Hawai’i County’s Vision Zero Initiative

HAWAI’I COUNTY’S VISION ZERO INITIATIVE

A motorcyclist is in critical condition after a collision with a car. A driver accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. It seems that not a day goes by without the news reporting on a traffic crash on Hawai’i Island.

“That’s just Big Island traffic,” is a common sentiment. But what if we didn’t have to accept this endangerment of vehicle drivers, motorcyclists, and pedestrians as a way of life?

Changing Our Approach to Traffic Safety

According to traditional traffic safety approaches, traffic deaths are inevitable and saving lives is expensive!

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Unlike traditional traffic safety approaches, Vision Zero proposes that what have long been called “accidents” are more likely related to our decisions and systems. The choices we make have far greater impacts than we have accepted in the past, especially at the policy level and related to the built environment.

Vision Zero acknowledges that traffic fatalities on roadways are preventable and defines traffic collisions as a systemic problem. To solve this problem, it’s vital to have collective action, political will, and a multi-disciplinary, comprehensive approach.

Vision Zero’s Worldwide Momentum

Vision Zero emphasizes the need for data-driven strategies that prioritize effective solutions for eliminating fatalities on roadways. First implemented in Sweden when the Swedish parliament adopted it as the official road policy in 1997, Vision Zero has since spread across the globe and is gaining momentum in cities across the U.S.

Rather than completely blaming drivers and other users of the transportation system, Vision Zero places the primary responsibility for accidents on the overall system design, addressing infrastructure design, vehicle technology, and enforcement. As a result, Sweden now has one of the lowest annual rates of road deaths in the world (three out of 100,000 as compared to 12.3 in the U.S.). What’s more, their fatalities involving pedestrians have dropped nearly 50% in the last five years!

Vision Zero Launched in Hawai’i

Hawai’i County Planning Director Michael Yee first learned about Vision Zero when visiting the state of Washington. Impressed by the program’s success specifically in Seattle, Yee returned to Hawai’i and brought the program to the attention of Tina Clothier, who was PATH’s executive director at the time.

“Hawai’i County had and still has the highest per capita death rate in the state from traffic fatalities, which is unreasonable and incomprehensible,” says Tina. “Loss of life is not an acceptable price to pay for mobility.”

In 2019, PATH and Yee presented Vision Zero’s systems approach to Mayor Kim, emphasizing that people have safer options to move about their communities, whether bicycling, driving, or riding transit. After being asked to adopt Vision Zero as an initiative, Mayor Kim authorized the development of a Vision Zero task force, which was made up of individuals from different departments and various state and county agencies, as well as private citizens, organizations like Blue Zone, and PATH.

Hawaii’s Vision Zero Mission Statement & Principals

Hawaii’s Vision Zero Mission Statement is to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries on our roadways, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all by 2030. Through the Vision Zero Action Plan, the County of Hawai’i and our partners are working to prevent severe crashes as well as fatalities, which requires a shift in philosophy.

It’s an approach that prioritizes the preservation of human life over the convenience of travelling quickly on the streets and roads across our island. One that says traffic deaths are preventable if we take into account that humans make mistakes and then accommodate those failings on our roadways through good design.

Vision Zero’s principals include a focus on system level changes on Hawai’i Island. That’s why PATH is working with many different departments to create plans that will change the current dynamic – Here’s looking at our partners in change, which include the Dept. of Public Works, Hawai’i County Police, and island healthcare organizations!

The most integral Vision Zero principal is undoubtedly this: Each community is unique!

As such, communities should have a voice in defining issues, determining what safety on the roadways looks like for them, and developing solutions for their own community.

Data-Driven Action Through Vision Zero

Vision Zero is an initiative driven by data from the Hawai’i County Police Department, Hawai’i Department of Transportation, NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System, NHTSA National Center for Statistics and Analysis, and the U. S. Census Bureau.

On Hawai’i Island, one of Vision Zero’s goals is to share fatal traffic crash data that everyone’s system can understand, and do so in a seamless and timely manner. Thus far, crash data from the years 2013 to 2019 was analyzed for the purpose of identifying data correlations, so those working to prevent traffic deaths could make informed decisions and take action.

What did the data reveal? Who the most vulnerable road users are, among other things. It’s no surprise that people traveling by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or moped are at much greater risk of being killed than those in automobiles!

The data maps also made it clear that the high fatality networks are all along the highway from Kona to Hilo to Volcano. Of these fatalities, 67% occurred on state-owned roads, while 28% occurred on county-owned roads, which generally experience more congestion in high population areas.

Most people assume correctly that speed is a factor. In fact, 41% of traffic crashes involve excessive speed. And the majority of these crashes actually occur in areas where a speed limit of 35 mph or less is posted.

Here are some other statistics that are even more staggering:

  • 28% of roadside crashes were the result of someone leaving the roadway and going into barriers or trees

  • 13% of pedestrians hit at 20 mph actually suffer fatality

  • 73% of pedestrians hit at 40 mph suffer fatality

  • 25% of fatal crashes were the result of distracted driving… So PLEASE put those cell phones away and pay attention to the road!

  • 56% of fatal crashes were the result of alcohol or drugs

  • 41% of fatal crashes occurred in light trucks and vans

  • 49% of crashes occur during the day, outside of peak traffic hours

  • Of all the crash fatalities, most were males between 20 to 24-years old.

After a year of analyzing the data, the Vision Zero Task Force used it as the basis for a set of action plans within the Five E’s: Engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, and evaluation.

Implementing these plans is the first step in reducing and ultimately eliminating traffic fatalities!

“As a system, we need to bring these numbers down. In 2021, PATH has been instrumental in keeping this work front of mind, despite challenges,” says Jessica Thompson, Executive Director of PATH.

“The pandemic shifted our focus slightly off of traffic crash prevention. We also had a mayoral administration change, which creates a lag time as they get their cabinets settled. But Mayor Roth has been a long-time supporter of Vision Zero. He was a member of the task force when he was a Hawai’i County prosecutor and is a big believer in systemically making changes to mitigate fatalities.”

The Law of the Splintered Paddle

Hawaiian history tells us that young Kamehameha was once an aggressive chief. The story goes that the young chief even chased after two fishermen in a Puna fishing village. While pursuing them, his foot got stuck in a crevice, and one of the fishermen struck Kamehameha over the head with his paddle in defense, which splintered into pieces.

