Two months ago, Gov. David Ige signed into law a bill requiring the Hawaii Department of Transportation and county counterparts to adopt a “Vision Zero” policy to prevent and ultimately eliminate traffic fatalities through a combination of engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response strategies with a focus on equity.
Initiated by the Swedish Parliament in the late 1990s, the approach has been embraced by several U.S. metros — from San Francisco to New York. The Hawaii Bicycling League (HBL) supported the Hawaii bill, noting in testimony that last year there were 117 traffic deaths statewide.
This year’s deaths, through early August, included 27 motor vehicle fatalities; 26, pedestrian; 14, motorcycle and moped; and one bicycle. The overall count nearly matches last year’s during the same period.
Daniel Alexander, who serves as HBL’s co-director/advocacy planning and communication director, maintains that the most effective way to make our streets safer starts with slow speed limits; providing dedicated spaces for walkers and bicyclists; and clarity in intersection layout — so all involved know how to safely navigate the space.
“Roadway design is key. Make it intuitive and easy for people to walk, bike and drive safely,” said Alexander, who commutes by bike to the nonprofit’s Kaimuki office. He’s among 2% of Honolulu residents using a bike as their primary way of commuting. The Bicycling League asserts that the numbers are growing.
A California native, Alexander moved to Kauai while in high school. He went on to study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, earning a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. In 2008, while a UH student, he founded Cycle Manoa, a volunteer group dedicated to promoting cycling on campus and elsewhere.
Founded in the mid-1970s, HBL aims to enable more people to bicycle for health, recreation and transportation. Its nearly 1,900 members help shape the group’s advocacy as well as education-related offerings and events.
Describing his Bicycling League work as a “dream” job, Alexander said: “I can’t say how happy I am that I get to spend every day working to make our community more bicycle-friendly and our streets safe for all.”
Question: What recent projects on Oahu are well-aligned with Vision Zero?
Answer:Two projects that exemplify this policy are: 1) the restriping of Kamehameha Highway through Kipapa Gulch, which added shoulders and a center median that dramatically improved safety for people bicycling, walking and driving; and 2) installation of raised pedestrian crossings on Kalihi Street, Farrington Highway and Fort Weaver Road, which also dramatically improved safety.
Q: How can more people be encouraged/incentivized to get out of their cars, to ride bikes instead?
A: A network of dedicated bikeways — protected bike lanes and multi-use paths — that will allow everyone to feel safe and comfortable biking. Surveys have found that a majority of people (upwards of 2 in 3) are interested in cycling, but need more to feel safe. A network of bikeways is key to getting this “interested-but-concerned” majority riding.
Education is also important. You’d be surprised how much safer you feel riding on our streets after going through one of our free Bicycle Basics workshops (HBL.org/workshops). Also, route planning is crucial. Our Oahu Bike Map is designed to help people figure out the safest route using bikeways and lower-stress neighborhood streets.
The No. 1 tip to people driving is: Always look for bicyclists before making any turn. A large portion of crashes occur in intersections.
Q: The Bicycling League’s top priorities in advocacy?
A: Our focus is on pushing for changes to our streets — more bikeways, more walkways, safer crossings, and lower speeds. … Three big advocacy priorities: Complete Streets, Minimum Grid, and Vision Zero.
Complete Streets is a city (2012) and state (2009) law that says that our streets must accommodate all users. This is critical as people walking and biking were often forgotten when many of our streets were initially built.
Minimum Grid is our campaign for a network of bikeways, particularly protected bikeways, that connect residents to places they need to go. This is key to getting the “interested-but-concerned” people riding. Two big projects advancing this are the soon-to-be-realized Leeward Bikeway and Pensacola Street protected bike lanes.
Vision Zero is a policy declaration that people dying on our roads is unacceptable and that our goal is zero traffic deaths. It’s something everyone can get behind. As of this summer, it’s a statewide policy.
Now we need to make sure actions are taken. Some are going to be controversial, like Red Light Safety Cameras to address dangerous intersections, and traffic-calming to reduce speeding. If we get around safety as everyone’s top priority, then, hopefully, we can embrace the needed solutions.
Q: Back in 2014, the launch of the King Street cycle track generated a lot of community debate about whether bicycles should share the pavement with motorists on a busy street. How’s that effort working out?
A: The King Street protected bike lane has led to a more than doubling of people cycling and brought people riding on the sidewalk to nearly zero. I know from talking to many people that it has allowed them to feel safe enough to bicycle-commute. … Pedestrian injuries have also dropped on the street. So I would say it’s been a great success.
The key is that we build off it so that people can get where they need to go. The South Street protected bike lane, which saw cycling go up by nearly fourfold, and McCully Street bike lanes were important steps in this direction. Also, the city has several bikeways planned: Pensacola Street, Ward Avenue, Punchbowl Street, Bishop Street and the extension of King Street into downtown. They will connect more people and really grow the number of people biking.
Q: The city’s “Oahu Bike Plan” aims to make the island “bicycle friendly.” How does our progress rate?
A: The League of American Bicyclists has awarded Honolulu a Bicycle Friendly City: Bronze level. This means the city has taken some big steps to become bicycle-friendly, but that we have a long way to go (platinum is the highest level).
Q: Last summer, a new state law was enacted that requires motorists to give bicyclists a 3-foot buffer. Thoughts?
A:We’re definitely working to get the message out on this 2018 law, which requires a motorist give at least 3 feet of space when overtaking a bicyclist. This is really important because it’s one of the biggest things someone driving can do to help keep those bicycling safe — a national study found 44% of bicyclist fatalities resulted from being struck from behind or sideswiped. So please give at least 3 feet!
We’ve been spreading the word with a bumper sticker and cycling jersey that has the message. The next big step is a public service announcement, which we’re working on now.
Q: Biki has been operational in Honolulu for two years now. Thoughts on the docked bike-share industry?
A: Biki has really been a deal-changer in Honolulu — nearly 4,000 rides occurring every day! HBL was a leading voice pushing for a public bike-share system, as we knew that it would make cycling more accessible and get more people riding. The recent expansion to UH-Manoa, Makiki and Iwilei has shown the benefits in growing the system and we hope it’ll expand further in coming years to Kalihi, Kaimuki, and eventually beyond to Kapolei and throughout the island.
We provide our Bicycling Basics free workshop on Biki bikes.
Q: What do you enjoy most (and least) about bicycling?
A: Most of the cycling I do is commuting. Like many people, my busy schedule leaves me with little time for fun recreation rides, but by using a bike for almost all my commuting I’m able to get exercise every day and plenty of doses of the joy bicycling brings. Additionally, I love not worrying about parking and that I can predict my travel time within a couple minutes.
My least favorite part of riding is from the end of the King Street protected bike lane to the Waialae Avenue bike lane (or vice versa) that I ride daily. It’s definitely not bike friendly, but riding it reminds me of how much work we still need to do to become truly bicycle friendly and also the big steps that have been made in recent years.