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

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

You work together and bike together, like the people of Iloilo City do.

Elvie Razon-Gonzalez learned to ride a bicycle as a young girl in Metro Manila. But she didn’t dare move around on two wheels in the megacity. In Metro Manila, pedal pushers risk life and limb each time they get on their bikes.

They don’t have their own protected space and are forced to ride in moving traffic.

However, bicycles and motor vehicles don’t mix. When push comes to shove, 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.

And when a motor vehicle is running at a high speed, it becomes a killing machine. The Philippines does have a national speed limit law; enforcement is poor though.

The country rated 5 out of 10 its enforcement of the national speed limit law in the World Health Organization’s Global status report on road safety 2015.

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. That comes out to 125 deaths per year.

Everybody’s safe zone

In contrast, Iloilo City is a haven for Elvie and people on bicycles. The city provides them with bicycle lanes, including a four-kilometer protected lane.

The protected bike lane is raised; plants and bollards are also used to protect it. These physical barriers keep motor vehicles out of the lane and safeguard the people who ride their bicycles on it. People who walk and jog are welcome to share the lane.


Elvie Razon-Gonzalez practiced riding in the protected bike lane until she found the courage to bike on Iloilo’s roads.
(Photo courtesy of John Paul Gonzalez)

The bike lanes have become everyone’s safe zone. This was something Elvie found out in 2014. In that year, she, a gastroenterologist, and John Paul, her surgeon husband, moved to Iloilo from Manila. They wanted to work and to raise their family in the Queen City of the South.

For the first time in Elvie’s life, she could bike without risking getting run over by motor vehicles. “I practiced riding 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.”

Today she explores the picturesque city and its wonderful murals on two wheels. She and John Paul go on weekly bike dates.

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. Then the entire community must work together and bike together to create a bicycle-friendly city.

The Philippines’ longest protected bicycle lane

Iloilo City is home to “the longest dedicated and traffic segregated bike lane in the country along a major thoroughfare,” says Paulo Alcazaren. The award-winning landscape architect designed the four-kilometer protected bike lane on Aquino Avenue.

Senator Franklin Drilon, who hails from Iloilo, tapped his Priority Development Assistance Fund for the city’s bike lanes. The senator heads the Iloilo Bike Council.

Aquino Avenue links the international airport to the city proper. It is a main road with 10 lanes for motor vehicles and a protected bicycle lane.

bike date

Hello, young lovers! John Paul and Elvie Gonzalez go on weekly bike dates.
(Photo courtesy of Ronald Sebastian)

The minimum speed limit on Aquino Avenue is 40 kilometers per hour (km/h). The maximum speed limit is 60 km/h. However, these speed limits are not enforced; passenger vans, private vehicles, motorcycles all hurtle down the avenue. The city has no speed guns.

In a nutshell, Aquino Avenue is a road used by different road users, many of whom travel at speeds above 30 km/h. The authorities cannot reduce speed. The avenue is also used by many vulnerable road users; many people bike and walk on the road.

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

It takes a village

Many cyclists tirelessly champion two-wheeled travel in Iloilo City and campaign for more lanes. They come from all walks of life.

David Robert De Leon is an engineer. He bikes to Central Philippine University, where he teaches high school math, every day.

David and four of his co-teachers founded Centralian Cruisers Cycling Club. The club counts many students among its members. David and his colleagues teach the students how to safely ride their bikes.

As a result of the club’s efforts, the university has installed 18 bicycle racks on campus; 144 bicycles can fit in the racks. CCTV cameras and guards keep an eye on the racks and thwart bicycle theft.

David says that after the racks were built, the number of students who biked to school tripled. Many teachers and staff started biking to work, too.

Wilfredo Sy, an architect and urban planning student, works pro bono with the Department of Public Work and Highways. He has designed a “university loop,” a bike lane that will connect nine schools. When completed, 58,000 students may benefit from the loop.


Wilfredo Sy, an architect, has done pro bono work on the design of a “university loop.” The bike lane will connect nine schools in Iloilo City and may benefit 58,000 students.
(Photo courtesy of Dinna Louise C. Dayao)

Wilfredo also owns FitStop, a café and bike rental shop. He offers biking tours around the city.

Jay Treñas, a city councilor, bikes to work on Fridays. He passed an ordinance requiring all buildings in the city to install bike racks.

Ronald Sebastian is the CEO of John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University. His company provides employees with bike loans; 800 employees work at the maritime university.

Finally, Iloilo, like many cities all over the globe, has found that if you build bicycle lanes, more people will ride their bikes. Cycling groups have mushroomed in the city. For these avid cyclists, any reason is a good one to ride.

women in white

For Iloilo’s avid cyclists, any reason is a good one to ride. Here they ride to celebrate women.
(Photo courtesy of Eric Barbosa Jr.)

They get on their bicycles to celebrate women, to honor a Filipino hero, and even to sweep the bike lanes.

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

About Dinna Louise C. Dayao

philippines authorDinna Louise C. Dayao ( is an experienced writer-editor who is based in Manila, the Philippines. She is one of 10 Filipino journalists who participated in the 2016 Bloomberg Initiative-Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization.

She attended Safety 2016, a major injury prevention conference in Finland, with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2016 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies.