KAHULUI - To encourage Central Maui residents to exercise more every day, Maui County has teamed up with local groups to come up with a 20-year master plan that identifies areas in Kahului, Wailuku and Waikapu that could be made more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.
The Central Maui Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan was presented to walkers, bicyclists, drivers and residents during a meeting held at Lihikai Elementary School last week.
"Having streets that encourage active living is a powerful way to address not only getting safely to our destinations but also much larger issues such as childhood obesity and energy-related impacts to our environment," Maui County Council Member Don Guzman, who holds the residency seat for the Kahului district and who hosted the meeting Oct. 23, said in a statement.
Wailuku resident Guy Barrows rides his bike through Kahului on his way home from work Friday afternoon. He has been riding his bike around the streets of Central Maui for nearly 20 years.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
By creating more walkways, crosswalks, bike paths and other "nonmotorized" infrastructure, Central Maui would benefit through reduced traffic congestion, less greenhouse gas emissions, improved public health and "a more active and livable community," according to the 85-page plan prepared by the state Department of Health, with assistance from the county Department of Public Works, Maui County Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition and the Maui Family YMCA.
"We have become so reliant on the automobile that we are much more sedentary than our parents," NPAC coordinator Sandy McGuiness said in an email. "I hear stories of folks who, as kids, used to walk from Wailuku town to Iao Stream to go swimming after school. . . . We are trying to create neighborhoods in which people can work, live, play and pray, and they won't have to get in their car to do these things."
The improvements proposed include sidewalk connections, clearly marked bike lanes especially at high-volume intersections, areas for bike storage and parking, as well as more pedestrian-friendly walkways with wheelchair ramps, clearly striped crosswalks and "traffic-calming elements" such as speed humps and roundabouts.
The roadways in Central Maui and in many other parts of the island cater largely to automobiles, and safety concerns drive many would-be bicyclists from biking to school or work, residents said at the meeting.
"I live just over 2 miles away from work, I'd love to be able to walk or bike to work but a certain part of the road is really treacherous," said Alix Buchter, associate publisher of Maui No Ka Oi Magazine and a Wailuku resident. She noted that the bike lanes along Vineyard Street in Wailuku were unprotected and disconnected, and there are some areas where there is no shoulder for bicycles at all.
"You just have to hope cars making a right-hand turn are going to see you, but if you are just on the corner, they can easily clip you," Buchter said.
Guy Barrows, a Wailuku resident who rides his bicycle to and from work at Kahului Airport five days a week, agreed that it isn't always easy being a biker on or along Central Maui roadways.
"Our bike paths are full of gravel, especially in Kahului," Barrows said. "There's (also) screws and nails that you can get flat tires on your bike."
Trying to make left-hand turns at an intersection, especially when bicycles are too lightweight or do not have enough metal to trigger the traffic light signal sensor, is especially frustrating, he said.
Barrows started riding his bicycle around town nearly 20 years ago "out of necessity" to free up the sole family car so his wife could use it to drop off the kids at school, he said. He didn't really consider the health benefits of riding at the time, "but my doctor is happy with that byproduct," he said.
"For me, it's just practical," Barrows said. "If I have to run to the store, auto parts (store) or Sack N Save, I just put on my backpack, bike down and bike back. . . . More people should ride bicycles, especially in Central Maui because if you work around here, it's doable."
Barrows said the 4-mile ride to work takes him between 20 and 30 minutes. As a bicyclist, he never has to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, circle the parking lot for an empty spot or spend money on gasoline. When he first started riding his bicycle to work, though, he remembers many of his friends would pull over and offer him a ride "as if something was wrong." Now, decades later, Barrows' friends no longer pull over when they see him riding his bicycle along the road but commend him for doing it.
"All my friends tell me they like ride too, but they just don't get around to it," Barrows said. "It's scary to start perhaps because of the traffic."
Even though Barrows collided with a car once - he was wearing a helmet and was not seriously injured - he said he enjoys riding his bicycle.
"I seem to notice the scenery and little corner stores when I'm just taking my time going through Kahului . . . things I wouldn't see when I'm driving and just focused on traffic conditions," Barrows said. "The other reason (I bike) is I feel youthful. I can still make it up the hill . . . My legs and my lungs and my heart is OK, maybe helps with my weight, too."
Promoting healthier lifestyles has been a national, state and county effort for years, especially with the younger generation.
"Very few kids walk to school these days, probably less than 15 percent," said NPAC President Mike Morris, who also heads the Maui Family YMCA. "Obesity today is officially an epidemic, and because of it, today's children may be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will be shorter than that of their parents."
In Hawaii, more than 28 percent of the population is considered obese or overweight, he added, a number that has been consistently rising every year over the last decade.
"The reason is the way we built the communities. We built them based on automobiles instead of bikes or sidewalks," Morris said. "We need to change the default to make it easier to get around without the use of a car."
It is unlikely that every crosswalk or bike path included in the plan will come to fruition, but, if approved by the County Council, the plan will be a guiding document for development and improvements over the next 20 years, county officials said.
"As for the county's participation with the plan, we've noticed that the plan includes improvements that are outlined in other state plans such as Bike Plan Hawaii and the statewide pedestrian master plan," said county Public Works Deputy Director Rowena Dagdag-Andaya. "Having these plans align with one another give greater justification for moving projects forward."
The county has already secured federal funding for two infrastructure projects at Kamalii Elementary in Kihei and Princess Nahienaena Elementary in Lahaina, which are slated to start later this year. The improvements will construct sidewalks, install speed radar signs, reconstruct curb ramps, restripe crosswalks and fund crossing guards. Additionally, the county appropriates funds every year toward sidewalk and safety improvements.
NPAC officials said they plan to have more community meetings for further discussion, though none has been scheduled yet.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.