The Living Islands Bicycle Program aims to address the need for affordable, sustainable transportation options in the Marshall Islands by facilitating a bicycle lending and distribution program complemented with legal and educational support from the community and political leadership.
The program works to increase the availability of bicycles on the islands of the RMI through partnerships with bicycle manufacturers around the world. On the islands, bikes are distributed through a lend-to-own program that engages community members in bike safety and maintenance training as a prerequisite to bike ownership.
Finally, the program works closely with local leadership at all levels to encourage an expansion of bicycle safety laws and education throughout the RMI. Ultimately, it is the goal of the initiative to enable any Marshallese family that wants it, the ability to access the affordable, sustainable, safe transportation of a bicycle.
Access to transportation presents a significant challenge for many families in the Marshall Islands. Many Marshallese families live miles from community centers and towns, making access to work, school, and basic services a difficult and time-consuming affair. Specifically, on the island of Majuro, where the program is set to launch, a household may be as far as 20 miles from the central town of Majuro.
While cars and taxies are present on the more urbanized islands of Majuro and Kwajalein, the cost of these options is prohibitive for much of the population. Furthermore, where vehicles do exist, they are often controlled by the men of a family, leaving women heavily dependent for access to school, work, and community participation. For those families without the financial means to access such vehicles, living far from the community center often equates to a lack of access and participation in community life, or heavy reliance on wealthier neighbors to take part in daily life.
In addition to transportation, obesity and other health challenges are a significant challenge for many Marshallese. In 2012, it was estimated that 62.5% of adults were overweight, with diabetes present in nearly 20% of the adult population. While medical experts have proposed a need for greater exercise and activity, no significant options have yet been presented for addressing this national health crisis.
The Opportunity of Bicycles
Bicycles provide an excellent solution to the dual challenges of transportation and public health on the islands. Significantly less expensive than a car and without the problem of carbon emissions, bicycles may enable low-income households to access much-needed sustainable transportation. Furthermore, as an excellent form of exercise, bicycle use may begin to help address the health challenges of obesity on the islands by encouraging greater activity as a part of daily life.
The expanded use of bicycles in the Marshall Islands presents an opportunity for expanded industry and enterprise in service of bicycles and bike-users. As Living Islands hope to facilitate, the presence of more bicycles on the islands enables bicycle sales, maintenance and repair to become sources of economic opportunity for community members throughout the islands. With proper legal and community facilitation, bicycles can become a decisive, positive source of change and opportunity for the Marshallese.
The Living Islands Approach
The Living Islands Bicycle Program incorporates five key elements in facilitating greater access and use of bicycles in the Marshall Islands: bicycle sourcing, community engagement, bicycle lending, ongoing maintenance, and legal facilitation. Collectively, these efforts aim to provide expanded access to cheap, sustainable transportation to those who need it most and provide a long-term approach to enabling effective bicycle use in the community.
As a founding principle of Living Islands, sustainability is a key consideration in the sourcing of bicycles for the program. Carbon emissions, ethical practice, and product longevity are primary considerations in developing partnerships for sourcing bicycles for the program. The unique climatic conditions of the Marshall Islands present a significant challenge to longevity, as high humidity and salt exposure are quick to corrode the average bicycle’s frame and parts. To prevent bicycles from contributing to the growing trash problem on the islands, Living Islands works with key partners throughout the US to design and source bicycles built to withstand the harsh conditions of the islands. This includes a partnership with Pedal Forward of New York that has constructed affordable bamboo-framed bicycles, and work with larger bicycle manufacturers to provide inexpensive, durable bicycle frames for delivery to the islands.
At the foundation of the Living Islands’ Bicycle Program is a critical partnership with interested community leaders. Much of the program involves extended lending, maintenance, education and other ongoing engagement, offering interested community members an opportunity to take positions of leadership in the program as “team members.” Living Islands have initiated extensive conversations with community members and leaders to gather their feedback and perspective on developing this program. These ongoing conversations will be central in shaping the ultimate shape of community participation in the program, and ensure that the effort continues to serve the greatest need of the community.
For further community engagement, Living Islands will be establishing multiple “hubs” throughout the islands to serve as the focal point for the program’s operations. Built from the same shipping containers used to deliver the program’s bikes and materials to the island, these facilities will offer community members the opportunity to engage as leaders within the program, serving as team members working on bicycle maintenance, repair, lending, and instruction.
In establishing these hubs, Living Islands will be sending a team of bicycle experts, instructors, and educators to help launch community participation in the program. Building off an existing relationship with the Banninur Bicycle Collective on Majuro, the team will offer interested community members an opportunity to participate in courses on bicycle construction, maintenance, safety and business management. Those who participate in these courses will then have the opportunity to apply for a position at the Bicycle Program’s hub. In return for their services, these part-time technicians will be provided a modest stipend through the Bicycle Initiative to support the loan-to-own and bicycle maintenance elements of the program.
