RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
David Bremer, right, and co-worker Kimo O'Connell commute to work at Tripler Army Medical Center on bicycles. Here, they ride down Puuloa Road from Tripler.
Transit factors into plan for bikes
The city revamps a 9-year-old effort to improve commutes for cyclists islandwide
Instead of sitting in his car like most people, David Bremer rides his bicycle from Mililani to his job at Tripler Army Medical Center every day.
"I get a couple of hours of exercise each day when I would be ordinarily sitting in my car," Bremer said. "It's more relaxing. I generally enjoy cycling and it's a nice break. After work, I look forward to riding home rather than sitting in traffic."
But it is still a challenging ride, fraught with danger as soon as he hits the road.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's plans to update the nearly decade-old Honolulu Bicycle Master Plan, and couple it with rail transit, could help ease Bremer's commute.
"The old plan was principally more the metropolitan area. Now, we're going to look at it islandwide and will take into account some of the new initiatives like rail and look at what connectivity points that we want," said Melvin Kaku, director of the city Transportation Services.
Not much has been done with the current bike plan, but on this issue, residents are leading the way and forcing the city to act. In November, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the City Charter that would make it a priority for Honolulu to be a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city.
"Now that we have this Charter amendment that makes it a priority, this should implement the plan and increase the number of safe bicycle paths -- just increase the ability for people to bike and walk safely in this town," said Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club of Hawaii director.
"Right now, it's ridiculously dangerous. I bike almost daily, and you take your life into your own hands and it need not be that way."
Mikulina said re-examining construction of safe walkways and bikeways could also help address concerns over the recent spike in the number of fatal pedestrian accidents.
Bicycling enthusiasts support the city's decision to update the bicycle master plan, which some say has simply been gathering dust on a shelf.
"We don't think that the mayor is giving lip service to the bicycling community. It's clear that he cares about these issues and this issue in particular, and that I think is really a great beginning," said Kristi Schulenberg, executive director of the 1,100-member Hawaii Bicycling League.
"It's just getting that to translate into real action," she said.
But rail could be the catalyst to do just that, City Council Budget Chairman Todd Apo said.
"With these new transit plans, there's a need to re-examine the long-term (transportation) policy, and I think it could actually make some of these plans a reality. It puts it in a better position to make it actually happen," Apo said.
Building the rail line as close as possible to West Oahu will also bode well and make it easier to implement bicycle infrastructure, Apo said.
"It's similar to the mayor's reasons for starting the rail system in the west -- it's easier to implement because there's a lot of vacant land where you can sort of mold it a little more," he said.
Schulenberg said that if mass transit is the impetus, then there should be a plan for a seamless transition from bicycle to train.
"We want to make sure that you can actually bring your bicycle on the train and during rush hour, during peak times and not just off-peak times. And that there are safe lockers and safe storage and possibly even bike valets and bike facilities," she said.
Kaku said the city administration will be requesting about $200,000 to conduct the study, which should take about a year to complete.
"Because we're expanding this islandwide, it's a little bit more ambitious," Kaku said. "We're hoping (to complete it) within one year so that by the time 2009 comes up, it'll be finished."
Hannemann wants to break ground on the rail transit system in two years.
The current bike master plan was announced under much fanfare by then-Mayor Jeremy Harris and Gov. Ben Cayetano in 1998.
The plan called for high-priority projects such as "Lei of Parks," mainly off-road pathways linking city parks from Diamond Head to Aloha Tower and a direct bikeway connection between Kahala and Pearl City.
But its projected cost of $50 million for the city and $30 million for the state became a major obstacle.
"If there weren't competing resources, it's obviously a great thing to have. The issue is there are competing resources," Apo said.
But Schulenberg said an updated plan needs to be specific and with exact funding sources, and must include the bicycle community as partners while it is being done.
"Updating the master plan is just an exercise in what's possible. What's difficult is implementing the plan itself," Mikulina said.
Apo agrees, saying he plans to ask city administrators the following question during budget discussions: "What do you see as your plans on actually implementing it?"
Jurisdictional questions between the state, which updated its bicycle plan in 2003, and the city also are seen as a hindrance.
"There's really no plan to connect these major arteries. It's more like, oh, that's a city road, that's a state road. We would like to see a lot more collaboration on the part of government in actually implementing it," Schulenberg said.
For example, Bremer's route takes him from Mililani through Kipapa Gulch to the shores of Pearl Harbor.
"The route I take is very scenic. I ride along the Pearl Harbor bike path, and it's kind of nice to be by the water early in the morning and in the afternoon as well," he said.
The weakest link in his ride is getting out of Mililani.
"(Kamehameha) Highway through Kipapa Gulch is the only way you can leave Mililani by bicycle, and that was identified as particularly dangerous," said Bremer, also a member of the Mililani Neighborhood Board.
Bremer said that while an alternate route has been identified, the issue has been mired in a jurisdictional debate between the state and city.
"The city says it's the state's responsibility, and the state says it's the city's responsibility and they get into a standoff. So instead of moving ahead, we're kind of in a stalemate," he said.
Kaku said that coordination with the state is something that the updated city master plan will also examine.
"There are certain portions that the state has, and we want to make sure that we're consistent and tied in to their current thinking here," Kaku said. "We have the same goal, and we want to make sure we're doing it islandwide."
Mikulina said that the public must also be educated to buy into the bicycle-friendly concept to make the master plan work.
As an example, he points to plans to transform Young Street between Moiliili and Thomas Square into a bicycle boulevard with cafes and businesses along the way, now a major piece of the bicycle master plan.
But with plans to take away street parking and to prevent turning into and out of driveways, residents and businesses complained, and the plan was watered down.
"The whole plan was paralyzed because people could not see this alternate vision of having a bike- and pedestrian-friendly corridor," said Mikulina, who noted the death of a pedestrian crossing Young Street last month.
"I think that's the biggest challenge, changing that mind-set," he said.