Biking gains traction on Maui

But more safe pathways needed

Hawaii is among the least bicycle-friendly states in the nation but riding, especially by tourists, has been increasing, according to bicycle tour companies. Local groups say more bicycle/pedestrian pathways are needed. This bicyclist was riding recently in Waikapu on Honoapiilani Highway. Maui Bicycle League members take a solemn journey on the bike path beside Mokulele Highway, now Maui Veterans Highway, during the Ride of Silence in 2017. The worldwide event was held as part of National Bicycle Month and honored bicyclists killed or injured while riding. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaii is one of the worst bicycle-friendly states in the U.S. at No. 49, but Maui County has taken strides to improve bikeways and increase rider safety — and there has been a bump in ridership, especially from tourists.

“One of the biggest challenges that we have is that we don’t really have bicycle-pedestrian pathways,” said Saman Dias, founder of Maui Bicycling League. “Even though, however, Maui is one of the most beautiful places to ride.”

There are 21.6 miles of bicycle-specific lanes, 11 miles underway and 13.3 miles proposed, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The need for pedestrian-friendly roads has initiated a bike master plan, which includes community areas between Wailuku and Kahului, as well as smaller areas like Kihei, Paia and Haiku. The objective of the master plan is to provide “safe, comfortable and attractive bike rides” along existing highways and off-highway locations.

According to a national study done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Highway Safety Research Center, which compiled infrastructure costs from the Department of Transportation across the U.S., the average amount spent per mile on bikeways is $133,170. A multiuse paved trail costs an average of $481,140, while an extended shoulder or curb ranges from $13,000 to $40,000.

Bryan Rolph pops a wheelie while riding his bike at Kalama Park in Kihei. Rolph, who is one of the owners of The Vagabond Tattoo Co. in Kihei, said daily bike rides are part of an exercise regimen that has helped him lose 85 pounds in the past year. He said he rides about 10 miles a day around South Maui and also runs along the Kalama Park breakwall. This photo was taken March 6. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“Improving a bike lane or creating a protected bike lane, that can be done in two to three years,” said Lauren Armstrong, executive director at Maui Metropolitan Planning Department. “But then when we get into projects that require right-of-way acquisition, which is building these greenway paths, these projects can take up to 15 years . . . but of course having the vision and support from the community, that can really help expedite the process.”

As these greenways are being built, ridership on Maui continues to grow. Donnie Arnoult, owner of the Maui Cyclery bike store in Paia and Go Cycling Maui tours, said he’s noticed an estimated 10 percent increase in riders coming into his shop since last year.

Despite Hawaii being ranked almost last in the nation for bike-accessibility, according to the League of American Bicyclists, people still are coming to Maui to ride their bikes.

“(Tourists) are coming from colder climates, so they can’t ride outside. Most of them want to get outside and not worry about riding on a trainer inside or be bundled up on the outside,” he said.

Arnoult generally guides his groups along the highway from Kula toward the windmills in Kanaio because “the roads aren’t really that crowded, the roads are in really good shape, beautiful views and the weather is generally good up there.”

Bike Maui, Maui Sunriders Bike Co. and Haleakala Bike Tour are a few more examples for one-time cycle tours for every skill level.

Arnoult said that bicycle riders on Maui need to take some responsibility for their safety because there are “a lot of bad-driving motorists.”

“Just be courteous to the people on a bike and in a car, whatever, just be heads-up,” he said.

“A lot of people are driving distracted, you know, on their phones or whatever else they’re on while they’re trying to drive.”

Despite this perception, there has not been a bicycle fatality since 2014. That crash involved Wailea resident Karl Hagen, 61, who was hit by a pickup truck while biking on Piilani Highway in Kihei.

Michael Cattaneo pleaded no contest to first-degree negligent homicide and was sentenced to prison terms totaling 15 years in December 2015 for Hagen’s death. He was driving north on the highway when the truck drifted into the bicycle lane and struck Hagen, who was riding in the bicycle lane going in the same direction.

Hagen’s death inspired a “Ride of Silence” from Kahului to Kihei to honor past cyclists who have been killed on highways.

Saman Dias and Lee Chamberlain founded the Maui Bicycling League in December 2014 in the wake of the death of Hagen. The Maui Bicycling League, which is a subchapter of Hawaii Bicycling League, is a nonprofit, community-based organization that promotes safer roads, healthy living and pedestrian-friendly communities.

Donations go toward advocacy campaigns, support programs and infrastructure to provide safer roads around the island.

“Whenever a new road is proposed or something is redone, it would be so wonderful to have a separated bike and walking paths because I believe more and more people would use them,” said Kelli Lundgren, education and safety chairwoman of Maui Bicycling League.

She is also an avid bicyclist and leads most of the organization’s monthly group rides. The Maui Bicycling League just held a 19.3-mile ride from Kalama Park to Makena on March 9, and its next event from Kahului to Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia, an 11.9-mile ride, is set for April 13.

“If you go in larger groups, you’re a little safer, but I really feel like the roads could be so much safer,” she said. “And part of it is working with local officials.”

A result of their efforts is the Safe Passing 3 Foot Bill, which has been the official law of the road as of July 2. The amended statute says that drivers must keep a minimum of 3 feet between their vehicle and bicyclists while passing them.

Lundgren suggested that cyclists looking for an easy, safe and family-friendly route should ride the north shore greenway, which includes a flat, separated bike path from the Kaunoa Senior Services center in Spreckelsville to Kanaha Beach Park. This greenway has entered its final phase and will eventually connect Kahului to Paia, giving complete access to bikes and pedestrians.

Ulupalakua and Makena are other popular cycling spots because of their beautiful views and bicycle-friendly roads. Starting a ride early in the morning or late afternoon is the best way to beat traffic, according to avid cyclists.

“We don’t mind sharing the road with cars,” Lundgren said. “It usually goes really well on these smaller, narrower streets without bike paths, but we would like separate bike paths.

“At the end of the day, it’s still worth it to us to be out on our bicycles because it’s just a beautiful place to cycle.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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