Even the most car-centric among us are looking at the new protected bike lane on King Street with curiosity.
It’s wide, it’s set apart from cars with white, concrete buffers, and it stretches all the way from downtown to the University area, which means a quick ride between the Honolulu Museum of Art and Pint and Jigger is both safe and pleasant.
With its bright green caution areas and shiny white barriers, biking down one of Oahu’s main thoroughfares seems like an attractive option.
And that’s the point.
Protected bike lanes are well established nationally and while their biggest proponents are current riders looking for increased safety measures, their biggest success is in attracting new riders. In a study of five major U.S. cities, the installation of protected bike lanes caused an increase in ridership anywhere from 21 percent to 171 percent, with about 10 percent of new riders drawn from other modes of transportation.
That’s not an insignificant uptick in new riders, and one that Honolulu desperately needs. If the city is ever going to deliver on its promise of “Complete Streets,” it needs to capitalize on the King Street momentum and keep delivering more protected bike lanes in a timely manner.
According to Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes and the Green Lane Project, “Bike issues need to be framed in the context of what they mean to the city, not just what they mean to people who bike.”
As a city, Honolulu made it a priority to become more bike and pedestrian friendly back in 2006, when voters passed Charter Amendment 8. Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration allocated $3.9 million to expand the bike infrastructure in fiscal year 2015 and the city’s bike plan calls for an additional $68 million over the next two to three decades.
The city is on the cusp of a biking renaissance, but the promised land — where bike traffic relieves some car congestion and both parties are comfortable sharing the road — is still a tenuous reality.
While the city is looking at creating more protected bike lanes, the King Street lane is technically part of a “two-year pilot program” to test its effectiveness in improving safety and increasing ridership. The city needs to realize that a partially delivered bike initiative will never attract enough bikers to be successful.
A Honolulu bikeshare program, for instance, is still nearly two years away. With more than 30 systems currently operating across the country, bikesharing is the fastest growing form of public transportation in the United States, but Honolulu is the only major tourist market without a bikeshare system on the ground or in some phase of implementation.
According to the Honolulu Bikeshare Organizational Study, a bikeshare system would help increase the number of bicyclists, stimulate public support for bike initiatives, and create a culture that normalizes the bicycle as a transportation mode.
These are all critical advantages to ensuring the success of “Complete Streets.” Quite simply, if there are too few cyclists on the road, drivers never get accustomed to road-sharing rules and biking never shakes its unpleasant and unsafe reputation.
Although it’s only been open a few days now, critics of the King Street bike lane are, more than anything, confused and frustrated by the new traffic rules. While people will always be resistant to change, bike lanes are one instance when swift, rather than incremental, change is in the public’s best interest.
In order to protect its $3.9 million investment, the city needs to work quickly to unveil more protected bike lanes, implement a bikeshare program, and attract a critical mass of riders. Only then will both riders and drivers be happy and comfortable with the arrangement.
In other words, if you build it, they will come.