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It's time for Hawaii's people to get on our bikes and ride

By Jay Fidell

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:35 a.m. HST, Oct 30, 2012



Hawaii has some tough problems: traffic congestion, the rail controversy, energy costs, the ravages of obesity and shrinking disposable income. Bicycles could be a broad solution, right under our noses.

Could there be a more ideal place for cycling? The weather is moderate, the trades are friendly and the topography is perfect. How can we do rail, energy or health initiatives when we haven't yet done bikes?

Honolulu has become a freeway of malls. Our kids have grown up swamped in a sea of traffic. They never rode to school or felt the Zen of the bicycle, as so many did before and so many still do elsewhere.

Today's high-tech bikes can give us individual mass transit; reduce parking, transportation costs and dependence on oil; improve our quality of life and tourism; and keep our kids here. What's not to like?

But drivers love their cars. They buy 2-ton, gas-guzzling, gadget-laden SUVs for $50,000 plus. They drive around in tinted bubbles, hardly noticing the world around, often with a single driver sitting in traffic for hours. The economics are atrocious.

So is the congestion. Frustrated by going nowhere, drivers profile cyclists as scofflaws who get in the way. They deny cyclists any rightful place on the road. They don't realize that one good honk or nasty epithet can scare any rider.

They don't know about Kamehameha's Law of the Splintered Paddle, giving everyone a place on the road. They don't know that state law (291C-145 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes) allows cyclists to take a whole lane if required for safety.

The City Charter mandates the development of bike infrastructure, but while we argue about rail we have done precious little for bikes. The election cycles march on and the mandate gathers dust.

You'd think Kaimuki would be unanimous on bike lanes. These would make it a bike hub and support the local businesses without additional parking. But there have been public meetings torn by opposition, and self-interest has been the enemy of the good.

These attitudes are discouraging to cyclists, but the biggest turnoff is the raw danger of riding, of being snuffed by a thoughtless driver. Most people are deathly afraid to ride on our crowded, angry roads.

It's chicken-egg. A sole rider is less likely to be seen and thus at greater risk. A group of riders is more likely to be seen and at less risk. If there are more riders riding, they will all be safer. So how do we get them to trust the roads and do some riding?

By a network of bike lanes around the island; frequent organized group rides and races with escorts and support vehicles; a long-term PR campaign promoting cycling; whatever else it takes to build trust and respect between drivers and riders.

And by you, giving them room on the road, flash the shaka and, if you like, sporting an "I Love Cycling" bumper sticker. Get one at zazzle.com for $5.

We've added so many cars, but we haven't kept up with bike lanes. Our city officials regularly endorse cycling, but stasis rules under the political tension between cars and bikes. The money is on the cars.

Group visibility levels the field. Cyclists need to lobby hard on bike lanes and potholes, get into the press, weigh in on new projects, activate champions like Breene Hashi­moto, form groups to ride on City Hall, demand and secure a place on the road. Bite.

While 20 miles of rail will cost $6 billion ($300 million per mile), Oahu's Bike Plan calls for 310 miles of city bikeways for $68 million ($219,000 per mile), including 62 miles of "short range" short-term projects doable for $2.7 million ($44,000 per mile).

But the plan gives the city 30 years to do most of this. We'll forget how to ride by then. Bikes will be extinct and the tragedy complete. For any credible resurgence of biking benefits, we need to do it now.

Under Chad Taniguchi the Hawaii Bicycling League advocates for more bike lanes and more cycling. Membership is $25 a year. HBL has 700 members in a state of 1.3 million. Let's multiply that. Join, and visit hbl.org for classes, talks and rides.

But the riders can't change things by themselves. The community as a whole must come together to give them greater clout on the issue and avoid an irreversible squandering of this priceless opportunity.

Calling all environmentalists. It's time for dramatic action, not long-term lip service. Want to save our city? Here's an obvious solution. It's inexpensive, doable and, in the end, our only clear choice.

———

Jay Fidell, a longtime business lawyer, founded ThinkTech Hawaii, a digital media company that reports on Hawaii's tech and energy sectors of the economy. Reach him at fidell@lava.net.






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