Not a Walk in the Park: The Hurdles to a Walkable and Bikeable Los Baños

Written by: Janelle Macandog and Dyan Dane Chomawat

Do a quick Google search about Los Baños, Laguna and the first few things that would appear are its naturescapes — from its parks to its trails. One would probably imagine a conducive town for physical activities such as walking and biking. Experiencing its streets and roads, however, would tell otherwise.  

In a crowdsourcing initiative conducted among Los Baños residents about the perceived walkability and bikeability of the town, the citizens lamented the unpleasant circumstances they observe or encounter along Los Baños streets.

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Some pedestrians have to walk sideways just to fit themselves in the narrow spaces left by parked vehicles and electric posts in the crowded sidewalks. The scene is worse during rush hours when they are forced to stop and give way to fellow pedestrians to avoid bumping into them.

“Bilang strict ako sa walking routine ko, madalas ako maglakad sa loob at labas ng UPLB. Masasabi ko na hindi kaaya-aya maglakad sa ibang parte ng Los Baños tulad na lamang ng kalyeng FO Santos sa Batong Malake kung saan madalas maraming kotse na dumadaan kaya palaging masikip doon. Sa iba rin na parte ng UPLB mismo, maliit lang ang lakaran kaya minsan kailangan pang dumaan sa kalsada,” said Christopher Marlo Jimenez.

(Since I am strict with my walking routine, I usually walk inside and outside UPLB. I can say that it is not conducive to walk in different parts of Los Baños like FO Santos Street at Batong Malake where there are many cars resulting in it being narrow. In some parts of UPLB, the walking spaces are also narrow so there is a need to use the road itself.)

Although bikers appreciate that some areas remain enjoyable for their bike rides such as the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus, they cannot help but notice the lack of designated bike lanes on Los Baños roads, leaving them with two options: taking over the pedestrian sidewalks especially when there is traffic, or being honked at by hot-headed motorists and drivers at the highway.  

Sadyang masisikip ang mga sidewalk at hindi pa sila gaanong ligtas lalo na sa kahabaan ng Lopez Avenue hanggang sa National Highway dahil sa kawalan ng mga barikada, signages, at streetlights, kaya mas pinipili pa namin na sumakay na lang sa jeep/tricycle kahit kaya namang lakarin ang pupuntahan,” explained Franklin, a Los Baños resident.

(The sidewalks are indeed narrow and not that safe, especially along Lopez Avenue and National Highway because of the lack of barricades, signages, and streetlights that’s why we just choose to ride a jeep/tricycle even though we can walk to where we are going.)

As it appears, the greens and grays in the town are starkly divided. 

On a rocky road

The green dream of walkable streets and bike-friendly paths in Los Baños continues to face a gray maze of challenges as the local government cannot just take the wheel over the development of road infrastructures.

“Nakita n’yo naman ‘yung mga sidewalks natin, very narrow talaga and we can’t control [it] lalo na sa national highway. Only DPWH ang may karapatan gumalaw n’yan,” Lou Andie Diaz-Reyes, Budget Development Officer II of the Municipal Planning and Development Office, said.

(You have seen our sidewalks, they’re narrow and we can’t control it, especially the national highway. Only the DPWH has the right to implement changes in these areas.)

Similarly, the office faces limitations in removing the utility posts on sidewalks, which are both eyesores and inconveniences to pedestrians, as only electric power distribution companies are authorized to handle their removal.

The lack of funds is also a factor making the town’s roads unconducive for walking and biking. Unlike cities entitled to billions of budgets, Los Baños, as a first-class municipality, lacks the capacity to fully develop its road infrastructures.

“Pero ayun nga merong local government support fund na nanggagaling sa DPWH. Nawala na kasi ‘yung time ni PNoy e at saka ni [Former] President Duterte, ‘yung BUB, bottom-up budgeting, at saka ‘yung assistance to disadvantaged municipalities na naging assistance to municipalities. Mostly ang nire-request namin doon, roads or halimbawa evacuation center. Pero magkano lang din ‘yon, maximum is 10 million lang ang ibibigay sa amin so isang building lang ‘yun na two-storey,” Diaz-Reyes said.

(There is a local government support fund from the DPWH. During the time of PNoy and Former President Duterte, there was what we call BUB or bottom-up budgeting as well as assistance to disadvantaged municipalities. Through these, we request funds for roads or evacuation centers. But we can only get 10 million from it, which is just equal to a two-storey building. Also, these were non-existent anymore.)

The upsides that await

In an article by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, esteemed Filipino architect and urban planner Felino Palafox said that places conducive to active mobility such as walking and cycling allow for a healthy lifestyle, economic growth, and “pleasant community.”

Diaz-Reyes, in addition, underscored the health, environmental, and economic benefits of having walkable and bike-friendly streets. 

