‘Safe Routes For People’ Urgently Needed For Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Keopu Reelitz

Keopu Reelitz is the director of early learning and health policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network and a mother of three.

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is the director of transportation policy and programs for Ulupono Initiative.

The lives of our keiki and kupuna and their thriving futures are at stake.

When we envision a healthy and thriving Hawaii, one oft-overlooked but critically important component is the transportation system that connects our communities, families and places. Vibrant communities are indicators that our people and places are flourishing.

But what are vibrant communities without the holistic infrastructure to connect with one another and the places we call home?

For keiki and kupuna, cars are often not a great option. They and their families who care for them often rely on other methods of transportation — walking, rolling, using public transportation. Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience, but often it’s a matter of necessity.

Sadly, our state is now considered the 13th-most dangerous state for walking and biking, according to Smart Grown America’s Dangerous by Design 2022 report. There has been a concerning increase of traffic-related deaths and injuries in Hawaii with a record of 117 deaths and 572 injuries last year.

Meaningful legislation to establish a Safe Routes for People program has progressed this legislative session, dedicating resources toward strategies and projects that improve the safety of keiki and kupuna throughout our ground transportation system.

Biking can reduce traffic congestion in Honolulu. (Honolulu Department of Transportation Services/2022)

Early drafts of Senate Bill 1506 prioritized safe routes for keiki and kupuna and outlined actions to established a Safe Routes for People program along with funding. The bill also sought to authorize an “Implementation Committee” to develop the application process with input from local communities, helping to create a forum for bottoms-up project development.

SB 1506 has received unanimous support from various government agencies, community organizations, invested advocates, and friends and families. We are hopeful the measure receives its final hearing before the April 6 deadline for more deliberation and discussion in a future conference committee.

We are especially interested in this bill moving to conference because safe routes for all members of our community can be the difference between a healthy and thriving life, and one with insurmountable stressors and barriers.

For example, families have regularly identified transportation as one of their greatest barriers for attending Head Start, which is a federally funded program that provides quality services to qualifying children and their families. For kupuna, safe travel modes are vital to maintain independence and stay in the communities they love.

When we make it safe for keiki and kupuna, we make it safe for everyone.

Both the state and counties have made some progress in advancing safe and convenient active transportation. For example, the Hawaii Department of Transportation in recent years has been more proactive in leading or supporting worthy bikeway and pedestrian pathways.

Most recently, HDOT and the City and County of Honolulu have committed to the development of the 30-mile “East to West Oahu Active Transportation Corridor.”

However, the urgency and magnitude of what’s needed demands more. The Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission inventoried more than $1 billion high-priority but unfunded active transportation projects across the state, showing how our current systems aren’t cutting it.

How much longer should we sacrifice the safety of our most vulnerable and cherished transportation users?

Dedicated funds of even a fraction of that amount will have a powerful impact on pushing projects forward, helping our state and counties meet collective transportation and safety goals. In addition to improving safety, these benefits include:

  • Supporting working families and lowering the cost of living in Hawaii. Many families with young children and aging relatives rely on cars because they have no other choice. Investing in active and public transportation can help families save as much as $16,200 per year. Housing can also become more affordable if we don’t dedicate so much land and financial resources to expensive, space-intensive car dependency.
  • Improving congestion. One of the best ways to reduce congestion is by reducing roadway demand through more transportation choices via walking, biking, and transit access networks. Walking, biking, and buses all move more people than vehicles in a congested corridor, providing true choice and access.
  • Reducing climate impacts. These tend to have a disproportionate and graver impact on communities of color. In addition, electrification of the current transportation system is not sufficient to meet our climate goal of carbon net neutrality by 2045. Hawaii is no different. We need those who want to walk, bike, and ride the bus to be able to do so, and this will require that they are as safe and convenient as possible.

Decades of automobile-centric development have resulted in an environment that treats keiki and kupuna as after-thoughts. It is time we reframe what we expect of our transportation system. We need to start with our youngest and most vulnerable users.

For all of this to happen, SB 1506 needs to pass its final committee by Friday’s deadline for further discussion and deliberation. The lives of our keiki and kupuna and their thriving futures are at stake.

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About the Authors

Keopu Reelitz

Keopu Reelitz is the director of early learning and health policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network and a mother of three.

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is the director of transportation policy and programs for Ulupono Initiative.

Latest Comments (0)

IMO; Hawaii's public policy and resultant infrastructure decisions, particularly involving transportation, are simply half baked. Trying to squeeze bike lanes into busy streets, is a facade of safety and creates more traffic congestion, which sadly leads to more impatient and irritated drivers. If you look at lanes, which are paint, that have been installed on Ward, South and Piikoi for instance, there is nothing that prevents a vehicle from engaging with a bike, or scooter other than paint. Furthermore, a critical right turn lane is now gone, which creates never before seen traffic back ups sometimes blocks long (Ward & Kapiolani/Ala Moana). To go full monte a plan to remove pedestrians and bikes from the roadway is needed. That means new paths separate from cars, overpass, or underpass crossings at busy intersections, something like the Highline in NYC would not only create safety, but be an attraction. The fact is Hawaii, like LA, is an auto-centric and dependent culture and if that doesn't change then neither will all of this hype. People are inherently lazy creatures of habit. Don't put the cart before the horse.

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

I hope Hawaii does make these changes on all the islands to support pedestrians and cyclists and to make public transportation free like many mainland cities. I do like the pedestrian crosswalks with light;,sadly Hawaiis drivers rarely stop for pedestrians and many are bully car centric drivers.I would like to see parking structures so that areas are car free and walkable

Swimmerjean · 1 month ago

I wholeheartedly agree with this article!

Scotty_Poppins · 1 month ago

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