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Downhill bicycle tours continue to alarm Maui residents

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

Some Maui residents are fed up with bicycle tour groups — and have been for a long time.

Guided, and sometimes, unguided bike tours race down the slopes of Haleakala all the way to Maui’s North Shore, sometimes with little regard for residents driving to work or taking their

kids to school. I commend the Kula Community Association for calling attention to this public safety and quality-of-life issue at its meeting last month.

The association’s website includes this provocative statement:

“Downhill bicycle tours have been a nuisance and safety concern for Upcountry residents for several decades. There’s a feeling that new regulatory legislation will be needed to make this activity safer.”

I’ve been paying close attention to this topic since I returned to the council three years ago.

Bike tours are a popular tourist activity. But like most Maui County residents, I’m taking a fresh look at the balance between our islands’ visitor appeal and residents’ quality of life.

My paramount goal is to help improve the safety and well-being of local families.

At the behest of residents and the police department, the council last year enacted my proposal to double the fines for unlawful bicycle tour activities. Minimum fines are now $200, with the maximum at $1,000.

But bicycle tours continue to cause inconvenience to the public and create hazardous conditions on our roadways. In addition to the close calls many of us have witnessed or heard, the police department has reported two tour-related accidents this year.

On April 10, two bicyclists collided on Makawao Avenue near Kailiili Road during a tour. A downhill tour bicyclist on June 2 lost control and fell over the bike’s handle bars on Haleakala Highway.

To save the industry from itself, it’s time to consider revising the downhill tour regulations in the County Code for the first time in 15 years. The Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee, which I chair, took testimony Tuesday on my bill to revise the regulations.

The legislation would establish new standards for bike tours in the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and Pa’ia-Ha’iku community plan areas.

For instance, unguided tours would be prohibited. No more than six guided tours would be allowed to operate each day in each community plan area.

Guides would be required at the front and back of tours. Operators would be able to only operate one guided tour per two hours.

Finally, operators would need to have guests sign the “bike pono” pledge.

For reference, the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula community plan area is located on the western slopes of Haleakala and is the only community plan not connected to the shoreline. This is where downhill bike tours start.

Pa’ia-Ha’iku “is located along the north shore of Maui between the urban center of Kahului and the rural enclave of Hana,” in the words of the Pa’ia-Ha’iku Community Plan. This is where tours end.

The community plans for both areas emphasize minimizing roadway hazards.

For instance, the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula Community Plan provides this suggestion, which I’ll consider introducing in the next budget: “Develop and implement a County user fee for commercial bicycle tours which shall be used to fund bikeway improvements.”

The Pa’ia-Ha’iku Community Plan stresses the importance of improving bicycle-related safety along Baldwin Avenue from Makawao to the shoreline — the route followed by almost all downhill tours.

Safety for all users sharing our roadways must be the county’s primary concern. I urge the mayor to join me in this effort, as enforcement is always critical to the success of legislation. Please share your thoughts on downhill bicycle tours by emailing great.committee@mauicounty.us and referencing GREAT-44, ideally before the committee reconvenes for deliberations at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

On another note, I’m pleased to report I’m opening a council district office to serve Makawao-Ha’iku-Pa’ia residents. Housed at Heritage Hall in Pa’ia, the office should be open later this year.

The district office in Pa’ia will be a welcoming place for nearby residents to get hard copies of government documents, host community meetings, talk story with council staff and me. Of course, all applicable safety protocols will be followed.

I thank my colleagues on the council for making this new office available. And I thank my constituents for staying involved in their county’s policymaking decisions.

* Mike Molina is chairperson of the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee. He holds the council seat for the Makawao-Ha’ika-Pa’ia residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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