Meet our speaker: Julia Nebrija

Julia Nebrija is an urban specialist and avid bike commuter that enjoys taking her folding bike and the Pasig River ferry to get around Metro Manila (Philippines). She has been encouraging others to do the same as part of her advocacy for inclusive mobility. Currently, she is the Assistant General Manager for Operations of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. She champions better design and management of Metro Manila streets and waterways. Read more about Julia on our speaker page.

We had a quick talk with Julia on cycling in Manila and her upcoming visit to Velo-city 2017.

You will be speaking in the Bikenomics keynote session and the session ‘Cycling Through Barriers Around the World’. What do you want to present at these sessions?

I want to discuss the process of building acceptance for bicycles as a dignified, valuable form of transport in rapidly urbanizing areas. I would say that in cities like Metro Manila, bicycles are not commonly perceived as an important contributor to a livable city, and therefore they don't get the level of priority they deserve. Interventions are usually half-baked, so we still haven't reached that tipping point where there are tangible examples to convince people that not only can cycling change the city, but it's a totally possible feat. I'm looking forward to sharing how the pioneers are trying to strike a cord in Metro Manila and learn from the other presenters about how they are tackling these challenges in their areas. 

What role do you envision for the bicycle in mega-cities like Manila?

The bicycle provides accessible, affordable transport to a wide population. From young to old, low income to high income, and even the differently abled, bicycles can cater to a diverse urban base. Bicycles can also respond in real-time.  Mega-cities like Metro Manila grow everyday; it's difficult for planning to keep up with the rapid urbanization. Bicycles are an immediate solution to connectivity issues especially for neighborhoods that are left out or cut off from mass transit. Bicycle infrastructure is relatively low-cost compared to other transit investments and can be rolled out in the short-term. Bicycles therefore can respond to various needs through a viable network, something that cities like Metro Manila desperately need.  

What lessons on cycling will you bring to the Netherlands?

Cycling in urban environments where heat and rain are prevalent factors require different cycling infrastructure design. I would like to explore with Dutch stakeholders how these factors could be incorporated to cycling approaches. Also, the role of cycling in disaster response is something being explored in the Philippines and other countries, which the Netherlands may also consider. 

What does The Freedom of Cycling mean to you?

When I cycle I'm in charge of my own schedule; my movement doesn't depend on a transit schedule. I don't spend money on transit fares, gas, or parking. I exercise through cycling, so I feel good and don't need to spend on a gym. When I cycle, I'm aware of my surroundings, actively engaged in what I'm seeing and experiencing as I move around the city, rather than the passive act of sitting in a vehicle or train. There is also a sense of accomplishment with cycling. All these contribute to my interpretation of the Freedom of Cycling. 

Are you looking forward to Velo-city 2017 and what is on your Velo-city to-do list?

I am excited for the Mass Bike Parade. This was also a highlight at last year's Velo-City 2016 in Taipei. The energy of a mass ride is special and my heart feels full seeing everyone enjoying cycling together. We got to experience some parts with high quality infrastructure that highlight the city's open spaces and cultural destinations as well as other infrastructure that was less bicycle friendly that gives insight to the challenges. It's also interesting to see how others outside the parade react. In Taipei some people stopped to take photos, others angrily honked horns. It's good to get out of the conference room and see the reality on the ground. 

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