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Tough path for bike plan

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    Members of the Red Hot Ladies Bicycle Club readied for a ride Aug. 12 at Kahala Community Park. They included Sharleen Andrade, left, Linda Murai, Carolyn Shea, Shirley Grokett, Charlene El-Swaify, Pattie Dunn, Patricia Johnson and Penny Bradley.
    Bicycle rims are seen at Momentum Multisport in Kaimuki.
    Nguyen Le posed with bikes at his Momentum Multisport in Kaimuki.
    Members of the Red Hot Ladies Bicycle Club rode along Farmers Road on Aug. 12 near Kahala Community Park. The club, for women age 50-plus, was preparing for the Century Ride.

The goal of connecting Oahu’s existing paths into extended bikeways that give cyclists a safer commute has resulted in a draft of the Oahu Bike Plan. The lei of projects would more than triple the bikeways on the island, to about 600 miles.

Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, acknowledged that a year already has lapsed since the comment period closed but added that completion of the final plan is expected by the end of this month.

"I delayed release of the plan because I believed it lacked sufficient interim measures," Yoshioka said in an email response to a Star-Advertiser query. "I believe the proposed plan is a good one, however, this plan will not be built all at once but over a period of time.

"Therefore, it is important to provide interim measures that help to link the finished projects until the entire plan is implemented. Otherwise, you end up with islands of improved bicycle facilities with no connections between them. What we’ve been hearing from the community is the need for connections."

The advocates pressing for such advances remain a small group, a reality that, given the city’s year-round temperate climate, frustrates advocates like Penny Bradley.

"I have been biking in Oregon, and in Portland every day there are 10,000 bikers crossing its four bridges," Bradley said. "Here we have 365 good days a year, and we don’t have good bike lanes."

Still, Hawaii is taking baby steps, and cyclists like Bradley are taking encouragement where they may. More than a year ago the state passed the "Complete Streets" law that requires state and county transit officials to accommodate all users of the road — including pedestrians and cyclists — in their transportation planning.

Most recently, the state Department of Health announced a contract for a bike-sharing pilot project in Kailua. A system known as B-cycle, a rental station in which bikes can be taken out for a ride and returned, will be installed by December, in partnership with Momentum MultiSport, a bike retailer based in Kaimuki.

Its owner, Nguyen Le, hopes B-cycle will coax more people into trying cycling, even for short jaunts across Kailua, which has at least a few miles of marked bike lanes and, as a beach community, offers a little more accommodation to bikers than other parts of the island.

Le is an accomplished cyclist who crisscrosses Oahu at will but is still keenly aware of what he considers a culture clash between motorists and bikers on the road. Drivers typically avert his gaze, even when he tries to catch their eye, he said.

"Often if they see a bike, they floor it," he said.

Le’s travels have taken him to Mainland and international cities far more accustomed to biking as a normal form of transportation.

In Europe especially, motorists also have cycling experience, Le said, so when they’re behind the wheel they view bikers with equanimity. They’re better at sharing the road, he said, because they expect to do so.

Now his mission is to get more people biking here to change the culture. Besides promoting a more active lifestyle, he added, the ride-sharing stations will enable more to try it before having to invest in a bicycle of their own.

"The more people you get on the roads biking, the more aware the drivers will be, and it will be safer," he said.

Other cyclists say they don’t perceive an intentional slight from most drivers but agree that increased exposure to bikes in the roadways would help.

"I have found that for the most part, drivers are courteous and will often call out encouragement as they pass me," said Pattie Dunn. "The danger often comes from people who are not intentionally rude or out to get me but really from those who are just ignorant."

Dunn, Bradley and Patricia Johnson are members of the Red Hot Ladies, a women’s cycling club. Johnson said that education helps everyone. Many new bikers don’t clearly signal their presence to drivers because they don’t realize that they are entitled to their place in the roadway, she said; ideally, there’s a bike lane or at least a shoulder where the cyclist can safely ride.

"That’s so unless the lane is too narrow for a car and bicycle," she said. "Then the bike has a full right to the lane."

Chad Taniguchi is executive director of the Hawaii Bicycling League, the state’s leading advocacy organization. Taniguchi said improvements to the infrastructure have stalled largely because cyclists are seen as a less important constituency and thus less able to demand public resources.

"It’s a matter of money," he said. "Up to recently, the need for cars in the mind of the decisionmakers exceeded the needs of cyclists."

City and state leaders, however, have to offer more alternatives such as bike lanes in preparation for the day when needs change, he said.

"Someday gas prices are going to go up again, and the facilities would be in place," Taniguchi added.

More people would be persuaded of the attractions of cycling if they would only try it, several enthusiasts said. There are no parking frustrations, Taniguchi said, and, at least on short distances, bikers often can outrun the drivers.

"I live in Kahala and work at the University of Hawaii," Dunn said. "It’s faster for me to ride my bike, door to door, than it is to drive."

Boosting the popularity of cycling will be a long road, Le acknowledged, but he’s eager to start the trek and hopes the pace will pick up.

"One small step at a time in the right direction is a good thing," he said. "The momentum and tide will turn, eventually."


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