In March, Honolulu police officers conducted at least two days of enforcement along King Street’s protected bike lane, issuing citations to cyclists who passed by.

That may sound encouraging to anyone frustrated by cyclists who ride on busy city sidewalks, zip through red lights, or don’t use lights at night so they’re visible to others around them — all common complaints. But the operation didn’t focus on such problems.

Instead, the officers stopped passing cyclists near Keeaumoku Street mainly to check whether their bicycles were properly registered, as mandated under Hawaii’s bike laws, according to bike advocates and some of those who got stopped.

The operation was funded under a $35,000 National Highway Traffic Safety grant to enforce against bike violations, according to an HPD spokeswoman. The HPD’s decision to focus on registration tags irked some local cyclists, who took to social media to vent.

It also confounded staff at the Hawaii Bicycling League, which saw no logical connection between compliance with the state’s registration law and bike safety.

“There are real risks out there, and ways that bicyclists are creating risks to themselves and others,” said Daniel Alexander, HBL’s advocacy, planning and communication director. But “it doesn’t feel like the best approach, particularly if the intent is safety,” to go after the bike tags, he said.

In a statement emailed March 23, shortly after the enforcement started, HPD said that it “shares the HBL’s safety concerns and appreciates the League’s commitment to bicyclist safety.”

How To Register Your Bike

The department selected when and where to enforce based on traffic volumes. It focused on “areas where bicyclists, motorists and officers could safely interact,” the HPD statement read.

Some who were ticketed said that officers told them the operation’s aim was to crack down on stolen bikes.

It’s not the first time HPD has gotten pushback on its bike enforcement strategy. In 2015, police issued tickets to cyclists as they crossed a 90-foot stretch of sidewalk that links the King Street bike path with the Civic Center bike path, which leads to downtown.

A large arrow painted at the end of the King Street path pointing at the sidewalk confused many of the cyclists there. At the time HPD said that it used a $16,000 state grant for the enforcement. It’s not clear whether it’s ticketed anyone at the same spot since then.

The issue also parallels Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s aggressive, controversial push in recent years to make the the city’s crowded, urban core more bike-friendly.

Cars make left hand turn onto Victoria Street and South King Street intersection. 23 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The protected bike path on King Street, near Thomas Square.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Caldwell aims to boost the percentage of island commuters who use bikes as high as 5 percent. But the lane on King Street, along with new lanes on South and McCully streets and a planned lane for Pensacola Street, have eliminated dozens of coveted public parking spots.

Manoa Valley resident Justin Jansen got a $70 ticket for not having the proper registration when police stopped him on the King Street protected lane as he biked to work.

Jansen said that he showed the officers proof of sale by bringing up the online receipt on his smartphone, but was cited anyway.

“I don’t think that should be a top priority of the Honolulu Police Department,” Jansen said Thursday. “Obviously we have a huge issue with traffic on the island. Encouraging bike riding would be more productive than discouraging it.”

HPD did not respond to requests to discuss its strategy of pursuing registration violations on the King Street path.

Police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in an email that generally the registration violations, along with the failure to use nighttime lamps and to stay off of sidewalks in city business districts, are among the most common infractions officers cite.

Even Caldwell expressed consternation at the registration enforcement, calling that approach “very bureaucratic.”

“HPD enforces laws equally against everyone down to the Nth degree. And sometimes even as mayor I find that frustrating,” he said in late March. “They have to equally apply all the laws that they see broken and so I’d prefer the other things — riding on sidewalks, going through a red light which endangers everyone — to be the priority.”

But because it must enforce laws equally, “I understand why the police department has to do it the way they do it,” Caldwell said.

HBL stated in a March 22 post on its Facebook page that, “HPD is our friend on the roads. Sometimes (they) focus on (the) wrong thing.”

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author