fast, better job creation, more entrepreneurial opportunities, improvement of the quality of schools, and plenty of other developments. All this comes with a price, one of the side effects is the worsening traffic.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the causes, yet most of us don’t acknowledge the fact that we are the bottlenecks. Next time you are stuck in traffic, take a look around. What is taking most of the space on the road? Don’t get me wrong. Cars are great, but as a means of transportation in congested cities, there are more efficient ways to move individuals from point A to point B. While our politicians waste time and argue about which form of public transportation is better, we can still do our part. There’s no need to wait. We can decongest our city simply by looking for alternatives. There are many options already; hail a cab, download ride sharing apps like Grab, Uber or Angkas, take a jeepney, or even just walk.
I’ve chosen to bike.
Of course, there are risks when biking around the city, especially for the first time commuter. So my first ride was a simple one. It was dark and I had a basketball game a few kilometers away from my house. That was going to be my first bike ride through the streets of Cebu.
I started with the basics. We had a crusty mountain bike that no one had used in years. I brought it to a bike shop and had it repaired. I also bought a bike helmet, a big handkerchief for my face, and a chain lock to secure the bike while parked. I realized later on that I forgot to buy blinkers and a headlight.
Before the ride, I checked the shortest route on Google Maps, said goodbye to my wife and kids, took a deep breathe, and left. I was nervous. When driving a car, it’s easy to go on autopilot. You don’t have to take into account the puddles, the potholes, the weather, and the inclines. When on a bike, everything matters. The smallest pothole can send you tumbling to the ground, even slight inclines can prove to be taxing on your legs. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to watch for everyone else on the road, the fast cars, the humming motorcycles, the stray pedestrians, everyone plays a role. My first realization as I was biking was the need to be hyper aware of everything that was happening around me.
I treated being on the bike similar to being a pedestrian. I stayed close to the sidewalks, didn’t go to the middle of the road, and kept looking behind me whenever I had to veer towards the middle. The only time I veered towards the middle of the road was when I had to pass an intersection with a traffic light. Then I peddled hard to keep up with everyone through the intersection.
When I got to the basketball court, I looked for a place to park the bike. Any place that could secure the chain lock was fine, but I found that as I was playing basketball, all I was thinking was that I hope the bike is still there when I get back.
Is it safe?
That was one of the first questions from friends when I told them about my commuting experiment. I can’t deny the risks, but the truth is that it is safer than most people think. It is very difficult to make a bicycle go at a speed that rivals even the simplest motorcycles. The most common injury from falling off a bike is a bruised ego and minor scratches, but people cling to the horror stories of someone getting hit by a truck and severely injuring themselves.
Accidents can happen to anyone. You might feel safer in a car, but that doesn’t mean you are less likely to experience an accident, or even more likely to live longer. According to a study by the University of Glasgow who tracked the health of more than a quarter of a million people over five years, biking to work lowers the risk of dying early by 40%, and reduces the chance of developing cancer by 45%. Turns out a sedentary lifestyle is riskier than one that involves riding a bike every day.
We’re not alone.
As I was biking, I noticed another thing, I wasn’t alone. I mean of course, I wasn’t alone. There were plenty of cars, motorcycles and pedestrians on the street, but there were bikers as well. I never noticed them before. I was surprised to find that our streets have plenty of bikers. It’s funny what you notice when you allow them into your worldview. There were many every day bikers. Some were out getting a good ride for exercise, but most were simply commuting from point A to point B. I couldn’t help but feel a kindred belonging. They were just like me, finding a place for themselves in the dance on the streets.