“Smoking will be prohibited in the Loyola Schools except in designated smokers’ pocket gardens starting Wednesday, October 1, 2003.”

This warning greets everyone who enters the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. Banners with the same message are also displayed at different strategic locations within the campus.

While it is seen as the school administration’s act of compliance with the recently passed anti-tobacco law, Ateneo’s restricted smoking policy is only one part of the university’s commitment to the ongoing multi-sectoral campaign for clean air in Metro Manila.

From September 15 to October 15, the university test ran the Ateneo Shuttle Service to encourage students to use public transportation rather than private vehicles and help reduce air pollution. Furthermore, another effort for clean air—this time initiated by the students—is in the works.

The Council of Environmental Officers (CEO) of Ateneo’s student council, the Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral (Sanggunian) has proposed the introduction of a “bike culture” on campus.

According to Pia Faustino, a member of the CEO-Sanggunian and officer-in-charge of the project, the project “aims to make the Loyola campus and surrounding areas safe and convenient for cyclists, and to promote among Ateneans the use of bicycles as an inexpensive, fun, healthy, and clean alternative to motorized transport.”

‘A very strong car culture here’

“There’s a very strong car culture here in the Ateneo. A very large percentage of the students bring their own cars to school. And when they go outside to Katipunan, they also bring their cars to lunch, to buy office supplies…it’s not sustainable,” Faustino said.

A survey of 450 out of around 7,000 Ateneo students conducted by CEO-Sanggunian in September and October 2003 revealed that 68.62% of respondents from various year levels and schools were willing to bike around campus; 38.3% are willing to bike to nearby establishments, and 23.94% are willing to bike from their homes to school.

Almost half of the respondents (48.76%) travel from their homes to the Ateneo by private cars, 27.86% by walking, and only 15.27% use public transportation. In going around the campus, 85.71% prefer to walk, 8.37% take tricycles, and 6.89% use private cars. From Ateneo to nearby establishments, 50.74% walk, 31.53% ride tricycles, and 19.21% use private cars.

The project is a reaction to the plan of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to expand the road by removing the trees along Katipunan Avenue. A major contributor to the traffic problem in the area, the Ateneo community carries the burden of coming up with measures to help reduce the number of cars passing Katipunan Avenue.

“These measures must be taken immediately, before the MMDA carries through with its plan to de-green our community,” states the project proposal drafted by the CEO-Sangunian.

One such measure is to encourage the use of bicycles in the Katipunan area, because unlike cars or tricycles, bicycles do not contribute to air pollution or traffic and their use provides an inexpensive and great form of exercise.

It is interesting to note that the idea of promoting the use of bicycles came from a student from Ateneo’s arch-rival, De La Salle University, who participated in the Y-Earth Convention hosted by the Ateneo Student Council in June this year.

‘Naglalakad lang kayo, nagpapakapagod kayo’

“One of the La Salle delegates was surprised at how big the Ateneo campus is. They’re not used to walking around, so she asked, why don’t people bike around the campus? ‘Naglalakad lang kayo, nagpapakapagod kayo (If you just walk, you tire yourselves out),’” Faustino narrated. “Naisip namin, oo nga,,’no (We thought about it, yes, why not)? None of us ever thought of it before.”

“Because the Y-Earth Convention is about clean air, and because we also had a pledge to do a project after Y-Earth, we decided to take on that idea as Ateneo’s project,” she added.

According to Faustino, the project has three stages:

1. The promotion of a bike culture within the Ateneo;
2. The extension of the bike culture outside the campus, within the Katipunan Avenue area, and;
3. The setting-up of bicycle rental shops and encouraging students, especially those who live in nearby areas like Ayala Heights and Tandang Sora, to bike to school.

Bicycle racks, bicycle lanes and covered bicycle sheds

The CEO-Sanggunian plan includes the building of bicycle racks in key locations throughout the Loyola campus, on Katipunan Avenue, and the rest of Loyola Heights, including major buildings, business establishments and dormitories.

The plan also calls for the delineation of bicycle lanes on campus roads and along Katipunan Avenue, the development of traffic guidelines for cyclists in the community, and the building of covered bicycle sheds where bicycles can be safely stored for long periods of time.

The proposal also includes holding regular workshops on how to bike, bicycle maintenance and safety; establishment of bicycle repair and maintenance shops inside and outside the campus; and regular bicycle sales on campus to target Ateneans who do not own bicycles.

“As of now, at the beginning of the project, we’re focusing on the first stage, which is within Ateneo only. We want to set up the proper infrastructures to make biking easy and safe for those who are willing to bike,” Faustino said.

