Urban Honolulu is abuzz with Biki, the new bike-share rental system that installed 87 stations stocked with 500 turquoise-blue bicycles from Waikiki to Chinatown. Bikeshare Hawaii, which is overseeing the system, plans to double the number of two-wheeled cruisers in the coming weeks.
But does biking around town — at a starting price of $3.50 for a 30-minute rental — make sense for those who live, work, shop or enjoy leisure time in the Bikisphere?
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Sunday Magazine sent five reporters out to give it a try and report back on their experiences.
>> From: Kakaako
>> To: McCully
>> Distance: 2.5 miles
>> Duration: 20 minutes
>> Comments: A fun way to get outside and give Biki a try — while also enjoying a bit of liquid refreshment — is a #BikiBarCrawl that runs alongside the protected bike lanes on South and South King streets.
HOW TO USE BIKI
1. Pay: Download the Biki app or swipe your credit card at a Biki station to get the release code for a bicycle. If you have an activated Biki pass, swipe it directly at the dock.
2. Release: Enter the release code, wait for the light to turn green and pull the bike out of the dock.
3. Ride: Pedal to any Biki stop near your destination. Find maps with information on the number of bikes and docks at each station via the app or gobiki.org
4. Return: Place the bike into the dock and wait for the green light, which confirms your return. Problems? Customer service is available at (888) 340-2454.
Bikeshare Hawaii’s McCarney answers Biki questions
After grabbing a pre-ride drink at Bevy, I walked outside to Auahi Street to unlock a bike at Stop 204 using the free smartphone app I downloaded a few days earlier and opting for the Free Spirit plan (300 minutes for $20). From there it was a leisurely ride to the corner of King Street and Ward Avenue and Stop 402, which is just across the street from the Honolulu Club — where you don’t have to be a member to order a drink in the cocktail lounge.
Since I hadn’t ridden a bike regularly since college some 20 years ago, my thighs were definitely feeling the burn by the time I arrived at Stop 407 (King and Keeaumoku streets), in close proximity to a number of bars. I chose the affordable happy-hour offerings at Lola’s Bar & Grill to properly hydrate before jumping back on a bike and finishing my crawl at the corner of King and McCully streets, where Stop 454 sits just a few steps away from Pint + Jigger.
>> Bottom line: Utilizing protected bike lanes definitely gives you a sense of security while using Biki, and the bikes are easy to use and adjust for a more personalized ride. When executed properly, this #BikiBarCrawl route provides a fun way to hoist a few with friends and burn off a few calories at the same time. (Remember to drink responsibly: It’s against Biki rules to drink alcohol while riding or while intoxicated.)
>> From: Kakaako
>> To: Honolulu Museum of Art
>> Distance: 1.3 miles
>> Duration: 10 minutes
>> Comments: Downloading the Biki app on an iPhone was straightforward and user-friendly. Enter your credit card information, accept the agreement and you’re ready to go. I opted for the Free Spirit pass (300 minutes for $20). To check out a bicycle, punch in the release code supplied by the app and you’re off. It took me several tries but it worked.
Overall, the Biki bike, with thick tires and a broad seat, is a comfortable ride, even in a casual Manuheali‘i dress and platform slippers. I picked up a bicycle at Stop 204 in front of Arvo Cafe on Auahi Street after lunch and headed for the protected bike lane on South Street. The streets of Kakaako are not bike-friendly at all. They’re ridden with potholes, inattentive drivers and ongoing construction work. Once in the protected South Street bike lane, it was better.
There are numerous traffic lights on South Street, so there was a constant stop and go. One lady slammed on her brakes for a red light smack in the middle of the crosswalk, so I had to steer around her rear fender. After making it across the major intersection by Kapiolani Boulevard, you can connect to the King Street bike lane. Pedaling along King Street requires vigilance, as cars are constantly popping out of garages on your left.
Once docked at Stop 401 at Thomas Square across from the Honolulu Museum of Art, I was surprised that my ride took only 10 minutes.
>> Bottom line: The Biki app still has a few kinks to work out. It didn’t provide a real-time count of minutes used (a recent update fixed that issue). A Biki pass arrived promptly in the mail three days after I signed up. After activating it, users can swipe the pass directly at the dock without needing a code. Biki won’t replace my commute from Kailua, for obvious reasons, or solve the parking woes in increasingly congested Kakaako. However, if I wanted to check out an exhibit at the museum or interview someone at Ala Moana Center, I would definitely consider hopping on a Biki to get there. I had fun.
>> From: Monsarrat Avenue
>> To: Kakaako
>> Distance: 5 miles
>> Duration: 35 minutes
>> Comments: I used to ride my bike to work sometimes but quit after too many close calls with cars and mopeds that powered through red lights. Apart from that, I missed pedaling and was happy to try my commute on a Biki bike. Any comparison would be incomplete, however, as there are no Biki stations near my neighborhood at the eastern tip of Kapiolani Park.
