A bicyclist pedals his way along the waterfront at Kapiolani Park Beach Center.
Eddie would walk (or pedal) -- you can, too
EVERY November for 30 years, Eddie Pu has walked all the way around the Maui coast. He takes a small bag with clothing, trail mix and water, traveling the nearly 200 miles on foot and using a different route each time. Along the way, he'll stop to pick and fashion a ti leaf into a headband, hike past Hotel Hana and Maui's famous beaches or observe the plants growing along the vestiges of what used to be the King's Highway.
Pu's yearly walk should remind all of us of the importance of utilizing alternative methods of transportation such as walking and biking.
It's a shame that we seem to have neglected the importance of walking, especially because of the special history of the Hawaiian Islands. Walking is not only a cleaner method of transportation -- it is the original method of transportation. The Polynesians who first arrived here crossed Hawaii's broad beaches and green valleys on foot. Like Eddie Pu, they observed the wonders of nature around them, listening to the sounds of the wind and stopping to gather plants that could ease all sorts of aches and pains.
Sounds better than circling around to find space in a crowded parking lot, doesn't it?
Last November, residents voted overwhelmingly to amend the City Charter and make Hawaii a place where people of all ages can walk and bike easily, frequently and safely. At the beginning of the this legislative session, I introduced several bills encouraging walking and biking, which are now passing through the Legislature.
The first, House Bill 1028,was in part inspired by Pu himself. The bill designates the Piilani walking trail from Makena to Kapalua on Maui as a Hawaiian coastal cultural heritage corridor and sets aside funds to maintain and improve this important piece of history.
The second, HB 497, earmarks at least 2 percent of federally eligible money from the state highway fund for the establishment of bikeways, bike paths and bike lanes whenever a highway, road or street is built or rebuilt.
There are many reasons why a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Hawaii makes sense.
First, designing roads and streets with pedestrians in mind is widely practiced by other cities. Oregon's "bike bill" is similar to the proposed HB 497 in requiring bikeways along roads that are new or being rebuilt. Baltimore recently adopted the Baltimore City Bicycle Master Plan to make city streets more bicycle-friendly. And many state and local governments are working with the Federal Highway Administration on the Safe Routes to School Program to encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school and to find ways for them to do it safely.
In Hawaii, we can follow the examples of other cities by incorporating spaces for walking and biking into road design.
Second, walking or biking is a great way to both protect and take advantage of our perfect weather. Honolulu is ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the country's Top Ten Green Cities, with blue skies and clean air all year round. Sticking to the sidewalk instead of driving helps to cut carbon emissions and preserves the beauty of our islands. What better reason to leave the car keys at home?
What's more, walking and biking provide terrific health benefits. Many of these benefits are particularly relevant to Hawaii's population. Our state suffers from high rates of adult obesity and even higher rates of childhood obesity. Thirty years ago, nearly half of all children walked or biked to school, but studies suggest that today fewer than 15 percent of children and adolescents use active modes of transportation. Now more than half of children arrive at school in cars.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests walking as part of an active lifestyle. This simple activity decreases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and colon cancer. Even better, taking frequent walks is associated with an overall sense of well-being. Isn't it about time we stopped to smell the plumerias?
Unfortunately, the recent slew of pedestrian fatalities reminds us that Hawaii still has a way to go towards becoming the pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly place it could be.
According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Hawaii has the nation's fourth-highest pedestrian fatality rate. Our 2.65 deaths per 100,000 people places us higher than the national average of 1.67. And Honolulu has the highest pedestrian fatality rate for those over age 65.
Recent pedestrian deaths should serve as an impetus to enact and enforce better pedestrian safety laws and to build better walkways and bikeways for those who cannot or choose not to drive. Let's create communities that ensure the safety of residents while encouraging them to opt for alternative modes of transportation.
The next time you get into the car for a short trip to the store or to pick up the kids from school, I hope the story of Eddie Pu will inspire you to stop and think. There is an alternative. Eddie would walk.
Rep. Joe Bertram III, a Democrat from Maui, represents District 11 (Makena-Wailea-Kihei).