I biked 5.6 km on Commonwealth Avenue to reach La Mesa Eco Park from UP Diliman Campus at 2pm yesterday. It was the longest 20 minutes of my life.
More deaths occur on this 12.4 km stretch of highway than anywhere else In Metro Manila, if not, the entire country. It is 6-18 lanes wide at various points and is flanked by numerous subdivisions, offices, and malls, meaning people aren’t just flying by, they are also turn on and turning off the highway often.
I was accompanied by my friend Joey Alvero of Doppleganger Hub PH. We chose to stay in the Motorsiklo pane, supposedly designated for motorcycles. This lane is 2 lanes in from the right. Photos don’t do the experience justice. One second a flock of motorcycles crosses into the lane from my right. The next second a bus is beeping at my back crossing into the lane from the left. When there is an ebb and flow to this madness, it sort of works, but it’s not hard to imagine the fatal destruction which occurs when ebb meets ebb and flow meets flow. Drivers of all kinds are bursting into lanes blindly; their beeps canceling each other out and a misjudgement costs their life.
There is a bike lane on part of the sidewalk along Commonwealth, but as you know, I do not advocate bike lanes on sidewalks. Sidewalks are for pedestrians and they are filled with trees and telephone poles and once the sidewalks lane ends it’s challenging to enter onto the road again. You’d have to cross several lanes of jeepneys flying by and then join into traffic already at top speed, unless you can get to a stop light and then cross into the traffic and start with everyone at the same time.
After the first 10 minutes of hustle, we were able to stop at a police check point for a break. We both looked at each other stunned when we realised we still had another 10 minutes to go. And this isn’t even during rush hour; at 2pm the roadway could be considered empty by 5pm standards.
By the time we reach the turn for La Mesa Eco Park, I am sweaty, breathless, and shaking with nerves. I have on both my facemask and another cloth facemask over the industrial one. I remove both for a big gasp of air.
As we enter the subdivision leading to La Mesa Eco Park, it’s suddenly a different world. We are in the suburbs and the streets are named after cigarette companies.
More on the park itself later…
After leaving the park we decide there’s no way we are going back to UP on Commonwealth Ave. I insist that we will find an alternative route back; I refuse to take a cab back no matter how awesome it sounds.
We get back onto Commonwealth for a minute and then turn into a side street. The other side of Commonwealth is malls and suburban style subdivisions; this side is a mix of informal and formal housing but all on a labyrinthian network of unplanned streets. There are no sidewalks, everything is built to the last inch of the road and most lead into dead ends. It takes us more than an hour to work our way back to UP. At times it seems we are back tracking but we are making incremental progress; sometimes we end up back at the same basketball court. The GPS doesn’t update immediately and we are lost within seconds. Google maps isn’t accurate and as we go to make a right turn, that road has already been blocked with a warehouse. Joey suggests we ask a tricycle driver to guide us out, which is a great idea, except I want to prove a point.
We think it’s easier to construct new road space, highways, fly overs, etc, to solve traffic, but if we planned our streets better in the first place, as a system of connecting areas, we’d have more options to get from point A to point B. When we reach Luzon Ave, the only long stretch of road leading to C-5, it is packed, because people gravitate towards the direct route. Without my iPhone or the knowledge of a local, it would be impossible to navigate this maze of streets, most of which are not even named.
We make it out to C-5, ascend the bridge over Commonwealth and roll into UP. The whole journey takes us 4 hours, with only 1 hour of that time actually spent in the park. La Mesa Eco Park is only 5.6 km from UP. It is an invaluable resource in a city like Metro Manila which has few beautiful parks like it. We shouldn’t have to risk our lives to get there.