The central function of the Living Islands Bicycle Program is a loan-to-own effort, piloted on the island of Majuro. Team members at the program hubs facilitate the program by coordinating lending and education efforts. Community members who are interested in having access to a bicycle are able to borrow bicycles from the hub, contingent on their participation in safety and maintenance classes. In order to ensure that anyone regardless of their background can have access to a bike, community members are able to take full ownership of their bicycle once the courses are completed, and commitment to appropriate maintenance and use of the bicycle is demonstrated. Details on the process are outlined below:
- Initial Interest – Community members come to the bike shop to sign up for the lend-to-own program. The program staffer will record their personal information and provide a list of initial training courses for them to attend and outlining the expectations for the loan-to-own program.
- Initial training – Before they are able to receive a bike on loan, community members must complete a basic training course on bicycle safety and use. This course will include training on how to ride a bicycle and review safe practices for riding with traffic, pedestrians, and the importance of protective gear. Following this course, participants will be given a bicycle on loan, which they are expected to return the following week at the next training course
- Extended training – Two additional courses will be required for completion of the loan-to-own program: a bike maintenance and repair course and practical usage course. The maintenance course will cover the need for keeping a bike clean to improve its functionality as well as tool use and repair techniques for replacing tires, tightening breaks and other basics. The practical usage course will include discussions of proper bike use for carrying goods, riding with traffic, and include a brief ride to evaluate participants’ observance of proper riding and care.
- Verification – At each course, bike loaners are expected to bring back their bicycle for use during the course and to verify that they are using and caring for the bike. At each course, team members will check to verify that bikes have been properly cared for and check off participants’ attendance. If someone misses a course, the team members will be able to contact them to determine how best to proceed.
- Transfer – Upon completing all three required courses, community members will then have the option to take ownership of their bicycle. There is no cost associated with taking ownership of the bicycle to enable anyone who needs it the option owning a bike.
Having been trained in extensive bicycle maintenance before applying, team members will be available at the bicycle hubs to provide low-cost maintenance and repair needs of the community. The hubs will serve as repair shops and parts shops, partnering with local hardware suppliers to source critical materials. Team members may also be available to help community members learn further skills in bicycle maintenance and repair.
On the back-end of the Bicycle Program, Living Islands are working with key community leaders and politicians to facilitate broader, more inclusive legal answers to the need for bicycles in the Marshall Islands. The current roads on Majuro and other islands are relatively ill-maintained for bicycles and offer little or no shoulder for riders. Transportation laws do not offer sufficient accommodation to bike riders or offer any guidance for right-of-way. The program, therefore, works with members of the department of transportation to make biking on the islands a safer practice.
Additionally, there is an effort to engage broader segments of Marshallese society in biking. Living Islands is working with members of the Department of Education to incorporate bicycle education into the schools on the islands, further ensuring the safety of bike riders and knowledge of the extensive benefits a bicycle can offer.
Currently, in its exploratory stages, the Living Islands Bicycle Program aims to launch its first bicycle hub in the fall of 2017. Below is a rough summary of the proposed pilot program timeline.
- Initial discussions with policy leaders and community members in the US and RMI establishing partnership and progress
- Discussions with key partners and bicycle providers to establish a potential pipeline for bicycles, transportation and maintenance materials
- Entry into discussion with key program partners to gather support for the program
- Designing of the bicycle hub centers through a design competition among architecture students to raise awareness and interest in the program
- Continued conversation with RMI policymakers around bicycle facilitation laws and legislation
- Development of the Living Islands team to travel to the RMI to facilitate early program establishment and bicycle education.
- Finalize partnerships with providers for bicycles, parts, tools, and transportation services
- Secure partnered financial support for the pilot program and beyond
- Confirm travel and plans for Living Islands team
- Work with provider partners to order, gather and ship bicycles and materials to the Marshall Islands
- Work with key community contacts in the RMI to prepare for Living Islands team arrival
- Initiate pilot program with Living Islands team trip to RMI
- Training of program team members for bicycle hub
- Opening of the first bicycle hub on island
- Begin first round of loan-to-own
- Monitoring of program efforts based on pre-determined metrics of success
- Continued discussions with policymakers and leaders in RMI for bicycle facilitation
- Continued discussions with funding and supply partners to further develop ongoing relationships.
For the Bicycle Program to succeed, people, materials, and support will have to come together to make this vision a reality. Between the Living Islands team, program team members, bicycle materials, and supplies, Living Islands are seeking broad support to enable this initiative to move forward. Outlined below are the current general estimates of the support needed to facilitate this program’s mission.
What we are doing
- Providing sustainable bicycles
- Ongoing education about safety and health
- Fight obesity
- Provide transportation freedom
- Remove unnecessary cars
- Start Date
- August 1, 2017
- Arno Atoll, Marshall Islands
- People Benefited
- Empowerment, Health, Climate Action
How can you help?
- $50 Provides spare parts and maintenance for a bike for years
- $100 One week of bicycling, health and traffic safety classes
- $250 Add one more bike to the project
- Contact us about corporate sponsorship