One month in, the Biki bike-sharing system appears to be off to a great start in Honolulu, based on preliminary numbers of ridership.
But we are a Tour de France distance way from resembling bike-friendly meccas such as Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Austin.
It’s going to take more work from nonprofits, businesses and local government, as well as a shift in human habits. The upshot is that being more bike-friendly will reduce traffic congestion, provide exercise and generally improve our quality of life.
So far, Biki is showing us the way.
The new system has thus far demonstrated that Honolulu might actually become a city where locals and visitors can bike for work and pleasure without the fear of getting squashed by cars and buses.
Anyone recently traversing the slice of Oahu that sits makai of the H-1 freeway from Chinatown to Diamond Head can’t miss the 800 aqua-blue bicycles in service and the 89 stations that dot the area.
The Biki bikes — Biki rhymes with “wiki,” Hawaiian for fast, quick, hurry, hasten — are sturdy, three-gear transporters with chain guards to protect clothes, adjustable seats and a small luggage carrier. The plug-and-play stations are solar-powered with simple-to-use payment kiosks that allow for wireless access.
Costs range from $3.50 for a single ride (an adult one-way fare on TheBus is $2.50) to $15 for a monthly pass, meaning unlimited 30-minute rides (it’s $60 for a standard monthly pass on TheBus).
After launching June 28, the nonprofit Bikeshare Hawaii says that as of July 26 it had logged more than 47,000 rides — about 2,700 on the Fourth of July alone. Of the roughly 13,000 users, most are casual users but at least 2,300 are members, meaning repeat customers.
Of all the Biki stops, the most popular is at Kalakaua and Paoakalani avenues in Waikiki, where six of the most popular stations are located. Tourists are inserting their credit cards and going for a short spin.
Bikeshare says they don’t yet have the data on the tourists-versus-residents ratio. But Biki members average about 15 minutes per ride while casual users are pedaling for twice that time.
It’s not a perfect system. As one report explained, there are still a number of kinks to work out, such as not enough places to park a bike.
Other challenges remain, but so do possible solutions.
In cities with bike-sharing, serious accidents have been rare. Judging by the number of Biki users who are not wearing helmets (Honolulu does not require helmets for bike riders older than 16), though, an injury seems inevitable.
The Hawaii Legislature should consider changing the state law on helmets. It will be a tough sell, given that no state currently requires helmets for adult bicyclists. Until that happens, bikers should simply use common sense (protect your brain — wear a helmet!) when biking.
The city should also work to establish more places to legally ride a bike in town. The interactive graphic on this page shows where existing bike paths are located but also business districts that are off-limits.
Bikes are banned on sidewalks in Waikiki, which unfortunately would seem to include the concrete path that parallels the Ala Wai Canal — a great place to ride a bike. But there is also a designated bike lane separating traffic and the parking spaces along Ala Wai Boulevard — such lanes are common — but are arguably dangerous for cyclists.
The Honolulu City Council needs to tweak that city ordinance, especially if it wants to encourage people to bike instead of drive to run quick errands.
If Biki and biking continue to prove popular and practical, expansion east to Hawaii Kai, west to Kalihi and mauka to the valleys should be a goal, except where elevation (and mauka showers) may be a deterrent.
Employers might also consider installing a shower so employees can wash off the sweat and change into clean clothes.
The same goes for other neighborhoods, including near Pearl Harbor, on the North Shore and in Kailua, where some good bike paths or lanes can already be found. With Oahu’s population growing primarily on the mostly level west side, Kapolei is an obvious neighborhood for bikes.
Cyclists are also required to follow traffic laws. As users of the bike path on South King Street demonstrate, they don’t always do so. As for the drivers, many are still not comfortable yielding to bikers in the paths. But they have to follow the law, too.
Employers might also consider installing a shower so employees can wash off the sweat and change into clean clothes. A new city ordinance requires owners of new or converted office buildings in a transit-oriented-development zone along the rail line to provide and maintain shower facilities.
What Other Cities Do
A 2016 ranking of the best bike cities in America show how many municipalities are “leading the charged for safer (and livelier) streets.”
Here are a few examples from the top cities that Honolulu and Hawaii officials should look to:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago built 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes. By next year, it will become “the first major U.S. city with a downtown network of protected bike lanes.”
In 2015, Minneapolis’s open streets festivals “drew 65,000 people to revel on motor vehicle-free roadways. And a city-run Safe Routes to School program has resulted in increased student commuting at schools like South High, where hundreds of kids now arrive by bike.”
Washington, D.C., “set a new standard for developing future generations of confident bike riders” two years ago by instituting”compulsory classes on bicycle riding, safety and maintenance for second graders in public schools.
None of this will be easy, and it won’t happen in wiki time. But the implementation of the Biki program can serve as the impetus to make Honolulu a truly bike-friendly town.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.