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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Isle to be more bike friendly

By Scott Ishikawa
Transportation Writer

O'ahu may not be the easiest place to ride a bike, particularly if you're trying to get to work.

 •  Map of the planned bike route
Bike lanes merge into traffic without warning. Highways often are obstacle courses, filled with broken glass and other debris. No signs warn motorists to allow bicyclists the right of way. Bike path systems are piecemeal, particularly in heavy commuting areas, without links from one area to another.

That soon may change.

The city and state each have a grand plan for bicyclists. While the older bike trails on O'ahu were primarily used for recreation, several plans call for connecting them to create a continual commuter route for bicyclists.

Among the proposals expected to be finished within five years:

• Bike Friendly Route No. 1 — an unbroken bike route that provides a direct connection between Pearl City and Kahala.

The city in 1998 constructed a portion of a bike path from Waipi'o Access Road to Waipahu Depot Road to connect two longer, existing bike routes running from Pearl Harbor's West Loch to the 'Ewa plains and another path traveling along the Pearl Harbor shoreline.

Mike Syria bicycles 36 miles a day between his home in Kapolei and his job at Sand Island. He enjoys the commute but acknowledges that the hazards of riding a bicycle on O'ahu deter other cyclists from joining him.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

• A set of lanes directed at improving access for student cyclists to university and college campuses.

• The "Lei of Parks" route, a network of primarily off-road paths linking the city's regional parks and attractions between Diamond Head and Aloha Tower. While it doesn't necessarily serve commuters, it adds to the assortment of available bike paths throughout the county.

Segments of each of these projects — totalling nearly $80 million — are in various stages of design and construction, and would be completed in small sections, city bicycling coordinator Chris Sayers said.

In addition, two other projects are under design:

• The city and Kapi'olani Community College are working together on a bike park near the college's Diamond Head campus. The facility will have bike racks, showers, lockers and changing rooms.

• A state-proposed $6 million, 14-mile bike path from Waipahu to Nanakuli that would allow safer cycling along the Leeward Coast.

The Leeward Bikeway project would run from Pearl Harbor parallel to the former O'ahu Railroad & Land route and then follow the Leeward coastline alongside Farrington Highway to Lualualei Naval Road in Nanakuli. Federal money is needed for 80 percent of the $6 million cost. An additional $4.5 million is needed to purchase land for certain sections of the route.

Many bicyclists are intimidated when it comes to commuting long distances. Hawai'i Bicycling League executive director Eve DeCoursey said a major reason is a lack of continuous bike routes along O'ahu's main roadways into Honolulu, forcing bicycle riders to mix with traffic.

"There are many places around the island where the bike lane suddenly ends when the highway or roadway narrows," DeCoursey said. "It forces the bicyclist to negotiate with vehicle traffic next to them. I know that would discourage a lot of bicyclists."

Not Kapolei resident Mike Syria, a 38-year-old estimator, who switched his mode of travel from his Dodge Dakota pickup to a bike two years ago.

Syria now travels 36 miles each work day to his Sand Island job and back home. He said he makes the trip in an hour.

"It's only 15 minutes longer than if I travelled by car," Syria said. "I was just tired of getting nowhere in traffic."

Cycling to work every day, Syria faces the same hurdles. He maneuvers past shattered glass and other debris to avoid a flat tire or loss of control.

And he negotiates with motorized vehicle traffic, including aggressive drivers who don't believe bicyclists have a right to be on the road.

He said he has been knocked over twice by cars while on the road, although he has suffered no serious injuries.

"A lot of bicyclists don't like to ride on the road with traffic, and I don't blame them," he said. "Some drivers try to cut you off or edge you off the road. They honk their horns, which is one of the stupidest things to do because it's startling.

"The benefits are I get a good workout while heading to work and I save on gas, insurance and parking," said Syria, who travels through 'Ewa, Waipahu and Pearl City before heading down Nimitz Highway to his job at Hagadone Printing Co.

Although Hawai'i has more than 100,000 registered bicycle owners, there is no official tally on how many commute to work or school. City bicycling coordinator Sayers estimates the number to be between 1 percent to 1.5 percent of all commuters.

DeCoursey of the Hawai'i Bicycling League suggests traffic signs be installed along narrow stretches of road to give bicyclists the right of way. But on an island with limited roadway space, bicyclists such as Makiki resident Ken Welborn, believe dealing with vehicle traffic is a fact of life.

"I used to live in Stockton, Calif., and compared to some places on the Mainland, there aren't many dedicated bike lanes here," said the 33-year-old Welborn, who rides to work and school. "There would be more people biking to work if there were adequate bike lanes, so they wouldn't feel like they were competing with cars."

Welborn said drivers have attempted to nudge him off the road several times, the last incident occurring in February.

"This driver probably thought I was probably going too slow or in his way, and then pulled alongside of me and came real close," he said. "If I kept moving forward, I would have hit the curb, so I braked.

"I just let them move on, and don't mess with them," he said. "You can't take on a car or truck, so what are you going to do?"

But an encouraging sign that bicycle commuters are on the rise is the increasing number of city bus riders who bring their bikes aboard.

The city program that began in 1995 and allows bikes to be carried on the front of the buses, now has 30,000 bike boardings a month.

"We haven't done any official counting, but based on the use of the bus bike racks, we think the number is increasing," Sayers said.

Spencer believes the increased use of TheBus by bike riders is a good thing.

"My guess is those riders are bicyclists who use the bus to get around obstacles, like getting over the Pali Highway or dangerous sections of roadways they don't want to deal with. Perhaps the commute to town is 15 miles, and they only want to travel five of those miles on their bike."