After the incident, Kamehameha recognized that it was wrong to misuse his power and learned compassion. Years later, Kamehameha declared a new law, “K?n?wai M?malahoe” or “the Law of the Splintered Paddle.” Meant to protect the innocent and vulnerable from unprovoked attacks, this law proclaimed that the defenseless (especially k?puna and keiki) across Hawai’i be able to sleep safely on the side of the road, unharmed.

The law provided for the safety of non-warriors during wartime and became the first written law of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. After being added back in 1978, the law is part of Hawaii’s State Constitution today.

It is symbolic of servant leadership, reinforcing the importance of:

  • Caring for and serving one’s people

  • Knowing and doing what is pono (right)

  • Standing for the principle that leadership privilege is earned

  • Taking kuleana (responsibility) for those we serve

  • Doing so with compassion, love, and respect

“We take that to mean that anyone who uses our roadways should be able to do so without fear of harm,” explains Tina.

A Growing (and Deadly) Concern

A year-to-date comparison reveals that this year, there were 616 major accidents as compared to 594 during the same period last year. And statistics show that in the first 10 months of this year, Hawai’i County’s traffic-related fatalities rose from 13 last year to 22, with most incidents involving motor vehicles. Of the 22 fatalities, 9 involved motorcycles and scooters, 11 involved motor vehicles, 1 involved pedestrians, and 1 involved an ATV operator.

In response to this surge in traffic crashes, PATH is partnering with the government on local and state levels to establish evidence-based systems that ensure the safety of our most vulnerable road users.

“People will make mistakes while they’re driving – We are human. But our road designs and our speeds do NOT have to dictate that when we make mistakes, those mistakes are fatal,” says Tina.

“We have created a system that has traffic fatalities and injuries built into it. We know that we can change that system because it’s been done in other places, eliminating traffic related deaths,” affirms Jessica, who sat on Portland’s Vision Zero task force before moving to Hawai’i to work for PATH. “We also know that bicyclists and pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users. If you drill down on that data, you know that the people who are most at risk are often people who have the least access to single-occupancy vehicles, and are walking or bicycling on our roadways.”

Changing the System

Traffic deaths are NOT accidents. Simply put, they are death by design.

But what can we collectively do to change the system?

PATH is committed to facilitating task force meetings and working through an action plan list. What’s more, Mayor Roth and Hawai’i County are hosting a Vision Zero website listing crash data, which will be updated as more data is attained.

To change the system requires a more timely exchange of data, from the Dept. of Transportation and NHTSA, to the Police Dept. and Public Works. Doing so can result in more timely crash audits and provide insight as to how and why a crash happened… and what design elements we can change to mitigate this in the future!

“Never give up!” says Tina, offering a piece of advice for those working to create safer options here on Hawai’i Island. “This takes collaboration and understanding of the long-term nature of planning. It’s like pushing a boulder up a 20% grade incline. I believe that we have and will continue to push it over and onto level ground!”

Additionally, we can all commit to meeting with different members of our community and mobilizing them to help develop an educational program, so we can move the traffic fatalities trend in the right direction… to zero!

PATH

PATH is committed to elevating the efforts of community groups and Hawai’i County to create more multi-modal trails for active transportation in Hawai’i, with an emphasis on developing more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island.

The #BW4H Series, Part 5: Recognizing Progress and Aiming for Expansion of Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea

The Waimea Streamside Trail’s Impact on the Health of the Public & the Planet 

At present, Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea is a two-mile, round-trip trail that is accessible year-round and can be picked up from the Waimea Nature Park, across from Merriman’s Restaurant or Kahawai Street.

Appropriate for all skill levels, the trail is primarily used for walking, running, biking and nature trips. Trail users can hear the tranquil stream as they are traveling along and observe the 36 species of Native Hawaiian ground cover, shrubs, and trees being restored to the area through a partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation, Waimea Trails and Greenways Committee, and the Outdoor Circle of Waimea. Waimea’s Streamside Trail is also level, shaded, and keiki-friendly. 

“The trail can be used in so many different ways, whatever your interest. The multifaceted wide-reaching nature of this trail is what makes it beautiful and valuable,” says Waimea resident Lisa DeSantis, Community Coordinator for Hawai’i Public Health Institute (HIPHI), a non-profit involved in Waimea Trails and Greenways’ Projects. 

Flowers growing wild alongside Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea

“And it’s always changing from day to day. One day someone might be using the stream to teach their keiki about rocks and water. The next day, I’ll see a dog splashing happily through the water. It has its own character and changes!”

“HIPHI is interested in the trail from the public health perspective. Greater physical activity means less health issues,” she says, explaining the connection between trail use and improved public health. 

According to research, when more people get outdoors and on trails, the result is a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and heart rate. It has also been linked to substantial reductions in diabetic incidents and cardiovascular mortality.

“And more people on trails means less traffic for those that still have to drive,” explains Lisa. “The trail can be used to get to work and school, mitigating HPA school traffic and even stress. If you’re not dropping your kid off, you don’t have that stress of getting through traffic.”

For Lisa, interest in Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea has also become personal.

“I noticed litter on the trail and now I have a litter grabber to pick it up because I don’t want to see trash on my route anymore!” Lisa says of the understanding of m?lama ‘aina that trail use fosters. “When you’re on the trails, you develop a sense of ownership of the land.” 

For Waimea residents and tourists, single occupancy vehicles are currently the primary mode of transportation. So from an environmental sustainability standpoint, more people on trails can mean less people in cars. And fewer cars means less emissions and more support for Hawaii’s goal of making the state carbon net-negative by no later than 2045. 

Recognizing Progress and Aiming for Expansion

Great progress has been made on the ongoing Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea project. People for Active Transportation (PATH) has helped secure a RAISE grant for the project. Additionally, trail signs have been installed and collaboration with Parker Ranch on this community project continues, with an emphasis on opening up the next mile, going to the Waimea Transfer Station across from the Sandalwood subdivision. “From there, you can see the planting terraces and auwai (ancient canals),” Clemson states. 

 Waimea’s Streamside Trail now follows the Waikoloa Stream through Waimea town. Here you’ll find dog walkers, joggers, and off-road bicyclists enjoying the placid stream, including Clemson.

“The trail is between my house and my office. And for my four-mile bike ride to work, I get on the trail and hear birds, see people I know, and see the work my neighbors have done on the trail,” Clemson says. “Right now, my commute is NOT safe though, so I understand why people would rather drive. But imagine if everyone could walk or bike to work instead of drive? We could get our work-out done on our way to work!”

