Cyclists advocate for cycle lanes as part of Waiānuenue Avenue project
The Hawai’i County Council’s Public Works and Transit Committee is expected to receive an update on Tuesday, July 19 regarding the Waiānuenue Avenue rehabilitation project in Hilo.
The committee meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the West Hawai’i Civic Center in Kona.
This will be the second time this month that the update will be the only item on the committee’s agenda. Chair Sue Lee Loy asked Acting County Public Works Director Steven Pause to appear at the July 5 committee meeting to brief members on the project; however, he was ill and unable to attend.
The committee therefore postponed the update for two weeks.
Several community members testified in person or via Zoom during the July 5 meeting, and a dozen written testimonials were submitted online regarding the update. Witnesses expressed support for the establishment of bike lanes on Waiānuenue as part of the rehabilitation project, but also spoke of what appears to be a long-standing disregard by DPW for community input and adherence to policies. in place that encourage multimodal transport not only on Waiānuenue. but other road projects.
“Communities know what is needed to make the roads they use safer: more connected cycling, pedestrian and multimodal facilities; road diets, which means narrower lanes and slower speeds,” Jessica Thompson, executive director of People for Active Transportation Hawai’i, or PATH, said at the July 5 committee meeting. “To date, none of the recent road improvements have included connected bike lanes or road regimes outlined in the Complete Streets Road Design Manual, the Transit and Multimodal Master Plan, or the Vision Zero Master Plan. In fact, recent Kīlauea, Waiānuenue and Ali’i Drive resurfacing projects had no connected lanes for cyclists or transparent community engagement.
She is still awaiting public announcements regarding community feedback on pedestrian and cycling facilities on Kalanianaʻole Street and said it is also not too late for these improvements, as well as those on Waiānuenue and Keawe Streets in Hilo, reflect the values and protocols outlined in Complete Streets. and Vision Zero frames.
Thompson added that there is an urgent need to implement Hawai’i County’s Complete Streets playbook and Vision Zero action plan, both of which address transparency and community engagement as focal points. .
The state passed a law in 2009 requiring all counties and the state Department of Transportation to adopt a complete streets policy. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Complete Streets policies help planners and engineers develop road designs that improve safety for all users and provide additional opportunities for physical activity through transportation.
The county passed its Vision Zero action plan in 2019. It aims to eliminate all road deaths and serious injuries while increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all.
“To be clear, we have repeatedly called for the implementation of the Complete Streets and Vision Zero master plans,” Thompson told the committee. “Hawai’i County leadership has been receptive to ideas; however, when the rubber meets the road, or the paint meets the road in this case, business is business as usual.
She still believes, however, that change leading to the implementation of the vision adopted by county elected officials and the community is possible.
Other witnesses echoed Thompson’s comments. It comes down to safety and providing multi-modal transportation for the community.
“I just implore you to try to consider everyone using the roads on our island, especially when projects go ahead,” JB Friday, who lives on Waiānuenue Avenue and regularly commutes by bicycle, adding that decisions made now will affect the island for decades.
Amy Self, treasurer of the Hilo Bayfront Trails organization and vice chair of the county ethics committee who was testifying on her own behalf via Zoom at the July 5 committee meeting, said she never imagined after retiring from the county three years ago, she would find herself before the board.
“I thought I would never have to deal with the council or anything again, but here I am,” she said. “I’ve been cycling without training wheels since I was 5 and I’m 65 now, so I’ve been cycling for 60. I think you can understand why this particular issue is so important to me.
But it’s not about her.
“This is a road that connects three schools. With no traffic calming devices and a speed limit of 30, then it goes to 25 as you get closer to town and with no bike lanes,” Self told the committee, adding that upon learning of the Waiānuenue Avenue project, he had been told that it would include cycle lanes. . “When I found out there would be no bike lanes, I went ballistic.”
She had at least three meetings with DPW engineers, but to no avail.
