An underappreciated joy of living in Honolulu for the past seven years has been having most everything I need, day to day, within a stone’s throw from my home.
Unlike so many mainland cities that lost their people to outer suburbs, Honolulu is so fortunate to have amazing, vibrant, in-town neighborhoods, with such a large concentration of residents living, working, shopping, and enjoying activities without having to go far.
And yet, it’s such a hassle to travel between our in-town neighborhoods. It feels ridiculous to wait 15 minutes for a bus or pull a car out to go a mile. But it’s awkward to walk along roads built like freeways (e.g., Ala Moana Boulevard near the mall) and scary to bike and be tailgated by cars going 40 mph.
Barren sidewalks are interrupted by driveways, “missing” crosswalks, and utility equipment. Bike lanes don’t connect between neighborhoods. And buses are too infrequent for short hops.
I find the easiest and cheapest way to travel within Waikiki is by Biki bikeshare along the Kalakaua Avenue and Ala Wai Boulevard bike lanes. But if I want to go from home in Waikiki to shop at Ward Village or share coffee in Kakaako, I grab my car and add to the traffic, even though I’m only traveling a mile or two.
This is because Honolulu’s network of makai bike lanes don’t link up. Waikiki and Ward have low-stress walking and biking routes, making it an obvious choice to walk or cycle for short trips within those neighborhoods. And between them, Ala Moana Beach Park has a comfortable shared-use path along most of its length.
But there’s one major 750-foot disconnect in this easy and safe network that runs for 5 miles along the south shore: From Waikiki’s edge at the Ala Wai Canal to the shared use path at Ala Moana Park, there’s nothing but the near-freeway that is Ala Moana Boulevard. It’s dangerous to bike on, and tedious to cross.
To be sure, almost no one cycles on this section, because it’s so hostile. When I’ve tried, I’ve been tailgated and honked at by drivers and been fearful for my life — and I’m pretty athletic.
On the other hand, crossing the area’s bike path “gap” by using the sidewalks is complicated. To get from the Waikiki bike network to the park’s shared-use path requires crossing from the mauka to the makai side of the highway (and crossing Atkinson Drive as well).
Try it, and you’ll have to dodge pedestrians and light posts and traffic islands while fording a lengthy multi-step set of crosswalks across multiple streets and directions. It can take over four minutes waiting in several “light cycles” just to make this one roadside switcheroo at the Park’s Atkinson Drive intersection, causing the journey time from Waikiki to Ward to double. The whole thing sucks, so almost no one does it.
And note: the other westbound exit from Waikiki — the Kalakaua bridge — isn’t any better. The only way to bike out of this side of Waikiki without flirting with death is over the McCully Street bridge’s bike lanes — which are appreciated when headed inland — but they don’t connect to any comfortable westbound bike routes before King Street.
There’s not much excuse for waiting to make our close neighborhoods more accessible. In this case, only 750 feet separate the easily bikeable Ala Wai Boulevard in Waikiki and Ala Moana Regional Park’s shared-use path that leads to Ward Village.
Consider for a moment a test to repurpose about 9% of the width of this giant highway (one Ewa-bound car lane) as a buffered two-way bike lane for a small section from the Ala Wai Canal bridge to the Park’s Atkinson Drive intersection, paired with a clever diagonal crossing to the park’s shared-use path.
With this small connection, the Ala Moana Park shared-use path — and its connections to Ward, Kakaako, and Downtown — become immediately accessible to cyclists from Waikiki.
In an environment where our other mobility solutions cost millions or billions of dollars, this would cost around $15,000. A few buckets of green paint and about 50 inexpensive Flexi-Posts to separate would-be cyclists from speeding cars would make the remaining five miles of the makai bike network so much more usable for over 100,000 people.
Of course, there’s a tradeoff.
There’s no denying that any time a bit of asphalt is “taken away” from drivers to provide to pedestrians, bus riders, or cyclists, it does cause some difficulty for individual motorists. Drivers have developed routines over the years and have places to go. Traffic sucks, and change can be hard.
But with thousands more people moving into and visiting Waikiki, Ala Moana, Ward Village and Kakaako, something’s gotta give. I don’t see any alternative to the onslaught of growth, other than to make walking and biking reasonable options for short trips between our urban makai neighborhoods.
Luckily in this case, drivers’ lives shouldn’t be inconvenienced too much, compared to larger projects.
A 2018 traffic study showed the most affected intersection (Atkinson Drive at Ala Moana Boulevard) functioning well, with still remaining capacity.
In the worst evening rush hour of the worst weekday, about 60 cars travel westbound through this intersection each “light cycle.” And even then, all queued vehicles usually clear the intersection within a single cycle.
The loss of one of the three westbound through lanes would require that, at worst, 10 cars shift into each of the other two through lanes. For 95% of the week, the change would barely be noticeable at all to motorists.
While having a car on Oahu is obviously so useful in many cases, it’s time we make walking and biking an obvious choice for short in-town trips under 15 minutes.
Fixing this 750-foot gap in our biking network is a cheap and relatively painless next step that makes the rest of our pedestrian and bike investments so much more valuable. Can’t we try it?
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