This is enough to motivate his own efforts on maintaining the one mile of trail that’s currently open and working tirelessly to expand the trail in the future. 

Trail improvements and expansion depend on the volunteers that maintain it and are involved in everything from spreading chips to clearing the stream on workdays. Photo courtesy of Clemson Lam

The trail’s growth depends on federal funding, and as such, goals for Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea include making it an Active Travel Corridor (ATC) to qualify for federal funding. ATCs are “people only” paths connecting those walking, running, and biking to parks, schools and other neighborhoods.

“In Hawai’i Section 106, permitting with regards to historical properties tends to be the critical path when delivering federal-aid projects. In anticipation of federal funding, we have already begun the process and are nearing completion of our Section 106 consultation with a determination of ‘no effect to historic properties’,” Clemson attests. 

Other goals include paving the trail to make it wheel-chair accessible and advancing efforts to expand the paved trail to 4.8 miles (following the Waikoloa Stream from Church Row down to a County Park across from South Kohala View Estates). To achieve these goals, the community and Hawai’i County must join forces. And we can start by simply using the trail! 

Working Together to Open up Waimea’s Streamside Trail

On your weekday lunch or after swinging by the weekend Farmers’ Market, park at Ulu La’au and go for a stroll, following the stream. About a mile into your walk, you’ll notice a counter. Installed in June of this year by Barett Otani (assistant  to Mayor Roth), the counter is intended to determine how many people use the trail daily. And increased use of Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea means more data to submit as proof that the trail is a valuable asset to the community. 

Clemson Lam points out the counter on Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea

Trail improvements and expansion also depend on the volunteers that maintain it, such as workers from HPA, Parker School, Waimea School, Kaiser Permanente, and Sales Force who have been involved in everything from spreading chips to clearing the stream on workdays.   

But you don’t have to wait until a workday to make a difference. Just ask Forest Horwatt, a Waimea resident who was walking his dog on the trail one day when he saw volunteers working. 

“About five years ago, I got on the trail after another dog walker told me about it. Being on the trail keeps my dog happy,” says Forest, explaining how he uses his weed eater to do trail maintenance about once a month. “I’ve been volunteering for the past year and a half when I have time. And periodically I meet up with other volunteers for workdays.”

Forest’s dog Kimo on the trail. Photo courtesy of Forest Horwatt

Admittedly, Forest’s dog isn’t the only one who enjoys the trail. 

“I always tell people about the trail – I love it! It’s awesome that we can have a little hike in the middle of town.”

“And there are definitely more people walking now,” Forest continues. “I’d like to see more people use it, but people don’t realize it’s there! 

 “The Waikoloa Stream runs through the center of town, but people don’t even know about it unless they get on the trail,” agrees Clemson. “Once it’s finished, however, it will be open to the widest range of people possible and everyone will be able to reap the benefits.” 

Opening up the trail for increased stream visibility is another vision that Clemson and Forest share. “We need funds and volunteers to remove the weeds though,” Forest asserts. “It would be cool if carpenters could help with signage too.”  

It will take a collaborative effort, but in the end Waimea Trails and Greenways will provide a paved, shared-use pathway that is separated from vehicular travel, making it more attractive and feasible for pedestrians and bicyclists of all abilities and ages to enjoy the outdoors while shifting away from motor vehicles.

“I want it to shine so people see that it’s great!” Forest exclaims. “I wish more people knew how cool it is and how much better it could be if even one other person volunteered. A little bit of time once a month really does make a difference.”

“The Waikoloa Stream was an important part of life in Waimea. ‘Wai’ means water and ‘koloa’ refers to a sound. ‘Ko’ refers to sweet and ‘loa’ refers to gentle. Put the two words together and you get ‘pleasant’ or ‘a pleasant sounding stream’,” Leningrad says, before explaining how the sound comes from the muffled tumbling of rocks in a stream that is not rushing downhill, which was likely a pleasant change for those men who came to Waimea to recuperate from battle elsewhere.

Waikoloa Stream runs alongside Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea

“The Hawaiians made canals that drew water from the stream to grow taro. And the Ki Puu Puu warriors likely crossed the stream’s trail on their way to practice Pelu,” Leningrad reminds us. “Later, the trail became a place for the Marines to recover.”

From the ancient Ki Puu Puu to the Camp Tarawoa Marines, Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea is a place of historical significance. By promoting its expansion, we honor the warriors of years gone by while giving our community a place to recover, invest in our health, and connect safely to each other and the aina. 

PATH

PATH is committed to elevating the efforts of community groups and Hawai’i County to create more multi-modal trails for active transportation in Hawai’i, with an emphasis on developing more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island. 

By supporting continued development of the Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea project and other shared-use paths and walkways through the Building Better Ways for Hawaii (#BW4H) series, we hope to encourage Hawai’i County to take action, expanding existing passageways and creating safer spaces for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and trail users. We’ve also highlighted the progress of Hilo Bayfront Trails, the Queens’ Lei, and Ala Ohia Road’s Bench Project,  so be sure to check out these blogs as well! 

The #BW4H Series, Part 4: Connecting Waimea to Culture & Nature Through Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea

“There is a local legend about two lovers – a young woman and a Ki Puu Puu warrior – who were separated by war,” says Leningrad Elarionoff, a retired police officer whose family members have deep roots in the community. A storyteller who often repeats stories long forgotten of incidents related to local landscapes, he sits under a pavilion at Ulu La’au (the Waimea Nature Park), detailing how Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea (the Streamside Trail of Waimea) is steeped in mo’olelo. The history and legends surrounding this trail date back to prehistoric Hawaiian history, when Waimea (Kamuela) was home to the Ki Puu Puu warriors.

“The warrior and his beloved were preparing for their wedding when he was called into battle. The warrior never returned,” Leningrad continues. “He was killed in battle. And according to legend, the young woman died waiting for the warrior’s return and was buried along the trail. It is said that she still walks the trail, weeping and searching for him to this day.” 

A sunny day on Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea. Photo courtesy of blogger, Sara Stover.

“The young man was one of King Kamehameha’s Ki Puu Puu warriors. The Ki Puu Puu were a type of Hawaiian special forces that trained in the hills above Waimea,” says Leningrad. “The warriors were very good fighting with their hands and using their knuckles. That, combined with their ability to utilize the Hawaiian martial arts move Pelu, made them legendary!”

The Ki Puu Puu learned Pelu from an old Hawaiian man who lived close to what is now the Waimea Streamside Trail, on a hill known as Puu O’Pelu, or Hill of Pelu. Using Pelu, the Ki Puu Puu could injure an opponent’s back and make him useless. It was a move that made the warriors fierce and feared in battle.  

