Manila is known more for its gridlocked traffic jams and air pollution than for green spaces or pedestrianized walkways. Bamboo bikes could change that by curbing emissions and helping pave the way to go green.
Visitors on bikes cycle past Manila's historical area of Intramuros - from the secret gardens scattered between Fort Santiago to lookout points to hear tales of pirates and revolutions. For the next two and a half hours, people ride on bikes made from bamboo.
Bryan McClelland, a 29-year-old Filipino-American, is the man behind the concept of Bambikes, the company that creates bikes made from bamboo in the Philippines. He founded Bambikes in 2010, but has just recently launched his bamboo bike tours in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
"There's a growing global trend of biking. A lot of different cities now have bike tours because it's a great way to interact with the environment and city," McClelland explained. "Intramuros seemed like the natural place in Manila to start the tours. It is the oldest part of the city has some cultural heritage and is a preserved environment".
His bikes are made out of cut and dried bamboo lumber wrapped in Manila hemp fibers. According to McClelland, bamboo is one of the strongest materials in the world and has the same tensile strength as metal. Each bike is made by laborers in the provincial town of Victoria, 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Metro Manila, the Philippines' National Capital Region.
"The bamboo bike tours help people see a different side of the city by making exploration in Intramuros accessible and fun," said Julia Nebrija, a Manila resident who recently went on a Bambike tour. "I think its greatest contribution is showing people how bikeable Intramuros is. Once you've done it, you'll be inspired to get a bike and see what other areas of Manila can be explored by bike."
Working towards a cleaner city
In addition to providing tourists and locals with an alternative way to see Manila's sights, these tours are also meant as the beginning of a wider project to promote a more pedestrianized city. McClelland is in talks with the Intramuros administration about developing a strategy to promote more pedestrian-based tourism and create a more walkable and bikeable city.
"Right now there are no dedicated bike lanes. Sidewalks exist in a lot of places but they can be intermittent and there are a lot of cars, so you're always worried about traffic," McClelland said.
"A lot of Filipinos don't know how to ride bicycles - perhaps in part because they grew up in the city and it's really not a safe place to learn, so they're discouraged," he added. He says he plans to teach adults how to bike "in a closed environment so they'll feel comfortable."
Curbing air pollution
Metro Manila ranks high among the major cities of Asia that are suffering from air pollution. Manila's level of suspended particulate matter (SPM) is more than double the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 70 percent of air pollution in Metro Manila is from motor vehicles, highlighting the need for a cleaner mode of transport.
"A city like Manila would benefit a lot from investing more in sustainable transport especially in two areas - public transport and the creation of livable spaces for pedestrians and cyclists," said Ko Sakamoto, Transport Economist with the Sustainable Infrastructure Division at the Asian Development Bank.
He says a main challenge is the explosion in motorized transport. "As with any government in Asia and the Pacific, they are really racing against time. In a typical Asian country you have a doubling of the vehicle fleet every four to seven years," he said.
"Imagine how many cars are coming onto the road every day. It's really how we make our cities friendlier towards public transport, pedestrians and cyclists at a faster rate than which the cars are coming on the road," he added.
Introducing cleaner modes of transport
In response, the government has launched a series of projects aimed at developing more eco-friendly forms of transport. One part of the strategy is the introduction of more hybrid buses, which combines a diesel engine and an electric motor. These buses would emit 30 percent less CO2 and use 30 percent less fuel. There are currently 249 hybrid buses in service, with 300 expected to be on the roads by the end of the year.
The iconic jeepneys (a hybrid of a bus and a jeep) are the most popular form of public transport in Manila - but they are also one of the biggest polluters. There has been a move to replace these vehicles with electrical ones. In January, 30 fully electric powered city shuttles were introduced to the city.
McClelland says the number of people interested in sustainable forms of transport is growing. "Every year there's a Tour of the Fireflies, a cycling tour organized by the Firefly Brigade - a citizen's action group which promotes clean air and people friendly environments. It's been growing year by year. This year the numbers got up to 20,000. There are also bike groups popping up all over the city."
"If you had a safe bike lane that was respected by cars, you'd see a big growth in bike commuters," he added.