In a novel approach to solving the transportation challenges posed by rising gas prices, Marikina City has declared itself a “Bicycle-Friendly City,” with several infrastructural changes to encourage 20% of the city’s residents to ride bicycles to work every day. Mayor Lourdes C. Fernando commented that encouraging bicycle riding would be an alternative to high-priced gas-based public transportation: “Bicycles are our provider of affordable mobility.” In addition to saving money, proponents of the Bicycle-Friendly City program also cited the reduction of traffic congestion and air pollution as benefits of the initiative.
Beginning in 1999, Marikina City began to build a network of dedicated bike lanes within its precincts. The lanes do not simply abut the crowded city streets, but instead veer away to provide a safer and smoother cycling experience. Innovators planned the bike lanes to run alongside Marikina’s rivers, waterways, as well as a series of landscaped gardens to encourage commuters to consider cycling as an alternative to driving to and from work.
In 2005, Marikina City had already completed 29 kilometers of bike lanes, 44% of the target. By March 2006, the municipality completed an additional 14 kilometers. The total plan for the bike lane network allows for 66 kilometers of new road for cycling commuters. The average commuting distance for individuals in Marikina City is about two kilometers, and it is estimated that 7.5% of the city’s total population of 500,000 use bicycles daily as their primary means of transport.
Naturally, this proliferation of bicycles has lead to an increase in thefts and cycling-related accidents. To meet these new challenges, city officials have begun a series of crime and accident prevention initiatives, including maintaining a staff of volunteers (armed with about 150 bicycles of their own) to patrol the streets in a neighborhood watch program. To mitigate the rising accident figures, the municipality has also issued over 87,000 guidebooks for bicycle upkeep and usage to households throughout the city. The guidebook serves an additional function of promoting the city’s cycling program. Finally, the municipality has purchased 500 training bikes for those wishing to learn to ride.
The Bicycle-Friendly City Project is not only funded by the municipality’s own Countrywide Development Fund (15.5 million Philippine pesos from 2002 to 2004), but also by a U.S. 1.3 million dollar grant from the World Bank Global Environment Facility.