“The Ki Puu Puu warriors crossed this very trail on their way to practice Pelu,” Leningrad affirms. “Some even believe that the path they utilized to get to the old man’s house was eventually named Puu O’Pelu Road.”

By 1943, the area would become home to a different brand of warrior. In November of that year, 40,000 exhausted Marines from the 2nd Marine Division arrived on Hawai’i Island. Traumatized by the 76-hour Battle of Tarawa at the Tarawa Atoll (Gilbert Islands), the 2nd Marine Division went directly from fighting a gruesome battle to building their own training camp.   

Richard Smart, owner of Parker Ranch, leased 31,000 acres to the U.S. Military for $1 a year. Known as Camp Tarawa, the dusty grounds of this campsite were located between the looming peaks of Maunaloa and Maunakea. And if the foliage isn’t too dense, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Mr. Smart’s house while walking on the Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea Streamside Trail today. 

After the 2d Marine Division left for Saipan, the 5th Marine Division moved into the base to train before being deployed to fight in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February of 1945. By November of 1945, the base was closed permanently. 

From the Ki Puu Puu warriors of ancient Hawai’i to the Camp Tarawa Marines, the Streamside Trail (a Waimea Trails and Greenways Project) keeps their memory alive, and in turn preserves the lessons we can learn from their stories.  

“Understand that the legend of the Ki Puu Puu warrior and his lover aren’t just told to explain the bones that were found here when preparing for this trail.” Leningrad points out. “These mo’olelo are meant to pass on a lesson. The young guys are the ones who suffer in battle. So when you make a decision, you need to consider who will be affected as a result. That’s the lesson.”

As for the bones, a state archeologist identified them as indeed belonging to a young female. On August 16, the bones were relocated to a more prominent location.

Connecting Waimea to Culture and Nature through Active Transportation

“Waimea means ‘There’s something in the water’ and refers to the yellowish color in the Waikoloa Stream from the hapu’u plant’s pollen,” Leningrad explains.

A center of ranching activities and paniolo culture, Waimea is a growing community whose economy is based on agriculture and a growing tourism market. Unfortunately, historic Waimea is bisected by a four-lane highway, Hawai’i Belt Road, which hinders biking and walking. 

“With a lack of walking and biking infrastructure, people couldn’t walk safely,” says Clemson Lam, Waimea Architect and Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea Committee Chairman. “But in 1994, Main Street Waimea (a promotion of Kamuela business organization in Kamuela) was tasked with developing a program in Waimea. Out of that, we got a better idea of what people like and do not like about Waimea.”

The majority agreed that they liked Waimea’s beautiful places, but were frustrated that there were no trails providing access to those places. 

“No one could reach those places without trespassing to get to them,” Clemson recalls. “People wanted three different types of trails to access those places.”

The trail types included:

  • A linear transportation corridor running east to west, for biking and walking to and from work and school safely. 
  • Existing trails across private land that could be used by the public.
  • Trails connecting Waimea to other communities such as Waikoloa and Honoka’a. 

With this clear definition of the community’s needs at its core, the Waimea Trails and Greenways committee was formed in 1994, meeting every Monday to look at streets, trails, and other relevant data. And Hawai’i County even hired a consultant to conduct a study and number all the trees in 1998.

In 1999, Ulu La’au was established by Waimea Outdoor Circle. And plans for the trail to safely, conveniently connect the Nature Park to schools, cultural centers, and local businesses in Waimea and beyond were moving forward slowly but surely. Unfortunately, the lengthy study of 1998 expired before action could be taken to build the trail. 

“As a committee, we were frustrated. But we had the easements, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work building a trail! We put up a fence. We counted the number of people that walked on sidewalks at different times of day. With the hands of the community volunteers, we began to build the trail!” Clemson exclaims, detailing the work day that was organized in 2008. It took 115 volunteers four hours, but by the end of the day, Waimea had a new trail, running from Ulu La’au to Opelo Road.

“Our committee still meets once a month because there’s more work to be done. Our main focus now is to keep Hawai’i County engaged,” says Clemson. “The county has agreed to adopt the trail, which is great news! And Mayor Roth has been very helpful with this.”

Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea is level, shaded, and keiki-friendly. Photo courtesy of Clemson Lam.

PATH

PATH is committed to elevating the efforts of community groups and Hawai’i County to create more multi-modal trails for active transportation in Hawai’i, with an emphasis on developing more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island. Next week, we’ll look at the great progress that has been made on the ongoing Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea project, how the community and county can work together to open up Waimea’s Streamside Trail, and more!

The #BH4H Series, Part 3: The Ala Ohia Road’s Bench Project

The #BH4H Series, Part 3: The Ala Ohia Road’s Bench Project

It’s a windy but sunny Saturday morning in Waimea. You’ve just finished perusing the Pukalani Stables Farmers’ Market and you want to find a spot to enjoy your coffee and mochi. You stroll down the Ala Ohia Road path and find a bench on the bypass to relax, sip your coffee, and gaze at majestic Mauna Kea. 

Sound like a Big Island fantasy? It doesn’t have to be. These benches exist! They’re just not ON the walking path at the moment. 

Benches in Waiting

“The Ala Ohia bypass is well used, especially now,” affirms Shirley Ann Fukumoto of Waimea. “COVID shut down community recreation and it is on hold … again. So naturally many people want to exercise outside where it’s safe.”

The bypass butts up against Waimea’s Luala’i Subdivision and is a popular spot for biking as a family, walking the dog, and going for a run, to name a few uses.

“Moms can push their keiki in a stroller. Our senior citizens can go for a midday walk. But they just can’t sit down and find some respite – Something our kupuna need!” says Shirley Ann’s good friend Carol Ignacio. “That’s what makes the Ala Ohia Bench Project so needed and worthwhile for the community, especially our kupuna.”

It’s a necessity that was first made apparent to Carol in the middle of the Waimea KTA Supermarket, where she was working for the Blue Zones Project, giving cooking demos in support of the project’s initiative to help everyone in Hawai’i make healthier choices. 

“I was giving a demo at the KTA in Kamuela when an elderly woman stopped by to share something with me,” Carol recalls. “She said ‘The doctors tell us to walk to stay healthy. The Ala Ohia Road is wonderful, but we need a place to walk that is safe and we can rest along the way’.”

