Another Perspective
Cynthia Thielen

City should put
pedal to metal for
bike lane funding

Beginning in 2007, Honolulu residents will have to shoulder the burden of the largest tax increase in Hawaii's history. According to the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, the general excise tax will increase from 4 percent to 4.5 percent and cost the average family of four up to $528 per year in additional taxes. The city expects to collect $150 million in new tax revenue each year for a mass transit system that has not even been designed. The people need a solution to traffic congestion now! A more immediate solution is to create a decent system of bike corridors.

For fiscal year 2006, the city budgeted about $400,000 toward bikeway construction. Shockingly, it costs the city about $400,000 to build a one-mile bike path and $1 million to create five blocks of bike lanes. According to the current budget, Honolulu can only afford to build a one-mile bike path and not a single block of bike lane next year! According to the Honolulu Bicycle Master Plan, it will cost the city a total of $47.1 million to complete the entire bikeway plan. At our current rate of funding, it would take 59 years to complete all of our bikeway projects!

But there are other ways to generate revenue for the bikeway fund. Now that the city will be collecting an additional $150 million a year from the GET increase, there should be room for freeing up funds for the creation of bike corridors. If the city designated just one penny of the gasoline tax (which is 16.5 cents) to the bikeway fund, it would generate an estimated $3 million in revenue per year. Along with 80 percent federal matching funds, the city would generate more than $5 million each year for bikeway projects. All of our bikeway projects around the entire island could be completed in less than 10 years, and the priority projects -- that would have the greatest effect on traffic reduction -- would take less than four years to complete. This would mean less traffic now at only a fraction of the cost of rail.

To create a comprehensive bikeway system on Oahu, the state also will have to contribute funding. According to the Honolulu Bicycle Master Plan, to complete all of the bikeway projects will cost the state $30 million. As of now, the state does not dedicate any of the state highway funds for bikeways.

A decade ago, I co-sponsored a bikeway bill that aimed to dedicate 1 percent of our state highway fund toward the creation of bikeways. Unfortunately, the bill was watered down and, in the end, suggested only a reasonable amount of funding for bikeways and asked the Department of Transportation to build bikeways only when additional highways are constructed. The watered-down bill passed but has obviously not done enough to really tackle our bikeway needs.

One percent of the state highway fund and just one penny of the gasoline tax: That's a small price to pay for a bikeway system that is guaranteed to have a greater impact on traffic than the proposed Barber's Point ferry and have quicker results than the rail. Many people would prefer to ride their bikes to work and on other daily errands, but they do not because they are fearful of riding on roads built to accommodate vehicles, not bicyclists. Residents here know that bike riding is an ideal form of transportation because, unlike other bike havens, Hawaii is warm all year round. The funny thing is that the Netherlands -- where winter temperatures are extremely cold -- has one of the most successful and busy city bikeway systems in the world. A significant number of people who live and work in Amsterdam don't even own cars. The biker is king on their roads, with cars and even trolleys taking second place. Hawaii bicyclists who have visited the Netherlands probably dream of a similar system for our state. Unfortunately, unlike the forefathers of Amsterdam, Honolulu's former county planners did not include bike lanes when roads were being developed.

On the bright side, it is not too late to build a comprehensive bikeway system that will effectively decrease traffic on Oahu and also make use of our bike-friendly weather. Back in 1995 when the Legislature was considering additional funding for bikeways, 600 bicyclists took to the streets in a Sunday event called "Folks for Spokes," showing their strong support of the initiative. Maybe it is time for another mass demonstration.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) is House assistant minority floor leader.

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