The way to road safety is first through awareness, education ... not bike lanes

Beth-Ann Kozlovich

HONOLULU—On Sunday, thousands of cyclists will crowd the roads on a picturesque route of up to 100 miles around Oahu. The 29th Honolulu Century Ride is the premiere bike riding event for cyclists of all abilities; families and kids are welcome. Then on Monday the cars will once again take precedence leaving many to wonder if bikes, cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, and other vehicles can all safely share the road.

Although there are bike lanes in some places, mostly, cyclists are on their own in regular lanes. Bike path plans for a more comprehensive system are still gathering dust, waiting for some distant future when political will meets funding. Some, who either don’t know or won’t obey the rules of the road cause consternation at the very least and place everyone on the road in potential danger.

There are those who ride on sidewalks, or in the road but against traffic, who breeze by red lights and driveways as if they don’t exist. Then there are those who have no reflectors on their bikes or who habitually ride in the dark with non-reflective clothing and never a helmet gracing their heads, even if they are kids.

With ubiquitous talk of creating livable, sustainable communities, and smaller carbon footprints, many organizations are urging the use of bicycles for transportation to work, to school, or a quick trip to the store. Some cyclists may feel they’re doing the right thing just by complying with the latest incarnation of political correctness. Others are plainly never giving energy savings, social benefits, and safety even a passing thought.

Chad Taniguchi, formerly the head of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, is the executive director of the Hawaii Bicycling League (HBL) and says more than 25,000 new bikes are registered each year in Hawaii. Bike trips make up 1.2 percent of all transportation trips and “that may sound small, but compared to the national average, it’s in the middle or a little higher,” Taniguchi says. “In more popular places where bikes are more accepted—San Francisco, Davis, and Chicago—they tend to go into the 3 to 6 percent of all trips by bikes.”

Even with Hawaii’s ranking, Taniguchi is a little concerned about what part of the total number of cyclists reflect on young riders. Not so many decades ago, a bike was a child’s chariot and most kids either had or wanted one. Today, kids are still riding, but less than before. “HBL has a bike education program with fourth graders on Oahu and we reach about 6000 fourth graders,” Taniguchi says. “Ten to 20 percent of them don’t know how to ride a bicycle.”

John Henderson, a former triathlete, hit last year from behind by a tour bus, says his cyclist career began as a boy in a suburb outside of Boston. “With the miles I was putting on the road, it was only a matter of time until I was hit, but I never expected anything like this.” Henderson sits in a wheelchair, “still on wheels,” he says. Earlier this year, his case was settled, and with it over, Henderson plans to put more of his time into education activities and lobbying for safer conditions for cyclists. Specifically, he’d like to see Hawaii have a law similar to one in Denver, which prohibits a motorist from passing a cyclist within three feet.

Henderson is particularly upset that Hawaii has already had the chance to pass such a law but the bill languished in transportation committee limbo and was deferred indefinitely. Henderson is willing to concede that with extreme budget concerns, bike safety was decidedly not an issue on the top of any lawmaker’s priority list. Regardless of whatever happens next time around, Henderson believes everyone on a bike or in a vehicle must be responsible now and show that concern every time they are on the road. It’s 50 percent cyclists, 50 percent motorists to get 100 percent safety.

In part, that means knowing conditions of where you bike or drive. “You need to understand the predictability of your roads and make adjustments,” according to Henderson. There are places where existing bike lanes simply stop or where new paving may not be level. Henderson says all drivers need to realize there are different categories of cyclists and each may act differently on the road.

Taniguchi agrees. “You can’t lump all cyclists together.”

However, according to Island Triathlon and Bike owner and longtime cyclist Frank Smith, all cyclists should have the same expectation: being responsible for keeping themselves and others safe in the reality of the road that confronts them the minute they climb on a bike.

“My field is teaching people how to cope with the situation in Honolulu as it exists now, as the streets are now, as the traffic is now, Smith says. “I believe fervently that with some education of the cyclist and some attention to the road surface, Honolulu could set an example to the rest of the world.”

While the irony of places including Portland, Chicago, and San Francisco, which all have high cyclist populations despite often cold, wet, and windy weather, is not lost on Smith, he is more hopeful that now may be the right time for more people in Hawaii’s mild climate to take up cycling.

Although Smith’s bread-and-butter customers are those with a serious need to go fast, there are other bike shops that cater to novice riders and families, which he hopes will benefit from a renewed interest in biking to save time and money to meet some daily transportation needs. But Smith does not put much stock into a comprehensive system of bike paths.

Henderson is adamant: “HBL should not put one bit of its effort in any infrastructure at all because the reality is the answer is not bike paths, it’s not arrows on the road, it’s not painting bikes on the roads—it’s awareness. It’s education.”

The complete interview with John Henderson, Chad Taniguchi and Frank Smith is on the Town Square archive at