The conversation illuminated a need that Carol just couldn’t ignore. It wasn’t long before she became the igniter that would spark a new project for the benefit of the community. 

“She is a community catalyst,” says Shirley Ann of how Carol worked on behalf of the seniors in Waimea to initiate a project that would result in 12 benches for the Ala Ohia path. 

“I told the Blue Zones’ team what happened at KTA and suggested some benches for the elderly to sit,” Carol explains. “I knew we could raise the money, so I took on the responsibility of raising funds for the benches!”

Carol’s fundraising efforts were a success, even in the face of challenges. 

“I was at a food bank meeting, sitting next to Warren Lee, former HELCO president and Director of the County’s Public Works Department, when Shirley Ann and I realized we didn’t have enough money. One bench is $850!” Carol recalls. “Warren responded by buying us a bench and the meeting facilitator bought another.” 

KTA Super Stores also sponsored two benches, and other generous organizations soon followed suit and sponsored a bench, including: 

  • `Ahahui K`ahumanu Society
  • Canada France Hawai`i Telescope
  • Hawaii Preparatory Academy
  • Queen’s North Hawai`i Community Hospital
  • Veterinary Associates (Lisa Wood)
  • Waimea Senior Citizens Club
  • West Hawaii Concrete
  • Where Talk Works (Linda Colburn)
  • M. Keck Observatory

In between sending fundraising letters and working through PATH on funding, Carol and Shirley Ann worked with Parker Ranch on zoning and did research on benches that would be able to handle the elements in Waimea.

“It took some time to even research benches, but in the end, we went with Belson Outdoors in Illinois to build them. Belson was awesome because they helped us get benches that can withstand Waimea’s sun and wind and rain,” Shirley Ann explains. “Because they agreed that the bench project was such an important community initiative, Belson even gave us a generous discount!”  

“By the time I retired from Blue Zones in 2020, we had collected most of the money. This speaks to just how valuable kupuna is in our culture,” says Carol.

When Carol left Blue Zones to help with a family business, Shirley Ann stepped in, working with Blue Zones liaison Karen Teshima and garnering more sponsors to purchase the 12 benches. 

“If Shirley Ann had not taken the reins for this project, it would not be happening,” Carol attests. “She worked with Hawai’i County and ordered the benches.”

From Vision to Reality

“The work we do is all about nature and about improving people’s lives. The Ala Ohia Bench Project is an example of this, and of working on actual needs versus perceived needs,” Carol states. “It started with 10, but we have 12 benches now.”

County Council Member Herbert “Tim” Richards, III stepped up to fund the shipping expenses for the benches and is assisting with the title transfer.

“I fully support this project from its inception, as the Ala ‘Ohia trail is the type of rural street and/or pathway unique to areas like Waimea,” he states.  “Locations like these that have been cared for by the community are perfect areas for our residents and visitors, especially our Kupuna, wherein many come to exercise, walk, get fresh air, and to be able to sit and rest a bit before continuing on the path.  These benches will serve our Waimea community well and I am excited to see this project come to fruition.”

When the Ala Ohia Bench Project is finished, there will be 12 benches over the course of two miles. 

“We are grateful for Hawai’i County – They are integral to taking this project to the next level!” adds Shirley Ann. “And we’re grateful that PATH has helped us receive the funds for the benches!”

The Ala Ohia benches will be on the Luala`i-side of the roadway, so anyone sitting on the benches will be able to enjoy a breathtaking Mauna Kea panoramic.

With the support of the community and Hawai’i County, the Ala Ohia Bench Project can grow from a vision that began with the kupuna of Waimea into a reality for visitors and residents alike. The 12 benches that will one day line the path will offer keiki, kupuna, and their families the opportunity to take a break mid-walk before heading back to Pukalani Stables or home to the Luala’i Subdivision.

Or even before continuing on to Ulu La’au (the Waimea Nature Park)! By using the crosswalk, it is possible to safely cut across to the park and pick up another important, local trail. Stay tuned for the next PATH blog to find out more about this beautiful trail and its significance to the past and future of Waimea! 

In the meantime, we invite you to visit Ala Ohia Road’s path if you have yet to experience it.

“There is something about place that speaks to you. Go to the path and you’ll feel its mana and understand why this project is so important,” Carol implores. 

PATH

PATH is working to elevate the efforts of walking/biking/running advocates in Hawai’i County, with an emphasis on creating more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island. By supporting continued development of the Ala Ohia Road’s path and benches, and other biking paths and walkways through the Building Better Ways for Hawaii (#BW4H) series, we hope to encourage the community and Hawai’i County to take action, expanding existing passageways and creating safer spaces for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and trail users.

 

 

 

The #BW4H Series, Part 2: The Queens’ Lei Pathway

The #BW4H Series, Part 2

In the past, the love and respect that Hawai’i residents had for the aina were unmatched. They traveled by foot on ancient paths and lived in a symbiotic relationship with the island and its rhythms. This was a relationship modeled by generation after generation of Hawaiian royalty, including Analea (Ane) Keohokalole and her descendants.

Today, Kona, HI visitors and residents are largely disconnected from this relationship. Our lack of pathways means that we just can’t travel by foot or by bike as much as Hawai’i inhabitants did in the past. Instead of bicycling, walking, and running on accessible paths, we must resign to running and biking on the road with motorized vehicles – An option that is not only aesthetically unappealing and noisy, but often dangerous as we breathe in fumes from passing automobiles and risk being hit by distracted drivers.

Those of us who venture away from the main roads are grateful for the few off-road options in Kona, but they are short and increasingly overpopulated. It would seem that connecting with the natural beauty of West Hawai’i is too much to ask.

But what if there was a way to mend the disconnect?

Mending the Disconnect Between Us and Our Aina

For decades, the idea of building a trail that circumnavigates all of Hawai’i Island has been a dream of many Hawai’i residents who want to mend the growing disconnect between us and our aina.

“It’s a wonderful concept, and since the Queens’ Lei was low-hanging fruit, we started with this project,” says Tina Cothier, former PATH Executive Director, explaining that the idea for creating a 16.75-mile circulation loop that indeed resembles a lei was born in 1997.

Named in honor of na wahine ali’i, Queen Ka’ahumanu, Queen Lili’uokalani, Queen Emma, and the Queen Mother Ane Keohokalole, the Queens’ Lei was designed to be a shared-use pathway primarily for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

In July of 2014, project development stakeholders met with the late Hawai’i County Mayor Billy Kenoi, whose enthusiasm and support eventually made the first mile of the Queens’ Lei dream a reality.