‘The reception was very enthusiastic’

The Sanggunian has already presented the idea to the university administration. “The reception was very enthusiastic,” she said.

University Physical Plant Administrator Leoncio Miralao confirmed: “I have no problems (with the idea) and I would be happy to assist them,” he said in an interview with CyberDyaryo, but he added that the Sanggunian has yet to submit a detailed proposal.

Putting up bicycle lanes would not be difficult, Miralao said, as path for walking are already existing and all that has to be done is to add to these.

“The Ateneo is in favor of protecting the environment. We have a lot of trees, we have our grounds. It’s not a concrete jungle,” Miralao pointed out.

He said the cost of building the necessary facilities could be taken from the revenue generated by the sticker fee charged from vehicles that park inside the campus.
Assistance from the Firefly Brigade

Faustino said they will also get assistance from the Firefly Brigade, a volunteer action group that promotes cycling as an alternative means of transportation. An Ateneo teacher who is a member of Firefly Brigade has become an adviser to the project, and even recommended where to get good bike racks.

“They give training workshops. So I took the workshop. I’m willing to be an urban biker so that you know, I’ll have the right to do this project. We’re also working closely with them, getting advice from them,” she said.

In spite of the favorable reception from the administration, however, Faustino anticipates a negative attitude toward biking among Ateneo students.

“They see it as dangerous, impractical. They feel that the streets are very unfriendly to bicycles. So what we want to do is make the streets friendly to bicycles at least in the Ateneo and thereby make people think differently about biking,” she said.

Students interviewed by CyberDyaryo confirmed such an attitude.

‘It might be difficult’

“It might be difficult. How are you gonna get it to school? Where are you gonna keep it? How assured are you about the safety of the bikes? Bikes can be easily stolen. The idea itself is nice, but it’s kind of impractical,” said Victoria Jalbuena, 19, an AB Humanities student.

“What about those who can’t ride a bike?” asked Jamie Peralejo, 18, majoring in AB Interdisciplinary Studies.

“Malayo ang house ko eh (My house is far from here). So it’s not practical. Maglakad ka na lang (You can just walk [on campus]). There are other ways to help the environment,” said AB Humanities student Trins Roa.

Maureen Torres, 21, an AB Interdisciplinary Studies student, said it’s a good idea but it could be a “hassle”:

“Because in the States, in most of the universities, they do that. Students use their own bicycles. I’m sure if it works there, it’s gonna work here. Maybe the only problem is sometimes it’s just too much of a hassle because we can actually just walk anyway, and we only take trikes if we need to get out of the campus or get in. But around the campus, we just walk. Sometimes it’s very nice to walk around school with your friends. I think it’s a hassle. You have to go to a station to get one and then bring it to another station and drop the bike off, right? It’s okay if we need to get from that station to the next one. But since most of the places we need to get to are irregular and between breaks we need to do errands, we don’t really need to use the bike,” she explained.

Incentives needed?

Francis Capistrano Jr., editor-in-chief of Matanglawin, Ateneo’s Filipino publication, said while the idea is good, there might also be a need to implement incentives for those who opt to use bicycles.

“If they can pull it off, why not? Maganda yung idea na ang mga estudyante nagba-bike. ‘Di ko lang ma-imagine ngayon kasi iba ang impression ko sa Atenista….Pero kung walang incentive, like babawasan (ang bayad) sa pag-issue ng stickers, baka mahihirapan. Mas magandang ma-implement kung may incentives (The idea of getting students to bike is nice, I just can’t imagine it now because I have a different impression of Ateneans. If there are no incentives, such as a reduction in the sticker fee, it might be difficult to implement. It would be easier to implement it if there are incentives).”

But James Michael Araneta, 18, a BS Environmental Studies is enthusiastic about the project: “Actually, it’s a good idea… There are a lot of proposals about clean air. Possible solution sana yung mas efficient na tricycle engines. But it would be a very good change actually if bicycles would be used inside the campus. Marunong ako mag-bike so okay lang. Masayang mag-bike (I know how to bike, so it’s fine with me. It’s fun to bike),” he said.

Faustino says the project will be implemented by early next year with the necessary infrastructure hopefully set up during the Christmas break. To promote the project, they plan to hold an annual bike parade, a festive activity in which student cyclists will bicycle together throughout the campus and the Katipunan area. The first parade will be held to launch the bike-friendly infrastructure.

Cyberdyaryo 11-06-03