From crisis to opportunity: How the Philippines built 500km of bike lanes in less than a year

While on her way to another hospital shift as a radiology clerk in Metro Manila, April boarded a bus and watched the news with her fellow commuters. The rise of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines led the government to announce an extensive lockdown, which included suspending all public transport operations. April doesn’t own a car and she couldn’t afford to miss work because she has to provide for her elderly mother and disabled brother. This meant she and other healthcare workers would have to walk for hours after a long shift. But she soon realized she had another option.

“I never thought of riding a bike to the hospital before,” April recounted. “But when we healthcare workers didn’t have the option to use public transport, I tried to pedal. At first, I was nervous, especially on major roads. But in the long run, we got used to it and became more confident.”

Just like April, scores of commuters who used to rely mostly on public transport turned to cycling as a result of the pandemic. And many stuck to their bike even after mass services resumed. With more and more cyclists converging on main roads, it was necessary for the national government to think about solutions for accommodating the growing number of bikes and ensuring all road users can get around safely.

A survey launched in partnership with the World Bank Group’s Technical Assistance team and national government agencies gathered more than 7,400 respondents showing the increase in cycling amongst Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Cycling as an opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis

In September 2020, the rise of cycling led the national government to allocate more than 22 Million USD for active mobility infrastructure. This translated into the largest bike lane construction program in the country’s history: almost 500 kilometers across Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao.

Designing, adapting and building hundreds of kilometers of infrastructure for active transport in less than a year is no easy task. To support this initiative, the World Bank Philippines Transport Team, the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, and the Australian government joined forces to provide technical assistance from the very beginning, with a focus on ensuring the new cycling infrastructure could meet the highest safety standards.

The World Bank team reviewed the initial guidelines produced by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways to confirm they followed the Safe System approach. A series of Road Safety Inspections and Road Safety Audits were also conducted to ensure that national government agencies received appropriate guidance on international best practices through every step of the process, from design to construction.

The World Bank team not only worked with road safety experts but also involved the community, including persons with disabilities, women, and the elderly. A series of surveys and focus group discussions were held to ensure that community feedback was considered in reviewing current and future infrastructure designs.

To build on this work and promote long-term results, the World Bank team with additional support from Netherlands Embassy carried out a series of trainings on topics such as Dutch Cycling Infrastructure principles, which are considered among the best in the world. The trainings brought together a wide range of stakeholders, all of whom have a part to play in creating quality cycling infrastructure and promoting a culture of safety: national government practitioners, local government staff, academia, non-governmental organizations, private institutions, etc.

Limited resources, big impact

Within 9 months, the Philippines was able to create almost 500 kilometers of bike lanes along national roads. This multi-sectoral effort went a long way in raising the profile of cycling as a reliable and sustainable form of transport. Importantly, it also empowered and inspired local governments and communities to add on to the new network by building their own bike lanes.

Almost 65% of respondents from a post-construction survey said that they used active transport and light mobility vehicles (LMVs) more once the cycling infrastructure was introduced.

As the cycling network grows in the Philippines, healthcare workers like April now have another safe and healthy way to get around. “Even after the lockdown, I will still use my bike to go to work and go home,” April said, “because I believe I will not only help lessen the pollution, but I will also help myself get fit.”

We can only hope that more governments invest in active mobility infrastructure—and that you and many others can join April on this journey toward healthier cities and communities. Will you?


Hafez Alavi, Teije Gorris, Mirick Paala, Alina F. Burlacu, Hope Arandela Gerochi, Marisela Ponce De Leon Valdes and Sheila Fernandez Martinez contributed to this blog post.