“We also worked closely with Hawai’i County Director of Public Works, Warren Lee, and the Hawai’i County Highways Division to put the pathway down,” says Tina, who was Executive Director at the time.

Recognizing the need for biking, walking, and other non-motorized transportation options to manage the ongoing growth that North Kona experiences, the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise, Rotary Club of Kona Mauka, and Rotary Club of Kona spent three days planting 100 trees supplied by Kelly Greenwell, owner and operator of Hawaiian Gardens, in 2016.

“Why plant trees? Because it’s one of the best ways to create a more sustainable future,” says Cindy Armer, President of PATH’s Board of Directors. “Planting trees also removes CO2 from the atmosphere, attracts native birds, and provides shade for path users!” To this day, each tree on the pathway is cared for and watered each week by a local volunteer.

The benches were provided by Bella Pietra Kona and wayfinding signs with mileage markers were made possible by a grant from Hawai’i Public Health Institute (HIPHI).

After years of hard work, PATH, Hawaii County, LavaKids, West Hawaii Rotary Clubs, and members of the community were able to gather at the West Hawaii Civic Center on April 25, 2016 for the dedication of the Queens’ Lei, which included Kahu Danny Akaka Jr’s offering of a traditional blessing of the one-mile long, shared-use pathway and a keiki dash to christen the trail.

By November 2016, the stretch of trail from Kealakehe Parkway to Palani Road was completed!

More Than a Sidewalk

Today, the Queens’ Lei is much more than a three-mile sidewalk paved along a cement road. The pathway is adjacent to the roadway while remaining a safe 25-feet distance away from the road, making it a safe and accessible place for athletes, families, keiki, kupuna, and the disabled to exercise without worrying about vehicles. And you can’t beat that refreshing ocean breeze on the makai side of the Queens’ Lei!

Already popular with LavaKids, Kealakehe High School, the West Hawai’i Office of Aging Seniors, and many other community organizations that use it for their programs, the pathway became even more of a community asset during the lockdowns of 2020. While gyms, pools, and parks closed due to the pandemic, the Queens’ Lei remained one of the few places in West Hawai’i where we could get a socially-distanced workout in or get our keiki out of the house for a bike ride.

The Echo City Knockouts, Kona’s female roller derby team, used the pathway for practice when COVID closed their flat-track down! And with its stunning views of the sunset, the Queens’ Lei is quickly becoming a world-class scenic recreational pathway that attracts Hawai’i visitors who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ali’i Drive.

Running past the West Hawaii Community Health Center at Kealakehe, the pathway even serves as a mutual reinforcement strategy for the Center’s Diabetes Prevention Program participants. If we keep the momentum going, the three-miles of Queens’ Lei will one day expand to a 16.7-mile loop where health care providers can refer patients for exercise.

It won’t be long before walking groups can meet on the portion closest to their homes or workplaces instead of driving all the way to the Civic Center to log a mile or two in the morning. From the airport to Kailua Village, employers will be able to incorporate any stretch of the circulation loop into their wellness initiatives.

The Lei will connect commuters traveling to work and school to the West Hawai’i Civic Center, the University of Hawai’i Palamanui Campus, public schools, the police station, commercial areas, residential communities, the Courthouse, the Kaiser Health Clinic,  the culturally significant Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, the Honokohau Harbor, public beaches, future parks, and more.

And with nearly 17 miles of recreational opportunities for West Hawai’i residents and visitors, we will be able to walk the dog, ride our bike to classes, look for the green flash at sunset, or push our keiki in a stroller under the shade of well-loved trees.

Linking the Past with the Future

Vital to community circulation, the Queens’ Lei will not only connect all of North Kona, but will also bridge the gap between our past values and the future.

But the first mile of the Queens’ Lei alone required $50,000 for completion, much of which came from Ironman World Championship Events and Kaiser Permanente. As the project continues to develop, financing the Queens’ Lei is a challenge and fundraising is imperative!

The logistics of completing the entire project are dependent on several factors, including permissions from the State and National Parks and  Hawai’i County’s involvement. While the County has expressed support of the Queen’s Lei, we have not been able to move the project forward with the State and the National Parks System.

At PATH, this is especially concerning because there are currently several transportation grants available that exist to fund non-motorized transportation projects like the Queens’ Lei! If we don’t take advantage of these grants soon, there are road projects underway that will eliminate the concept of expanding this shared-use pathway… and erase many of the benefits that the 16-mile loop could offer our community.

Also concerning is the lack of respect for the Queens’ Lei trees. Each and every one of the individuals who have adopted a tree to water and care for make the pathway such a special place to walk, ride, run, and connect, but recently, PATH has had reports that the trees’ signs were taken down or hung in trees. We don’t know who is responsible for moving the signs, and it is upsetting that this has happened. The good news is that our tree care volunteers know their trees and can still care for them despite the lack of signage.

If just for a day our king and queen

Would visit all these islands and saw everything

How would they feel about the changes of our land?

“Hawai’i ’78” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Honoring Hawai’i’s Queens

“This 16.7 mile circulation loop might help address some of the loss of the mauka-makai connectors that once existed,” Tina points out. When completed, this regional trail will connect all of North Kona, enabling us to enjoy safe passage and strengthen our connection to the aina once again.

Additionally, the Queens’ Lei would honor the queens for which the pathway is named, including Queen Ka’ahumanu, a visionary who led Hawai’i to a better way of life, Queen Mother Ane Keohokalole, and her granddaughter Queen Lili’uokalani, who is credited for preserving our treasured beach access so everyone can enjoy Hawai’i’s oceanfront.

These Queen’s left an enduring legacy, and now it’s our turn to make a difference for future generations. Here are a few ways that we can take action today:

  • Contact elected officials at both the County and State levels to let them know that the Queens’ Lei is important to you and your ohana, and that is should be extended as part of Phase III of Ane Keohokalole.

  • Ask elected officials to apply for the grants available for non-motorized transportation.

With the help of the community and Hawai’i County, the Queens’ Lei project can be completed and this community-wide path can connect the Kona community with essential economic, educational, and recreational opportunities that live into the future.

PATH

PATH is working to elevate the efforts of walking/biking/running advocates and Hawai’i County, with an emphasis on creating more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island. By supporting continued development of the Queens’ Lei project and other shared-use paths and walkways through the Building Better Ways for Hawaii (#BW4H) series, we hope to encourage Hawai’i County to take action, expanding existing passageways and creating safer spaces for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and trail users. We’re shining the spotlight on the progress of Hilo Bayfront Trails, Waimea Trails and Greenways, and the Queens’ Lei all summer long, so be sure to check back soon!

