The initiative comes after Hawaii saw more than 100 cases of traffic-related fatalities in 2022, many near schools. 

Until November, Fern Elementary had no sidewalk around the school, cars routinely were parked illegally along the nearby street and its students were forced at times to walk into the streets to get around the congestion. 

University of Hawaii Student Stories project badge

“There were many close calls, it was very dangerous,” said Principal Glen Miyasato, Hawaii’s 2023 National Distinguished Principal. Miyasato walks students to his school every morning, and he witnessed the dangers students faced.

So he was relieved that his school was one of the institutions chosen by the Safe Routes to School Program to receive funding to complete a new set of sidewalks at a dangerous fork in the road close to the school.

Miyasato said every student in Hawaii deserves such safe passage, adding that it’s also “comfortable for our students to walk.” 

However, the Safe Routes to School Program was dismantled two years ago when the coronavirus pandemic hit, leaving many schools with unsafe pedestrian and bicycle paths for students and residents to navigate and no funding mechanism to upgrade those. 

A bill calling for a comprehensive, statewide Safe Routes to School Plan was one of many that made it through conference committees as the Legislature winds down. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In response to more than 100 cases of traffic-related fatalities in 2022, many near schools, the Legislature is in the final steps to reestablish the Safe Routes to School Program as a new government initiative called the Safe Routes to School Advisory Committee. 

The committee will look at strategies and projects to create safer sidewalks and bicycle lanes for commuting children, in particular. The goal of the measure, HB 600 HD1 SD2, hashed out overduring the past few days during conference committee meetings, is to protect pedestrian safety and to create an environment for more people to use environmentally friendly transportation around public schools in the state.

  • Stories By University Of Hawaii Students

“Sidewalk improvement was one of the top concerns of my community,” said Rep. Sonny Ganaden, introducer of HB 600. “We just think that it’s time that we improve the infrastructure around Hawai’i and especially in urban communities like the one I represent … we shouldn’t be passing the buck to the federal government or to the county anymore.” 

A position called the Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator will be created within the Department of Transportation as the main point of contact for all members appointed to be part of the Safe Routes to School Advisory Committee. 

Transportation department director Ed Sniffen said he supports the intent of this measure as it provides additional funding for statewide bicycle and pedestrian projects. However, he also expressed concerns about the possible duplications of such projects within his agency. 

Sniffen proposed that the committee be limited to providing “recommendations on priority initiatives for these funds as identified by existing bike and (pedestrian) plans, legislators, community members, and advocacy groups.”

He added that the money to fund the committee’s projects at this point will come out of state highway funds, while the measure is waiting on the Legislature’s budget committees to figure out how much should be allocated to the initiative. 

Ganaden said the surplus of fiscal year 2022 should be placed into projects that will protect the vulnerable residents of Hawaii.

“I can’t think of a better thing to spend our money on,” he said.

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author