“I just can’t understand why DPW engineers are so against Complete Streets,” Self said.
She doesn’t give up on politics and doesn’t think the council should either.
“The Waiānuenue Avenue Widening Project is to accommodate cyclists on this project, fulfilling previous obligations to Hilo’s cycling community,” Chris Seymour, owner of Hilo Bike Hub, said via Zoom during the meeting of the July the 5th. “Many new professionals, such as doctors, therapists, social workers, already use this route to get to work. Without a bike lane on Waiānuenue, these professionals would be exposed to great unnecessary risk by a hasty decision by our county DPW. This undermines our community’s ability to attract healthy, skilled workers into our already stretched workforce.
He said Waiānuenue is a primary connector in the community, used by people to travel to residences and destinations such as the Hilo Medical Center, Hospice and other businesses, as well as Hilo Union schools. , Hilo Intermediate and Hilo High. If the road does not include bike lanes, Hilo High School would be the only high school on the island that does not have a bike lane corridor connecting it to the rest of the community.
“We will continue to see a much higher number of new bikes on our roads – 6,000 new bikes are registered with Hawai’i County (Department of Motor Vehicles) each year,” Seymour said. “Let’s make room for our neighbors on bicycles, our kupuna and our keiki. But above all, let’s keep our commitment to the policy that has already been decided and make our community even safer and healthier.
Another witness said the county still lags far behind the rest of the state in residents who feel they have access to infrastructure to be physically active safely. She said only about a third of people on the island feel they can be active outdoors safely, compared to 90% of people in the rest of the state.
A witness said she would not allow her 16-year-old son to go to school on Waiānuenue Avenue for security reasons. She added that the county should consider incorporating Complete Streets into every road project and providing safe routes to school for all keiki.
County Chief Executive Lee Lord was present at the July 5 committee meeting. He told members that Pause and Mayor Mitch Roth are committed to designing Complete Streets and the Vision Zero plan. Roth signed a proclamation on June 13 to adopt Complete Streets’ designs.
“I know that discussions have already started on Waiānuenue, but also on Kalanianaʻole and Keawe,” Lord said, adding that more information should be available by the next committee meeting on Tuesday.
Lee Loy said he heard one thing loud and clear from those who testified and submitted written testimony: they want the opportunity to be at the table and discuss the possibilities of integrating Complete Streets and some of their ideas.
“If you could please, between now and our next meeting, engage these people at a time when they can sit down and just have this conversation, I hope that when we pick it up again in two weeks, this meeting will have taken place and some solutions and some collaboration will have taken place so that the community knows that we are listening,” she told Lord.
Councilor Ashley Kierkiewicz said the committee needs to understand why the Complete Streets and Vision Zero policies are not being implemented.
“We don’t adopt these policies, issue proclamations to feel good about ourselves,” Kierkiewicz said. “We do them because we believe it’s the best thing for our community. So with so much time spent, seeing the missed opportunity on Kīlauea Avenue, we really need to understand who was responsible for making decisions to disregard these policies and why.
She also wants to understand what kind of training on Complete Streets and Vision Zero is provided within DPW and whether department staff understand how to use these tools when designing road projects.
“I think it’s important to know so that we can correct the course appropriately and design with those principles in mind,” Kierkiewicz said.
Councilor Heather Kimball wants to know what options are moving forward, not just on Waiānuenue Avenue, but on other future road projects.
“Whether you call it Complete Streets or something else, multimodal transportation has many benefits in terms of health, community building, and also in terms of economic benefits,” Kimball said.
She had conversations with Pause and former DPW Director Ikaika Rodenhurst about the county acquiring Route 240 in her district and creating a corridor plan with multi-modal transport included for this road. She found broad support for this if the county were to take over the causeway, so she knows there is an understanding of the need and the effort.
Kimball hopes there are still options to pivot when it comes to Waiānuenue and other ongoing and upcoming road projects.
“It’s really a matter of getting everyone on board,” she said.