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MMDA chairman draws flak over comments on cycling

Don Artes really seems to be against bike-commuting

The MMDA should be promoting cycling, not discouraging it. SCREENSHOT FROM X

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority acting chairman Don Artes found himself in the doghouse with local commuters last week after his comments about transport cyclists were perceived negatively.

In a video that was shared on X, Artes can be seen talking about how bike-commuting would leave people sweaty. He mentioned that few offices have showers or changing facilities. Apparently, cycling was okay during the pandemic, but not now.

It didn’t take long for his words to be shared and commented on by hundreds of angry bike-commuters who happily pointed out that his worldview was outdated and misguided.

The video itself had almost 500,000 views at the time of this writing, and the number of retweets and comments are plentiful. Feedback ranges from people saying that his words belittle and insult the daily struggles of Filipino commuters to outright calls for his resignation under the hashtag #ArtesResign.

Mobility advocates were quick to criticize the MMDA's methodology. PHOTO FROM MMDA

The agency also came under fire for using figures from a past bike count it conducted to justify the potential removal of the bike lanes along EDSA. It said the number of cyclists using the thoroughfare has declined since the pandemic, and that only 1,586 cyclists pass EDSA during a 14-hour period.

This figure was quickly put into serious question, with other cycling advocates and various media outlets pointing out that a separate count by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities concluded that the real daily number likely stands at over 7,000.

Eagle-eyed observers also noticed that Metro Manila was still suffering under the effects of Typhoon Egay on the day of the official MMDA count that took place on July 28, 2023. While the storm itself had already left the Philippines area of responsibility, windy conditions and enhanced rainfall were still being felt across the capital, and Signal No. 1 was still in effect according to local news. This can naturally impact the number of people commuting on two wheels.

Metro Manila needs more protected bike lanes.
Cycling is a solution to traffic congestion and global warming. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

This latest episode sadly once again seems to show that the agency tasked with keeping the nation’s capital moving is still not as open-minded when it comes to alternative methods of transportation as it really should be.

The comments by Artes are especially disappointing as he was one of the individuals who went to Amsterdam on an official government trip to learn about best practices on sustainability and environmental protection.

What the agency should be doing is to build on the increasing number of people who commute by bicycle and similar means, not trying to hinder a growing and very healthy trend among the population.

His comments about being sweaty when arriving at work are also likely to be perceived negatively by the thousands of commuters who walk or take the bus or train to work.

Cyclists do not cause traffic congestion. They actually help reduce it. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Instead of again favoring cars and motorbikes, the agency should focus on providing end-of-trip facilities and other infrastructure needed to expand the willingness of many metro residents and workers to embrace alternative methods of transportation.

His comments in the video were clearly said with a mindset that favors private cars as the primary method of transportation. But that is a mindset this megalopolisand this countrycan no longer afford.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.