“In terms of health aspects, ‘yung walking ‘di ba makaka-sustain sa mga tao, maganda ang effect no’n lalo na sa mga cardiovascular diseases. Then in terms of environmental, less emission ng mga pollution, and in terms of economic aspects naman, syempre habang nagwo-walking walking ka, makikita mo ‘yung business establishments do’n, makakatulong ‘yun sa mga local business establishments,” she said.

(In terms of health aspects, walking can sustain people, and it has good effects against cardiovascular diseases. In terms of environmental benefits, walking and biking can result in less pollution. In terms of economic aspects, of course, when you have a walk in the community you can see the business establishments, which will help local businesses.)

Meanwhile, a triathlon athlete like Marc David Jaojoco, a member of the UPLB Trantados Triathlon Club, finds that cycling not only fulfills his competitive aspirations but also profoundly impacts his lifestyle. He revealed that their biking community’s focus is primarily on self-growth and self-improvement, driven by their participation in competitions.

“Training sessions and rides around Laguna are our main activities,” Marc shared, indicating their dedication to honing their skills and fitness levels. “Our focus isn’t so much on improving Elbi to be more bikeable,” he added. Marc explained that while they do not harbor grand aspirations for the broader biking community, they actively contribute by striving to excel in the competitions they partake in.

In essence, Marc and his fellow cyclists are not only passionate about cycling but also dedicated to personal growth, athletic achievement, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Their commitment to these values invigorates every step and pedal push for a walkable and bikeable town, despite the obstacles.

Hitting the pavement

Despite having no full control over the situation, Diaz-Reyes assured that the local government is making small, gradual steps to improve the roads for pedestrians and bikers. One manifestation of this, she highlighted, was the ongoing initiatives in Barangay Lalakay.

“It (road infrastructure) is one of the priority projects of the administration. Under the 20% [of the budget] is ‘yung dito sa Lalakay muna nag-i-start. Little by little, due to limited funds, ginagawa naman po iyon, [pinapalawak ang sidewalks] . . . In terms of bike lanes, part pa rin doon ay sa road improvements natin. May partial na kaming nagawa sa Lalakay, last year s’ya na-bid,” said Diaz-Reyes.

(Road infrastructure is one of the priority projects of the administration. Under 20% of the budget, we are starting on road improvements at Barangay Lalakay. Little by little, due to limited funds, we are widening the sidewalks . . . The construction of bike lanes is also part of our initiatives for road improvement. We partially constructed bike lanes at Barangay Lalakay, which was bid last year.)

The ongoing construction of the foot bridge in the barangay is also a significant development in the area that allows for a more walkable space for the residents according to Diaz-Reyes. But, as she explained, its full implementation is a combined effort between the provincial and local governments. It cannot be expected in a snap.

Meanwhile, achieving a walkable and bikeable community is not only a matter of road infrastructure developments. Strict monitoring and implementation of the ordinances especially with regard to parking and road obstructions should also be observed at the barangay level.

“May municipal ordinance na bawal talaga [mag-park sa sidewalks]. Makikita n’yo naman sa pagpasok n’yo sa barangay, merong oras lang na allowed silang mag-park doon. Then merong road clearing, si road clearing binigay ni DILG sa barangay para sila talaga ang mag-clearing n’yan,” Diaz-Reyes said.

(There is a municipal ordinance that prohibits parking on sidewalks. You can actually see it when you visit a barangay, there is only a certain duration allowed for them to park. We also have road clearing operations, which the DILG has designated to barangays.)

Strides toward a walkable and bikeable Los Baños

The local government is currently conducting stakeholder analysis and data-gathering as part of crafting its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which encompasses the vision for the town’s walkability and bikeability.

“Ang gusto rin ng bagong Los Baños administration is bigger areas para sa pedestrians natin at tsaka sa bikers natin kaya partial nating ginagawa ‘yon. It will be incorporated sa land use plan and development plan namin for the next 15 years . . . Kahit hindi pa municipal wide, still ginagawan ng paraan na ma-improve [ang sidewalks and bike lanes] kasi nga it’s not just for economic and environmental pero sa health benefits din ng mga tao sa Los Baños,” Diaz-Reyes said.

(The new administration of Los Baños indeed aspires for bigger areas for the pedestrians and bikers that is why we are working on it. This will be incorporated in our land use and development plan for the next 15 years . . . Although our efforts are not municipal-wide, we are still making ways to improve our sidewalks and bike lanes not only for economic and environmental benefits but also for the health benefits of Los Baños residents.)

As the Special Science and Nature City undergoes urbanization and development, ensuring safe and accessible pathways for pedestrians and cyclists becomes paramount. However, for such a municipality, it is definitely not a walk in the park.