The only two Biki docks in the vicinity are on Kapahulu Avenue by the Honolulu Zoo and the makai corner of Kanaina Street and Monsarrat Avenue. Carrying my helmet, I walked a mile to the latter, Stop 520, and purchased a $3.50 one-way pass, good for 30 minutes, with my credit card. (Note: Biki puts a $50 holding fee on your credit card, which it releases within three days after your pass expires.)
From there my route would be 5 miles on the bike paths along Kapahulu Avenue and Date, King and South streets, to Stop 202.
I felt more visible and welcome on the three-speed Biki than on my 21-speed bike, thanks perhaps to all the publicity leading up to the Biki launch June 28. Drivers stopped and waved to let me cross Monsarrat Avenue and Date Street at crosswalks and gave me more space than usual in the middle lane on Date Street where it crosses University Avenue.
However, I encountered the same old problem on the King Street bike lane, which was blocked by cars waiting to turn into traffic.
To test Biki’s claim that biking around downtown would take half the time of walking, I rode to pick up lunch from Artizen in the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, a 20-minute walk from the newsroom. I reached Stop 120, at Hotel and Richard streets, in 10 minutes. Riding back was even quicker, cutting through the Iolani Palace grounds to the midblock crosswalk on King Street near the Kamehameha statue. Some drivers stopped when they saw me waiting at the curb, but I proceeded hesitantly. Sure enough, the middle-lane car sped right through the crosswalk in front of me.
>> Bottom line: Commuting from home won’t be possible unless Biki adds a rack at the eastern end of Kapiolani Park, in which case I would use it for occasional one-way rides to or from work. (Round trips in one day are too much on any bike.) I do anticipate Biki-ing — cautiously — from the office to do meetings or errands downtown or at Ala Moana Center, as a now-and-then treat.
>> From: Kakaako
>> To: Frank F. Fasi Civic Center
>> Distance: 1 mile
>> Duration: 10 minutes
>> Comments: I support biking and used to ride my bike to work every day. That said, I deeply object to the Biki system as it has been implemented here. With parking in Kakaako in such short supply, it was thoughtless and insensitive for Biki to put three racks in the immediate area, appropriating six precious parking spaces.
These racks (at South and Pohukaina streets, on Auahi Street in front of SALT, and on Auahi and Cooke streets) are no more than three minutes apart on foot. They could easily have been placed elsewhere without affecting street parking. One central location — Mother Waldron Park, for example — would adequately serve the neighborhood.
Aside from parking, there’s the danger factor. The first day of the program, I saw two riders tottering along, unable to balance well enough to get their feet to the pedals. The next day, I saw a Biki rider using a cellphone. During our ride a driver trying to beat the light stopped halfway through the crosswalk, blocking our path. Expect bumps, bruises or worse.
>> Bottom line: Will I use Biki again? Like I said, I enjoy riding a bike. The short ride to the civic center was mostly enjoyable, pleasant, leisurely. I also enjoy driving my car, although, like many others, I drive primarily because I have to. But everybody — everybody! — hates parking hassles. Wandering around looking for a space, seeing someone else beat you there — it’s all frustrating. Biki has needlessly made parking at work more difficult, so I will not use it again.
>> From: Chinatown
>> To: Waikiki
>> Distance: 6.1 miles
>> Duration: 58 minutes
>> Comments: I planned my cruise for a Sunday afternoon, choosing a route that would avoid heavy traffic and favor marked, separate bike paths. (You can see a map of existing and projected bike routes at honolulu.gov; search for “Bike Lane Network.”) The payoff was a pleasant, sunny ride that wound through less traveled streets and Honolulu’s “Lei of Parks.”
I wore a helmet, signaled my lane changes and rode defensively, and found that cars mostly gave me a wide berth. On the one short leg that I was riding down a traffic lane on Ward Avenue, approaching Kewalo Basin, I was afraid the cars were hanging so far behind me that we wouldn’t trip the traffic light — but no worries, it changed.
Pedestrians and other cyclists gave me plenty of smiles. A guy handed me a Powerade just as I was entering Ala Moana Beach Park, and I felt like I was being cheered on.
I’d planned to turn in my Biki at Stop 331, at Kalakaua and Paoakalani avenues, but the kiosk (one of the closest to Kapiolani Park) was full of bikes. I got a 15-minute credit at that kiosk and walked the bike to Stop 328 at Kalakaua Avenue and Uluniu Street, near the Duke Kahanamoku statue.
The Biki app is useful for locating the nearest stop, but I haven’t been able to use it to buy a pass yet. I tried to buy a pass via the app June 30, just three days after the system launched, and it would not accept my information.
The kiosks are as easy to use as a vending machine, but that didn’t keep me from bumbling around the first time I used one. I called the Biki help line with a few questions and found the agents helpful.
>> Bottom line: Along my route I clocked the 1.1-mile Biki commute from my condo in Chinatown to Waterfront Plaza at just about 10 minutes. That’s faster than driving. I became a Biki convert and have been riding to work regularly ever since. I’ve also used Biki to get to dining, shopping and entertainment destinations, such as the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and the Blaisdell Concert Hall, because these short rides are easy and fun.