The Building Better Ways for Hawaii Series, Part 1: Hilo Bayfront Trails 

The #BW4H Series, Part 1

A father teaches his kids how to ride their bikes, enjoying views of majestic Mauna Loa in the distance. A grandmother pushes a giggling baby in a stroller, breathing in the salty smell of ocean air. Two nurses take a walk in the shade, spending their lunch break listening to the sound of waves lapping against the shore. A college student jogs by, stopping to take a picture of a bright rainbow hanging between the row of coconut palms.

This isn’t a scene from a Hollywood movie or a Hallmark card commercial. This is Hilo Bayfront Trails (HBFT), a local pathway that enables residents and visitors to enjoy  Hilo Bay’s picturesque shoreline by biking, walking, or using other non-vehicular modes of travel.

HBFT was conceived in 2010 as a Hawai’i County three-phase project to plan, design, and construct a path system from the Wailuku River at Reed’s Island to Hilo Harbor’s cruise ship terminal. The project was created to be a system of paths connecting existing recreational sites along the Hilo Bayfront area, both mauka and makai of Kamehameha Ave.

The trail’s sections have grown to 5,125 feet (approximately one mile), but scenic HBFT did not appear overnight. It is the result of over a decade of community influencers encouraging the county to create safer spaces for bicyclists, pedestrians, runners, and trail users.

A Trail Steeped in History

From the beginning, non-profit Hilo Bayfront Trails was intended to be a multi-use path system through downtown Hilo. Once a marshland, the trail is steeped in history. According to oral historical accounts, Polynesians first settled Hilo Harbor around 1100 AD. A royal center for many of the early chiefs, Hilo’s bayfront is likely to have been the site of their summer homes.

And legend has it that a prominent rock in the upstream Wailuku River (at the northern end of Keawe St.) is the site of the demigod Maui’s canoe crash. Rushing to save his mother, Hina, from a water monster that was threatening to flood her cave beneath Rainbow Falls, the devoted Maui paddled his canoe with such haste across the ocean that he crash-landed at this spot, turning the canoe to stone.

Commitment to family is a characteristic of Hilo Bay that endured the passing of time.

“Everybody wants a place to walk with their family,” says Sally Ancheta, the Eastside Hawai’i Island Community Coordinator for Hawai’i Public Health Institute and a HBFT board member.

“But before 2010, there were only houses and roads here – There was no bike or pedestrian infrastructure,” adds Matthias Kusch, Vice President of Hilo Bayfront Trails. “We saw this need and brought a vision to life.”

Seeing this need, a committee convened in 2010 to bring the vision of a system of trails to life. By 2011, Hilo Bayfront Trails was a legal entity, and a grant for construction was written in 2012.

In 2015, a section from Mo’oheau Bandstand to the canoe hale near the Iron Works building, as well as a loop around Bayfront’s mauka soccer fields was completed. With the support of a community open to the possibilities, the sections from Mo’oheau Park to Pauahi Street, from Pauahi Street to the Bayfront canoe hale, and from Pauahi Street to the Bayfront soccer fields were completed by late 2016. Such support is proof of how important Hilo Bayfront Trails is to our existing community.

In 2017, the Department of Health donated funds to cover the cost for a wayfinding signage plan, as well as wayfinding and destination signage. Such support is proof of how important Hilo Bayfront Trails is to our existing community.

HBFT has also done a variety of community-based fundraising, promoting the non-profit status to engage donors. During that time, the LWCF grants were discovered, which resulted in the existing trail. The assistance of local rotary clubs and benefactors of the community was also sought after.

Ed Olson and the Olson Trust have been our greatest benefactor and supporters by far, as Olson donated $35,000 to match our small-time contributions (website traffic donations, rotary clubs, and trail engraving sales). Work to sell the 12’ x 12’ squares of the trail with an engraving for $500 each has raised about $12,000, which won’t cover the cost of the trail, but can help if more engraving donations are received.

Community enthusiasm about the trails is apparent, however, the prohibitively high cost of building them out is a huge barrier to the private citizen donation route. Upon examining other communities with thriving trail systems, it should be noted that local municipalities build public infrastructures like bike and multi-use trails. All indications point to the best approach to getting trails built on Hawai’i Island is to apply for large private, state, and federal grants, in combination with lobbying elected officials.

Incredible work has already been done to create HBFT, a path designed to last for many generations. But in order for the trails to benefit the community for generations to come, it’s time for us to do more.

Awareness, Cultural Connectivity, and Improved Health

Establishing interesting loops is among the upcoming plans for the trail’s near future, including a shared-use circuit around Waiakea Pond and in the Waiolama Canal Area.

“The next section would go right past the pond, which is a real hidden gem in Hilo!” says Matthias, describing its calm waters dotted with lily-pads. “I have a friend who grew up in Hilo and he never knew about the pond. This section of Hilo Bayfront Trail would make it accessible to more people who have lived here their whole life.”

“Access, awareness, and connectivity. That’s what the trail is about,” Matthias adds. “And with a pedestrian loop in Downtown Hilo passing by so many historical buildings and artifacts, it can connect users to Hilo’s rich history.”

The Hilo Bayfront Trails project also has an interpretive component with a mission to share the bayfront’s culturally significant sites. Additionally, the shared-use path in Mo’oheau Park will offer users an alternate means to reach upcoming cultural and public events at the Mo’oheau Bandstand, the Palace Theater, and other popular Downtown Hilo venues.

Envision easily accessing our most renowned cultural event, the Merrie Monarch and its Royal Parade as it winds through Downtown Hilo on the first morning of the global festival. Or safely walking to the Hilo Orchid Society’s annual show and sale at the Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Tennis Stadium and beholding gorgeous displays of thousands of exotic orchids.

In addition to cultural connection, the expansion of Hilo Bayfront Trails will make it possible to implement transportation-related educational programs for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike – Programs that could impart a share-the-road perspective for increased use of alternative transportation in the bayfront.

Developing HBFT further would also offer opportunities for bicycle education programs for all ages, boosting awareness among drivers of cyclists’ needs and rights, as well as awareness about the fitness and health benefits of bicycling. And you don’t even need to own a bike to enjoy riding Hilo Bayfront Trails. The HIBike bikeshare system is located at HBFT’s Mo’oheau County Park trailhead, with one-time rides available at the bikeshare kiosk and monthly subscriptions available online.

