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Gathering Place
Mike Hu

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bicycles offer cheaper
alternative to rail transit

After attending a recent City Council brouhaha about raising the general excise tax to pay for a yet-to-be-determined rail transit system that is supposed to solve Honolulu's traffic woes, one can't help wonder, why that discussion and not any other solution to traffic congestion? The reason, of course, is the money. Lots of money exists for mass transit systems, while no money is available for personal initiatives that would solve the problem at the only level it can be solved, on a case-by-case basis, individually.

Government workers and union construction workers look forward to the job security of building a mass transit system -- with unlimited government largesse. Absent at these meetings is anyone claiming they would ride the mass transit system once it is completed. There was not a single citizen demanding that they needed a rail system to get anywhere in particular -- and the government planners even boasted that the beauty of this whole scheme was that they had no plans -- or none that they could reveal publicly.

Phillip Doi commutes to work in Honolulu on his bicycle.

Well, I've got one: If government officials want to reduce traffic congestion, they should raise gas prices as high as possible until we get the desired effect -- a drastic decrease in the number of cars on the road because people can't afford the gasoline. A county tax on gas could be used to subsidize free rides on existing public transit, including subsidized fares for private taxis for special needs. Rebate those fuel surcharges to those specifically in the transportation business.

Remove the restrictions against riding bicycles on sidewalks, but require that bikes yield the right of way to everybody else when on the sidewalks. Bikes don't need their own exclusive right of way; the sidewalks are optimal for this, and are underutilized. Most cycling novices are reluctant to ride in traffic with the cars, which inhibits a much broader use of the bicycle as a major form of transportation in Hawaii.

Many bicycling proponents argue for the construction of dedicated bikeways when the sidewalks, especially if they've been reconstructed with wheelchair ramps, are ideal. In addition, today's all-terrain bikes can ride on virtually any surface; the vulnerability is having to ride in traffic on poorly maintained roads. Sidewalks are usually in much better condition than Oahu roads.

During the recent road and sidewalk reconstruction in Waikiki, moving quickly through Waikiki was virtually impossible -- except for bicyclists. For them, the conditions were optimal because all other traffic was at a standstill. If there is no competition from cars, the bike is king.

Some commuters might be put off by the idea that cyclists wear absurd clothing and special shoes while riding expensive bicycles with no other purpose than to go fast and look like Lance Armstrong. In reality, the serious bicycle commuter is simply a pedestrian on wheels. Biking is good exercise, faster than walking and less demanding on feet, knees, ankles and backs. And the cost of a bicycle is much less draining on the pocketbook than high-priced gasoline or a multibillion-dollar rail system.

Mike Hu lives in Honolulu

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