Twice a week, Scott Snider bicycles from Waipio to his job in Red Hill.

He’d like to bike all the way from his home in Mililani, but instead he drives the first leg of his 11-mile commute before parking his car.

A narrow stretch of Kamehameha Highway between Mililani and Waipio deters the avid mountain bicyclist from risking his safety.

Scott Snider bicycles alongside fast-moving vehicles on Kamehameha Highway in Kipapa Gulch — a stretch he normally avoids out of safety concerns. Courtesy of Scott Snider

Now the Hawaii Department of Transportation is looking to make a nearly mile-long section of Kipapa Gulch safer for bicyclists by widening the shoulders and adding a median.

“Kipapa Gulch is the Holy Grail of passages that cyclists have been wanting and fighting for, for decades,” said Snider, a Mililani Town resident of 14 years and an advocate for the Hawaii Bicycling League. “It’s so needed and so wanted.”

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm, however, because the planned shoulder widening will come at the cost of one of the two northbound lanes of traffic along the often congested stretch.

Members of two neighborhood boards are concerned about slowing down motor vehicle traffic — and they don’t think state officials have been transparent about their plans.

“We made it clear that we’re not against bike lanes, or against bicyclists, or anything like that,” said Dean Hazama, chair of the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board. “But I think when you come up with solutions like this, it has to present some form of trade-off, especially when you take away a vehicle lane.”

The DOT recently announced in a press release that it will be moving forward with plans to restripe Kamehameha Highway north of the Kipapa Stream (Roosevelt) Bridge. It’s part of a $14.9 million bridge rehabilitation project, which was first publicized in April 2017.

“The whole intent of this project is to improve the safety in that route” said Ed Sniffen, DOT deputy director for highways.

The bridge currently consists of one lane in each direction, and is being widened to add shoulders. In order to maintain continuous shoulders, restriping will be done north of the bridge to the highway’s intersection with Lanikuhana Avenue, reducing the originally three-lane highway with two northbound lanes and one southbound lane to one lane in each direction for about eight-tenths of a mile.

While the DOT insists that the project is aimed at improving safety for all users — motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians — the changes seem most beneficial for bicyclists, since this portion of the highway is the only viable route between Mililani and Waipio for them.

“It’s a harrowing experience,” Snider said of bicycling the route.

Leaving Mililani on Kamehameha Highway, bicyclists are forced to take the lane and pedal as fast as they can to avoid blocking the cars behind them, Snider said. Entering Mililani on the same route is even more dangerous. Since there are two northbound lanes, cars tend to speed past bicyclists, often driving alarmingly close, he said.

The widening of shoulders would provide more room for cyclists to ride at a safe distance from cars.

Roosevelt Bridge near Mililani.
Ongoing rehabilitation of Kipapa Stream (Roosevelt) Bridge. Shoulder lanes will be widened both on the bridge and to the north, pleasing bicyclists but not everyone on Mililani’s two neighborhood boards. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

A travel-time demonstration was conducted by the DOT over a two-day period in early April to determine whether the removal of a motor vehicle lane would significantly impact traffic patterns. The study revealed that the average travel times when the highway was reduced to one northbound lane increased by 15-34 seconds, which the DOT concluded was insignificant.

Some members of Mililani’s two neighborhood board have complained about a lack communication from the DOT.

Sniffen gave a presentation on the project at the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Board’s March 28 meeting.

The very next day, a press release announcing the April traffic study was posted on the DOT’s website. A period for public input was open from March 30 to April 15. A total of 67 comments were received, 45 of which were in favor of the restriping and 22 that were in opposition.

“When you’re (the DOT) presenting it to the board, it’s kind of late in the game already,” said Zuri Aki, a member of the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Board and a candidate for the state House of Representatives District 36 seat. “One of the biggest criticisms coming from the board was that you’re presenting this and we have little opportunity to comment and change the plan.”

While the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Board heard a DOT presentation on the project in March, the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Board did not receive one until Tuesday.

On April 20, Hazama sent a letter to the governor on behalf of his board in opposition to the project. A reply was sent May 23 addressing the board’s concerns, but not suggesting there would be any changes in the project.

“We’re somewhat at a disadvantage because we haven’t been presented any details on the project itself,” said Hazama prior to the DOT’s recent presentation to his board. “There’s several issues. Obviously, the residents are not going to like that lane being taken away.”

Even after the DOT’s presentation Tuesday, the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board still has concerns about the project and intends to send another letter to the governor.

As for improving communication in the future, the DOT plans to send a senior manager to all the neighborhood boards on the island once a quarter.

“I think DOT has gotten our message as far as they need more transparency in what they’re doing, especially in other areas, working these projects,” said Hazama, who is also running for the same state House seat as Aki. “It doesn’t only affect the local area. These roads affect surrounding communities as well.”

The rehabilitation of the Kipapa Stream Bridge and the adjacent Kamehameha Highway was slated to be completed in July, but the date has recently been extended to September or October. Restriping of the highway north of the bridge has yet to begin.

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