Lori McCarney recalled Sunday that when she started the bikeshare company Biki, with its ubiquitous teal bikes around Honolulu, people didn’t understand what she was trying to do until they saw customers using the bikes.
In the same way, there was some confusion about what the first Open Street event in Hawaii would look like, she said.
“People, sometimes they have to see it and then they know, ‘OK, I like it,’ or, ‘I don’t like it,’” said McCarney, executive director of the Hawaii Bicycling League. Judging by the turnout Sunday morning, it appeared many enjoyed the city’s first Kalakaua Open Street Sunday.
“We’re really thrilled to see so many people, especially families,” McCarney said. “People love being in the street. There’s something about ‘I’m doing something that I don’t normally get to do.’”
McCarney helped plan the Waikiki event, the first of four to be held over the next three Sundays, from 6 a.m. to noon. During the Open Street event, Kalakaua Avenue is closed to automobile traffic between Seaside and Kapahulu avenues, and the road is turned into a two-third-mile avenue for car-free, people activities.
On Sunday hundreds walked, jogged and used a variety of transportation modes, such as bicycles, roller skates, skateboards — electric and human-powered — scooters and unicycles.
McCarney said the city had been planning to do an Open Street event before the coronavirus pandemic but hadn’t settled on a location. Because of the lack of traffic during the statewide lockdown to stop the virus’ spread, McCarney suggested to the city that it might be a good time to try the concept on Kalakaua Avenue, where residents wouldn’t be affected.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who was riding a Biki bike at the event, pointed out the smiles on faces, from children wearing helmets with special designs to their parents and the police officers who were helping with traffic control.
“This is something that’s positive that comes out of a very tragic situation with the pandemic,” he said. “It’s just really a positive thing.”
He said he hopes to do more Open Street events and make it a tradition as in other major cities, such as Mexico City, Paris, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where streets are closed on Sundays for people to ride bicycles. He said the event also benefits merchants, bringing them customers looking for a bite to eat.
The city is looking at possibly holding a similar event on Hotel Street on Saturday evenings or other areas downtown and in Chinatown, he said.
While wearing a bicycle helmet, Caldwell said he was surprised by the turnout.
“People want to do this,” he said. “They’re looking for these kinds of opportunities, and we provided one to them.”
Niu Valley resident Becky Muldoon, who was pushing her 7-month-old son, Ronan, in a stroller, said the Open Street event was her son’s first time attending an outdoor event because of the coronavirus lockdowns. Her two daughters — ages 6 and 4 — walked or rolled on a scooter ahead of her.
“It’s awesome,” Muldoon said, adding that the event reminded her of Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district, where the streets are closed to automobiles on the weekends and the area is turned into a pedestrian zone, complete with tables in the road for people to eat their takeout.
“It feels like that same vibe,” she said. “Just run into people that we haven’t seen because we’ve been social-distancing. Good times.”
She said she wished the city would do it more often, perhaps once a month, because there aren’t many spacious areas for pedestrians and children in the city.
“It’s just freeing, having the wide space, not competing on the sidewalks, not having cars around,” she said. “It’s just a lot safer.”
Yamato Sasaki of Kapahulu rode down Kalakaua on a cargo bike, a type of bike with a wooden box on the front for her children to sit in. She said the event gave her the opportunity to use the bike, which is popular with families in the Netherlands, as it was meant to be used, instead of on a cramped sidewalk.
“I get the full benefits of the cargo bike,” she said. “I would love more of a chance to be able to ride this.”
She said the event was better than riding a bike in a park, which has limitations and has challenges for riding in a group.
“Hopefully, after the pandemic is resolved, we can continue something like this and maybe possibly expand it because it’s so successful,” she said. “There’s no other place like this.”
Kevin Pak, a store manager at an ABC Store on Kalakaua Avenue near Liliu- okalani Avenue, said he hadn’t seen the avenue that busy since the Hapalua half-marathon in April 2019. He said the half-marathon brings more of a family atmosphere than the Honolulu Marathon in December.
“It’s good to see people out,” he said. “Waikiki hasn’t looked like this in a long time. It’s been dead.”
Pak said he was initially skeptical of the Open Street event but was surprised to see so many families, which helped with business and brought hope for an economic recovery.
“There’s hope that people actually want to come out and do something,” he said. “Hopefully, as it gets better and better, people will come out and actually spend some time at restaurants and stuff like that.”