- Special Projects
Trevor Ozawa wants everyone to know he has nothing against bike lanes. He likes bikes, he has biked on the South King Street cycle track, and he even has bruises from doing so.
But Ozawa was bike advocates’ least favorite person during a City Council committee meeting on Monday in Honolulu Hale.
That’s because the councilman from District 4, which stretches from Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai, is pushing a bill to require cycle tracks to be placed on the city’s official Public Infrastructure Map before getting installed.
That process would require two City Council hearings and make it more difficult for Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to install protected bike paths.
The city has already installed one protected bike lane on South King Street, sparking the ire of some drivers who are confused by the change and frustrated by the longer commute times. City data shows the bike lane has increased the time it takes to drive down the thoroughfare by an average of 36 seconds.
Larry Taff, president of Pacific Office Properties Trust, testified that the latest proposed bike lane on South Street directly impacts his company’s waterfront property as well as people who commute downtown for work.
“Taking that much space away from the automobiles and giving it to bicyclists — I think there are such a small number of people who ride their bicycles to work,” Taff said. “It would not be good public policy.”
But city officials testified that requiring bike lanes to be added to official public infrastructure maps doesn’t make sense because those maps are intended for major projects that require capital improvement funds.
Daniel Alexander from the Hawaii Bicycling League, who opposes Bill 68, argued that the measure would make it harder for bike lanes to be installed.
Ozawa emphasized that he’s not trying to prevent bike lanes, just improve the process. The city held 15 public meetings for the bikeway program over the past two years and made presentations before four neighborhood boards before the South King Street cycle track was installed, but Ozawa said there wasn’t enough awareness islandwide of the change.
The councilman said that he introduced the bill after hearing numerous complaints mostly from seniors, and became particularly concerned when he saw a planning document suggesting that the city remove a lane on Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki to make way for bikes.
“To have a protected bike lane on Kalakaua sends shockwaves through me as a council member for that district,” he said.
He insisted that he simply wants to provide more opportunity for the community to provide public input and the council to weigh in on proposed bike lanes.
“It’s not me versus the bikers,” he said, adding, “Sometimes slowing down helps in the end.”
But that wasn’t enough to convince David Nash, a real estate agent who said that he’s served on the mayor’s advisory council for biking for the past two administrations.
“Trevor’s ignorance and palpable misdirection on this is incredible,” Nash said. “This is the first time that we’ve gotten anything done. I don’t want to see this stifled.”
The bill passed out of the committee unanimously.
The protected bike lane on South King Street has increased bike ridership and decreased the number of bikes on the sidewalk. According to a city survey, on Aug. 26, 2014, about 400 people biked on King at Kalakaua Street and 70 percent rode on the sidewalk.
On June 4, 2015, six months after the bike lane was installed, total bike ridership was up nearly 80 percent and only 9 percent rode on the sidewalk.
But the change has been harshly criticized by drivers. Caldwell told KHON in August that the bike lane is his administration’s most controversial issue, “maybe even more controversial than rail, or even homelessness.”
Steven Sullivan, vice president at Waterfront Plaza as well as the Kakaako Improvement Association, testified Monday that he thinks the cycle tracks are dangerous. He’s particularly upset about a new proposed bike lane on South Street that would connect with the South King Street cycle track.
“Where are these bicyclists coming from?” Sullivan asked council members, emphasizing that losing loading zones would hurt businesses.
Council members seemed sympathetic to Sullivan as well as Ozawa. Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi described almost hitting two bikers as she pulled onto South King Street because the bike path is two ways and she was looking at the one-way traffic.
“There didn’t seem to be enough education about this or enough thought,” she said of the cycle track.
“If the Council feels that we need to slow down this process, that’s our right and we will,” said Councilman Ikaika Anderson.
While some bike lane advocates were antagonistic toward Ozawa, city Department of Transportation Services Director Michael Formby struck a more conciliatory tone, emphasizing that he wants to improve communication with the Council and give them a say over projects, but just doesn’t think that adding bike lanes to the Public Infrastructure Map is a good idea.
“I’m always willing to bring any and every project that we do to the Council,” he said. “I don’t think the Public Infrastructure Map is the only way to do that.”
Formby emphasized that he doesn’t plan to remove a lane of travel on South Street, although some street parking might be lost. In response to concerns about losing loading zones, the city is re-configuring its bike lane proposal.
“We don’t go from one public meeting to putting stripes on the ground,” he said.
Formby also said that the planning document proposing to remove a lane on Kalakaua Street hasn’t yet gone through an internal vetting process nor public hearings. Personally, he said he has doubts that the roadway could handle a bike lane.
Department of Planning and Permitting Director George Atta testified that the Public Infrastructure Maps were originally created to set capital improvement project priorities in a two- to six-year timeframe.
He emphasized that it wouldn’t provide detail such as loading zones.
Ozawa and Formby agreed to discuss other ways to increase public input and Council input regarding protected bike lanes. But Bill 68 is still in play and is now headed to the full Council for consideration.
That’s worrisome to Jackie Boland, a lobbyist for AARP Hawaii, who was one of the few non-bikers to testify against Bill 68.
“We are so fortunate to have a good bus system but people have to get to and from the Bus,” she told Council members, citing research about how bicycling facilities improve pedestrian safety. “There’s got to be a different way.”