Iloilo officials mull opening scenic River Esplanade to cyclists
ILOILO CITY, Philippines – The city’s famed Iloilo River Esplanade may soon be reopened to cyclists as Iloilo City Councilor Jose Efraim “Jay” Treñas III eyed to pass an ordinance that will lay down rules to foster a safe shared space for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Treñas, a biking advocate, bared the plan during the launch of the international Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) Asian Championship biking tournament at the Iloilo Business Park on Thursday, August 15.
“With more and more Ilonggos taking on biking as a hobby and as an alternative means of transport, it is high time we reopen the Esplanade to [cyclists],” Treñas said.
He said the city council is in the process of consulting stakeholders to draft an ordinance that will set the rules and regulations for the reopening of the Esplanade to cyclists. He stressed that the campaign has the full support of Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas.
“We believe the longest linear park in the country, with the proper rules in place, can become an accessible venue for bike enthusiasts to enjoy the city,” the councilor said.
Touted as the longest linear park in the Philippines, the scenic Iloilo River Esplanade stretches 8.1 kilometers, tracing the path of its namesake waterway as it runs along major thoroughfares in the city. (READ: People's project: How Ilonggos turned a road into a riverside park)
Designed by celebrated Filipino architect Paulo Alcazaren, the park was recently deemed as a Haligi ng Dangal awardee for best landscape architecture by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Committee on Architecture and Allied Arts.
Envisioned as a place of leisure for Ilonggos and as a potential tourist spot, the Iloilo River Esplanade started out as a 1.2-kilometer public park that ran from Diversion Road (officially Senator Benigno Aquino Jr Avenue) to Carpenter Bridge in Molo District. It now features several completed phases that snake around Iloilo City.
Bikers were allowed to traverse the park when it first opened, but safety concerns brought by the heavy foot traffic of both pedestrians and bikers prompted the city government to ban bikers from the Esplanade.
"Our problem before was how to manage the foot traffic along the Esplanade, because when its first 1.2-kilometer phase opened there were both pedestrians and bikers who would patronize the park. Cyclists, who move faster, may face the danger of running into joggers, and vice versa," said Treñas.
"It was a safety concern and the reaction was to close the Esplanade to bikers. But now it's an over 8-kilometer linear park, congestion along it has been cleared, paving the way for an adequate space now to welcome again cyclists. With more and more Ilonggos taking on biking as a hobby and as an alternative means of transport, it is high time we reopen the Esplanade to them," he added.
Currently, Iloilo City has two bike-related ordinances, both sponsored by the younger Treñas: Ordinance 2014-193, which requires government and non-government buildings with existing parking spaces to provide a safe bicycle parking zone; and Ordinance 2016-299 or the Benigno Aquino Avenue bike lane ordinance. (READ: Tour on two wheels: Seeing Iloilo City's historic sights by bike)
Treñas was previously recognized as a Bayanihan sa Daan awardee for his ordinances and for being the local biking community’s champion in the city council.
The city official shared that the city’s Transportation Management and Traffic Regulation Office (TMTRO) has begun studies to get a better understanding of the foot traffic at the Esplanade and to draft guidelines to ensure the safe and effective sharing of the park between pedestrians and cyclists.
“This will surely further the thrust of Iloilo as the emerging bike capital of the Philippines. It will also complement the 5-kilometer dedicated bike lanes along Diversion Road," Treñas said.
He said to ensure the success of the project, they would reconsolidate the Iloilo Bike Council and the Federation of Ilonggo Cycling Organizations to mobilize local bikers for the cause.
PhilBike Awards proclaimed Iloilo City as the most bike-friendly city in the country during the PhilBike Expo in Manila last year.
“It was an uphill battle in the first couple of years [championing biking in Iloilo City], but now we have a thriving local cycling community that supports and holds up each other. The Iloilo River Esplanade will be a welcome addition to the city’ safe spaces for bikers,” Treñas said.
Veteran Ilonggo artist and well-known biking advocate Rock Drilon has expressed support for the proposal. The long-time cyclist said biking organizations he is involved with submitted suggestions for potential rules in the reopening of the Esplanade to bikers.
The recommendations inlclude requiring cyclists to wear proper cycling gear like helmets when in the vicinity of the park, the installation of more bike racks, and requiring bells and nighttime blinkers for bikers so cyclists can signal to pedestrians with ease.
“I’m sure if this development pushes through, many tourists will go to Iloilo just to bike,” Drilon told Rappler in a mix of Filipino. “I hope even those who don’t know how to pedal yet will be inspired to learn and explore the full potential of Iloilo as the most bike-friendly city in the country.”
Cyclist Noma Escalo, 23, shared similar sentiments, as she saw the proposal as a new way for tourists to enjoy the beauty of the Iloilo River.
“The heart of the city is the Iloilo River. When bikers are finally allowed again on the Esplanade we’ll have another avenue to showcase the attractiveness of our revitalized Iloilo River to tourists and locals alike,” said Escalo, also an apprentice biker tour guide of FitStop Tours and Events.
“This will contribute a lot to Iloilo’s tourism. I’m also excited to see Ilonggos of all walks of life and ages taking their bikes to the Esplanade for some fun and leisurely rides,” she added. – Rappler.com
Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene.