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Share the Road Campaign Wants 50% of Streets Car-Free

Share the RoadsIn Chicago, 28% of residents don't own a car, and the administration is considering doing more to cater for non-car users in road management.

In the Philippines, by contrast, 98% of residents don't own a car, yet they are crowded off roads by polluting vehicles, and smog-related illnesses are responsible for the majority of citizens' deaths.

This 98% of citizens wish that the government would allow them space on the road to such an extent that they took to the streets in the capital, Manila, last weekend in their thousands, and delivered a petition to the country's Supreme Court demanding that road space be shared equally between motorized vehicles and cyclists, pedestrians and rapid bus transit systems.

Share the Roads cyclists protestThey quote a government Executive Order from 2008, number 774, which directs the three government departments to "transform the road system to favor persons who have no motor vehicles", something they have done the exact opposite of.

"They want to erase us and only motor vehicles will be on the roads. We need to have a share in the roads," said Edgar Velayo, who was there representing the pedicab and tricycle drivers of Manila.

As they handed in their petition they were met with a statement from Environment Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which is attempting to enact a Clean Air Act. Ostensibly, he welcomes the petition, "because if it succeeds, it will surely help boost the ongoing concerted effort to improve the quality of the air we breathe. It injects new vigor into the DENR's implementation of policies that bear directly on the people's right to breathe clean air," he said.

The protest was organized by an umbrella group, the Share the Road movement, whose members say they are fed up with the air pollution, traffic, high fuel cost, and dangerous commute spawned by a Philippine transportation system that has given all the roads to motor vehicles.

How many people can occupy the same area of road space if cycling, walking or in cars? This comparison as been produced by the Share the Road campaigners:

How many people can occupy the same area of road space if cycling, walking or in cars

A cyclist, who gave his name only as Mario, said cycling is faster and so should be given more space. "It's really faster compared to the LRT. When I take the train, it takes me two hours, but on my bike it takes less than an hour from Marikina to Quirino. But the problem is the smog and the stress from jeeps that always stay on the side. I want less of these jeeps. They even take over the bike lanes in Marikina."

Share the Road protestorsAlso joining the walk were children, seniors, persons with disabilities, women, members of various citizens groups like the Firefly Brigade and the Tiklop Society (cycling advocates), the Partnership for Clean Air, the Ateneo School of Government's Mobility Program, Clean Air Asia, The Philippine Medical Association, Filipino lawyers, and ordinary concerned citizens.

Together they filed a uniquely-Filipino legal action: a Petition for the Writ of Kalikasan (Nature) against their own Government. Their legal demand is for the Government to divide the roads by half: one half will be devoted for non-motorized transportation, i.e., for safe, wide, covered sidewalks, edible gardens and all-weather bike lanes; and the other half for motorized public and private transportation.

Even motorists participated in the march, because they recognize the problem for congestion and air pollution. "If there were more walkways, less fear, more personal safety, in such case, even I would commute [by bike]," said a student who drives to college, called Niño.

In their statement, the protestors ask: "Why should 98% of the Filipinos pay for the roads to be used by only 2% of the people? The 98% of the people are not even given a place to walk." Co-convenor Paulo Burro, a law student of San Beda College-Alabang said: "To paraphrase one of the most beloved Filipino leaders, 'those who have less in wheels must have more must in roads'".

The petition is being steered by young volunteer lawyers and more than 120 lawyers from all over the Philippines, plus 28 international environmental lawyers from around the world.

"Why are we copying the lifestyle of Hollywood with their cars all over? First, we don't have the space to fill with cars nor do we have the money to burn," said Bernadette Eugenio, one of the Filipino law students.

The country does have a Sustainable Transportation Act, passed in 2013 and led by Senators Pia Cayetano and Cynthia Villar, which "seeks the establishment of efficient public transportation systems, bike lanes and walkways in urban centers, promotion of non-motorized transport, and the revival of river ferry systems" and calls for "a paradigm shift" to promote walking, public transportation and biking, including a Bus Rapid Transport System and traffic demand management programs, bike lanes, bicycle racks, and a public education program.

The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) was tasked with coming up with proposals for a BRT system within 12 months. It has yet to do so. Instead it is celebrating the commencement of work on a 'skyway' extension, a 14.82-kilometer, mostly six-lane elevated expressway, extending from Buendia in Makati to Balintawak in Quezon City that will cost $6 billion. While being built, it will cause even more congestion.

Back in Chicago this weekend, the protestors would have head an echo of their demands in the words of According to Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who was speaking at a gathering to decide on that city's sustainable transport future: "there will always be vehicles on the road, but it's time to rethink the way cities can be designed to better serve cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians."