January 2007
Good (Local) Governance

Two-wheel revolution

VIEW a slideshow of images of Marikina.

OKAY, SO Marikina still doesn’t look like Beijing before China undertook market reforms and made mainlanders crazy over cars. No other city in the Philippines, however, has a network of bike paths like Marikina. Sixty-nine percent of the city’s locally funded bike paths run parallel with its rivers and creeks. Other paths have been built next to major thoroughfares, while some meander in quiet subdivisions.

“It’s a growing network and it’s an active network,’ says Jack Yabut, president of Firefly Brigade, a citizen’s volunteer action group that works for clean air and a habitable-people-friendly environment in the city.

The Firefly Brigade is known for its annual Tour of the Fireflies, a 50-km bike ride around seven cities. The tour aims to promote cycling as an alternative means of transportation that is cheap, efficient, environmentally sensible, and good for one’s health.

Yabut is also a consultant for a planned bike museum in the city. He says Marikina is very supportive of bicycling events. But then that can only be expected of a city that wants to put as many of its residents on bikes.

It all began when Bayani Fernando was still mayor, and he and other city government officials were looking for ways to use the newly cleared easements — paved sections next to creeks that were built to support the heavy machines used for dredging.

In 1999, Marikina got a $1.3-million World Bank grant for a pilot study on the bicycle as a viable means of transport within the city. “At that time, there was a mega project, the LRT 2, and the bridge was being made,” recalls Carlota Contreras, officer in charge of Marikina’s Bikeways Office. “They wanted to build a connection by non-motorized transport so that people could access the mega-project in Marcos Highway.”

She says the World Bank chose Marikina for the pilot project because the city had been successful in implementing traffic management, and because BF had the political will to implement the project. The World Bank grant was enough to help fund 19.3 kilometers of bike paths, or 42 percent of a planned 66-kilometer network looping around Marikina. The city government put up P14.9 million in counterpart funds, and paid for an additional 27.3 kilometers. As of December 2006, 50 kilometers of bike paths had been built.

One out of 10 road users in Marikina is a bicycle rider, says Contreras. The city aims to increase the number of bicycle users to one-fifth of the total city population. (View Contreras’s powerpoint presentation.)

And so every Saturday, the Bikeways Office conducts a bike clinic for young riders, who learn the basics of bicycle riding, as well as bicycle safety. Marikina also has a bicycle-lending program for its Bantay Bayan volunteers group. There is even a city ordinance offering government employees interest-free bike loans payable in six to 10 months.

As it is, a 14-hour traffic count conducted by the Bikeways Office over a seven-year period already shows a steady increase in the number of bicycle riders.

Marikina’s Bicycle Riders
Source: Marikina Bikeways Office

(counted in 14 hours)
1999 11 310,424 13,183 4.25
2002 17 421,935 25,946 5.36
December 2005 17 503,692 41,382 8.22
2006 17 503,183 41,005 9.54

But Marikina local Lani Cortes says that of the bicycle owners she knows in the city, only half actually use their bikes. She herself used to bike three times a week, but became too busy to keep the routine going.

Cyclists are also discouraged by the air pollution, smoke-belching vehicles, and other road hazards, such as cars illegally parked in biking lanes, and airconditioning units and other obstructions jutting into the bike lanes. Plus, Cortes says, “crossing the street on a bicycle is dangerous. Sometimes bike riders are forced to play Russian roulette with jeepney and taxi drivers.”

Most Marikeños thus use cars or jeeps for transportation, adds Cortes. “Unless,” she says, “you’re in a frame of mind that it’s more healthy for me to walk or use a bike.”

Many use the bicycle to exercise, says Benji Chua, whose family has owned a bike shop since 1981. She points out, “It’s a very low-impact activity, even those with heart disease or diabetes are permitted to do it.” Or those with back problems. Chua says one of her customers became an avid biker after injuring his back playing golf. He went to a chiropractor, who advised him to take up cycling.

Aside from the health benefits, biking is also environment-friendly. Last April 21, Marikina became the first local government unit in the country to implement a carless day in selected roads. That day, air pollution index readings increased from fair to good in the carless areas, says Contreras. The city plans to repeat the carless day this year.

Many may wonder whether the bicycle is a feasible means of transport in the metropolis. Yabut, for one, commutes to work by bicycle two to three times a week. His office is in Quezon City. “I cannot do it every day because the distance is too far, then there’s also a climb from Marikina going up to Quezon City either via Balara or Batasan,” he says.

“But you know,” he adds, “people have gone around the world on a bicycle.”