KAHULUI - One of the most dangerous places to cross the street in Central Maui, ironically, is at Maui Memorial Medical Center, according to planners looking for ways to improve health and safety by improving pedestrian and bicycle pathways in the region.
At a meeting last week at the University of Hawaii Maui College, about 45 residents pored over maps and pictures with private planners from urban design firm Chris Hart & Partners and state Department of Health officials. The maps showed dangerous intersections, blind corners, roads with no sidewalks, paths to schools zigzagging uphill and covered in brush or cars parked on both sides of the street.
Still, there were orange dots - the larger the dot, the more accidents there each year - and the crosswalk next to the hospital along Mahalani Street averaged three incidents a year, according to the research. But the planners said they weren't picking on one place in particular: There were a couple of dozen orange dots on the maps in the study's area of Waikapu, Wailuku and Kahului.
Motorists drive by Maui Memorial Medical Center early Monday afternoon. Planners studying ways to improve pedestrian and bicycle travel in Central Maui say it is one of the region’s most dangerous places to cross the street.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
The city design experts, public advocates and a handful of residents said they came out to Thursday night's meeting to try to find safer ways to get directly from the shopping malls, public schools, the college and parks on foot and bicycle.
And in doing so, they also will be helping people to fight against diabetes and other health problems blamed on America's national crisis with obesity and lack of physical activity.
Mike Summers of Chris Hart & Partners said the group hopes to come up with a Central Maui plan by June.
"We're looking at potential corridors to safely travel," Summers said. "We want the public to help us identify major activity centers and link them to create a more interconnected community."
Summers applied for and received a $130,000 Department of Health Healthy Hawaii Initiative grant for the program. The funding comes from part of the state's successful class-action $1.38 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry nine years ago, said Heidi Smith, community outreach coordinator for the initiative program.
Summers' team brought artist renderings of urban centers with off-street parking, bike lanes, wide and complete sidewalks, corners with decorative but protective poles and very visible crosswalks. They also had a couple of new examples from the Lono Street student housing and from Market Street of what they deemed successful executions of those concepts.
Meanwhile, the county and state have already undertaken similar initiatives as part of greater efforts to establish "greenways," or car-free pathways, which are a trend across the United States. In Hawaii, numerous other safe, nonauto travel routes are under development through the Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan Update and State Complete Streets Ordinance, Summers said.
"I think we'll wind up focusing on certain areas first to give people a sense of what's possible," urban planner Chris Hart said.
A popular idea discussed on Thursday was to connect Waikapu and Wailuku with a pedestrian path and bikeway along Waiale Road, where land is available for a greenway.
Summers said he hopes ideas in his presentation will be included in the county's ongoing Maui Island Plan, which will be followed by the Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan.
Island and community plans are being revised as part of the General Plan 2030 Update. Each plan sets more detailed policies and rules for how communities will be designed as the population continues to increase and roads and other infrastructure upgrades are needed.
Some political leaders and residents with an interest in planning policy said they want to develop enforceable policies and master plans to force the construction of full sidewalks and bike path systems.
Hart and Dave DeLeon, government affairs director of the Realtors Association of Maui, said they believe that creating bike and walking routes will become part of the county's master planning process.
"The political will needs to be there, though," DeLeon said. "Kihei did this 20 years ago, and it fizzled."
Summers said he'd like to see governments establish capital improvement project funds to pay for the necessary pathways.
Mike Morris, chief executive officer of the Maui Family YMCA, has led the local effort for the past two years through the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine to improve health through a variety of ways, including "buildings, land use, public resources, zoning regulations and transportation systems," according to the organization Nutrition & Physical Activity Coalition of Maui County. Every county in the state has a similar coalition through the UH program.
"I'm here because I want kids to be able to bike and walk to school safely," Morris said. "We don't even have the basics here. We have to drive our kids to school."
Hart said that if the schools were used as points of origin, it's difficult for anyone to argue with the logic behind building safe nonmotorized corridors.
In other parts of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, the wide and smooth bike and pedestrian paths become popular with residents. The paths are about as wide as a single vehicle lane, such as the bike path parallel to Mokulele Highway.
Online research shows that many greenways have even become tourist attractions depending on their proximity to ocean or mountain vistas or downtown jobs and nightlife. They have been known to become a rural area's own center, where neighbors walk to each other's homes for a cup of coffee and gossip or exercise in groups.
Now, Maui can be a hodgepodge of a sidewalk on one block and none on the next, depending on how much project developers were willing to spend on the infrastructure for pedestrians. But none of the speakers on Thursday went quite so far as to suggest that the county acquire private land for such projects through the eminent domain process when there isn't enough government right of way available.
"I'm thrilled," DeLeon said of the multifaceted state and county focus on the issue of safe pedestrian and bike paths. "There's plenty of federal money for this, too."
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.