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Bicycling in Hawaii: Get out of the road, weirdo!

    By Maren Bjoergum. April 24, 2014 - 10:02 am

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Why is it that a city that has the perfect climate and topography for biking – with warm weather and flat roads – is a tiresome and dangerous place for bikers?

Tuesday night, Civil Beat hosted its latest installment of Civil Café – a forum where the news outlet invites readers and engaged community members into the newsroom to debate important topics regarding Hawaii’s community.

This time the talk was moved out of the newsroom and into Loft In Space at Kakaako’s Fresh Café.

In tune with Earth Day, the topic was bicycles in Hawaii, and the room was packed with biking enthusiasts from all over the island.

Chad Taniguchi of Hawaii Bicycling League and Mike Formby, director of Honolulu’s Department of Transportation Services, formed the panel together with host and Civil Beat reporter Sophie Cocke.

The two-hour installment touched on topics like the protected bike paths that the city is working to implement on King Street, the upcoming bike-sharing program and the challenges of changing attitudes among drivers.

As one of the audience members said, “I feel like I have to defend my right to the road every time I use my bike.”

While European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen can boast of numbers showing that almost 50 percent of their city populations use a bike as their primary method of transportation, Oahu stands at a meager 2 percent, according to Taniguchi.

This despite the fact that most northern European cities experience cold, wet and snowy weather almost two thirds of the year, while the temperature on Oahu rarely dips below 79 degrees or above 90 degrees.

Change is coming however. According to Formby, the planned protected bike-lanes for King Street will be up and running by the end of year. “The mayor is pushing for a two-way bike lane on King Street by the end of the year [as well],” Formby said. “But I don’t think that is possible.”

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While remaining positive to the plan for continued expansion of protected bike lanes for streets like Pensacola, South and Piikoi streets, he also noted that one major issue with the implementation of bike lanes on Oahu is the risk of lawsuits from private business owners or local neighborhoods.

Conducting environmental assessments to properly support the need for bike lanes, and argue the case that said bike lanes have no negative impact on the neighborhoods were they are created is vital to avoid litigation.

“Changing attitudes is the best way to make a change in our communities,” was Taniguchi’s repeated plea to the audience. “You just have to remind them about the benefits. The health, the money, the benefits of biking more and driving less.”

While the state and city is working on changing attitudes in the communities, they are also increasing the penalties to promote accountability. With the approval of House Bill 1706, the fine for parking in bike lanes have now risen from $35 to $200.

Both the panel and the audience members agreed that one of the major issues for bikers in Hawaii is the car-centric attitude. Audience members spoke of being harassed or plainly ignored by drivers, and were encouraged by Taniguchi to call 911 on dangerous drivers.

According to the panelists, many people have little patience with the issues of bicycle lanes and bicycling in general. Honolulu boasts several top spots on Worst City for Traffic lists, and many want both city and state to spend more money on bigger and better roads rather than on bicycle lanes and public transportation.

Although spending more money to create better solutions for bikers is expected to alleviate the pressure on Honolulu’s over-congested roads, the tragedy is that few seem to care. As Formby put it: “We have the solution, but they can’t see past the problem to discover it.”

Photos: Torstein Lund Eik

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