MARIKINA CITY, PHILIPPINES—Of the numerous groundbreaking initiatives launched over the past few years by the dynamic leadership of this vibrant city on the eastern side of Metropolitan Manila, the bikeways program appears to have gained the most interest, especially among the city’s poor and the youth.
Designed as a component of the World Bank-supported Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Project (MMURTRIP) aimed at improving the efficiency and safety of Metro Manila’s transport system, Marikina’s bikeways program has demonstrated that indeed bicycles could be an important means of transportation for residents in an urbanizing community.
Marikina, known also as the Philippines’ “shoe capital” owing to the concentration of small enterprises making shoes in the city, has so far laid down a network of 52 kilometers of bikeways that connect the city’s residential areas, particularly those of people with low incomes, to employment sites such as factories or construction areas in the city.
Through the well-paved and well-marked bicycle lanes, family members can bike to the market, to schools, and to government service providers in the city.
More recently, the bikelanes network was connected to the Santolan Station of the Light Rail Transit (LRT-2) where an individual can leave his bicycle in a designated parking area under a footbridge and hop on to the train to get to his area of employment elsewhere in Metro Manila.
“This is testimony that with political will we in a local government unit like Marikina can make things happen,” Marikina Mayor Marides Fernando said as she explained the city’s programs to a group of visiting World Bank officials led by Managing Director Juan José Daboub and Philippine Country Director Bert Hofman.
The Marikina bikeways program was started in 2002 after the city received a $1.3 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a World Bank-supervised assistance program to support activities addressing climate change and environmental concerns.
Ms. Fernando’s predecessor, Mr. Bayani Fernando, made the original request for World Bank assistance toward the creation of bikelanes as an integral part of Marikina’s transport network.
In 1993, with Mr. Fernando as mayor, Marikina started a program aimed at saving the then dying Marikina River by initially getting back areas along the waterway that were occupied by informal settlers and constructing jogging and bikelanes. (Informal settlers transferred to a relocation site equipped with better housing facilities and utilities) The recovered areas, which came to about 220 hectares, were then developed into theme parks and playgrounds.
For the new bikeways system, after experimenting with various schemes to determine which would be most suitable for local conditions, Marikina city engineers started constructing in 2002 a network that now also allows evaluations and adjustments as needed over time.
As of 2008, data compiled by the Marikina City Bikeways Office showed that the number of bicycle users had grown to about 8.9 percent of all traffic in the city. This compares to 4.25 percent in 1999 when the bikelanes program was still being studied, and to 5.36 percent in 2002 when the bikelanes started to become available to riders.
About half of the total 101,782 households report regular use of the bicycle lanes, which also implies that 1 in 2 families in the city owns a bicycle. A recent survey indicated that for the residents of Marikina, the bicycle is not just for recreational use but also for utilitarian, everyday use, such as going to places of work.
Ms. Carlota Contreras, officer-in-charge at the Bikeways Office, notes that the number of bicycle riders tends to shoot up when prices of gasoline go up and transport fares are correspondingly raised. She also says that the weather has been a factor to bicycle ridership trends, with the volume going down when the temperature goes up. In recent weeks, for instance, the temperature has consistently exceeded 30-degrees Celsius during the day.
Marikina continues to encourage biking as a means of transport within the city through a number of schemes. For instance, loans are being made available to city employees and to volunteers involved in the city’s peace-keeping activities. The loans are only for the purpose of purchasing bicycles and are covered by easy repayment terms.
The Bikeways Office also regularly conducts Bicycle Safety Education classes in the city’s schools and Cycling Clinics every Saturday for children and women who want to learn to use the two-wheel transport device.
Ms. Contreras also says that the city continues to “build more complementary bicycle facilities, such as better bicycle traffic and informative signages, innovative designs on bicycle lane pavement markings, and more importantly, installing more bicycle parking and bicycle stations, to enhance the overall bicycle trip experience in the city.”