“One of the reasons that this trail was built is to be part of the process of improving our community’s health,” explains Sally.

Showcasing the natural beauty of Hilo, the trail is ideal for getting the heart pumping with a jog or a bike ride. It doesn’t hurt that the view while working out on Hilo Bayfront Trails is better than any found in a gym.

And studies show that time spent outside – simply walking among trees while taking in views of the ocean – lowers blood pressure and decreases the stress-related hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Since existing pedestrian walkways at Waiakea Peninsula already offer ease of access to treasured vistas of the bayfront, integrating them into Hilo Bayfront Trails would also lend itself to the preservation of the beauty that is already there naturally.

Small Steps Toward Big Impact

According to projections based on the latest U.S. Census, the current population of Hilo, Hawai’i is 45,056. That’s nearly one-third of Hawai’i Island residents living in and around a city that supports a diversified Hawaiian economy of agriculture, aquaculture, education, government, ranching, tourism, and trade.

By completing the build-out of Hilo Bayfront Trails, the project would connect the visitors that will once again arrive by plane or cruise ship to local businesses by way of a shaded walkway by the water. It could connect medical professionals from the hospital, as well as students from the high school, university, and community college to the stress-relieving benefits of the outdoors. And ultimately, the fully protected bikeway/walkway would connect the people and places of Hilo.

“The trail invites people to come together,” Sally points out. “I see Hilo Bayfront Trails connecting all of us to our town and even other towns eventually!” Recently, HBFT and Hawai’i County submitted a federal grant application to develop the next leg and do just that.

We’re looking forward to the day when the shared-use pathway throughout the bayfront area and Hilo Harbor features nearly six miles of trails to connect more than 700 acres of land with dedicated bicycle lanes, pedestrian sidewalks, and multimodal paths.

Developing new sections of the Hilo Bayfront Trail will also complement Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative, which aims for 100 percent renewable power by 2045.

By working toward these developments, we can leave the gas-guzzling vehicles at home at last and ride the bike to the Hilo Farmers Market to pick up some fresh produce, handcrafted gifts, and tropical flowers from local farmers and crafters. Supporting local agriculture and reducing our carbon footprint should go hand in hand, and with new sections of the trail, they can!

“It will be so impactful when all five phases of the trail are realized!” emphasizes Matthias. “But we have to start with what we have and take the small steps today.”

Small but essential steps, like continuing fundraising initiatives and encouraging donations which enable HBFT to fund the next phases and related improvements.

While funding can be a big challenge, it doesn’t have to be insurmountable. Hawai’i County, which is responsible for attaining funds for trail implementation, has been looking at several potential sources for a while now. These include capital improvement project funding and grants.

“Currently, Hawai’i Residents have about 7 miles of fully protected bikeways and walkways in completed sections of Queens’ Lei in Kona-Kailua, Waimea Trails and Greenways, and Hilo Bayfront Trails,” says Jessica Thomson, Executive Director of PATH. “Once all sections of Hilo Bayfront Trails are completed, Hawai’i residents will have almost double that!” Jessica continues. “We’re excited to see Hawai’i County take the next step towards developing these trails!”

Accessibility and Connectivity for Future Generations

Built to implement historic preservation, cultural celebration, and a sense of pride in the bayfront area, Hilo Bayfront Trails’ role in accomplishing all this became more integral than ever in 2020.

With the pandemic came shutdowns and cancelations, but we were also able to slow down enough to use the trail and appreciate the beauty of Hilo’s bayfront. With gyms and schools closed, it was one of the few places still accessible and safe to go for exercise and recreation.

Because of Hilo Bayfront Trails, we were able to get out of the house, make memories with our ohana, and connect with neighbors in a way some of us never had before. Having an outdoor space that is free and nearby became essential in the face of uncertainty.

“2020 reminded us what’s really important, like family dinners, slowing down, and getting outside. I started walking after work and running,” says Sally. “And Hilo Bayfront Trails became a place where we could all relax and feel safe outdoors.”

Even as the world opens back up and some degree of normalcy is being restored, the deeper connections and new traditions that we’ve established won’t soon be abandoned. With the help of the community and Hawai’i County, Hilo Bayfront Trails can continue to provide much-needed connectivity to downtown, as well as enable accessibility around local parks and the bayfront area for generations to come.

PATH

PATH is working to elevate the efforts of walking/biking/running advocates and Hawai’i County, with an emphasis on creating more protected places for people to use mobility devices, walk, or bike on Hawai’i Island. By supporting continued development of Hilo Bayfront Trails and other biking paths and walkways through the Building Better Ways for Hawaii (#BW4H) series, we hope to encourage Hawai’i County to take action, expanding existing passageways and creating safer spaces for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and trail users.

Over the summer, we’ll shine the spotlights on the progress of Waimea Trails and Greenways, and Queens’ Lei, so be sure to check back soon!

May is Bike Month

It’s National Bike Month, a celebration of cycling promoted by the League of American Bicyclists that we look forward to every year! Bike Month is held every May in communities from coast to coast. And here in Hawai’i, we kicked off Bike Month with the first official Ride a Bike Day on May 2nd followed by National Bike to School Day on May 5th.

Enabling participants to celebrate the joy of active commuting while building a sense of community and school spirit, Bike to School Day is particularly near and dear to us here at PATH, since the event always calls attention to the importance of creating safe routes to school!

The first week of May was also Week 1 of the Hawai’i Bike Challenge, a fun and friendly bike challenge for Hawai’i residents that runs through May 31st. From new riders to seasoned cyclists, local teams are all competing against each other as we speak, dashing to earn the most points by riding a bike, encouraging others, and spreading the bike love. ?

A variety of prizes are being raffled off to participants along the way, so rally your friends, family, or coworkers and register your team of up to 10 here: Hawai’i Bike Challenge Registration

National Bike Month also presents the perfect opportunity to highlight the many benefits of bicycling, which we’ll look at today. We’ll also share some important tips for safer riding and a few fresh ways to celebrate #BikeMonth, so keep reading!

The Benefits of Bicycling
The jury is still out on whether bicycling is the solution to world peace, but this much is certain: Riding a bike can help everyone improve their mental and physical health, and healthier individuals means a healthier world!

Whether you’re going for a short, leisurely ride or biking at race pace in a time trial,
riding a bike has been shown to strengthen muscles and bones, improve joint mobility and flexibility, and help with healthy weight loss. Bike riding can be a low impact way to manage and even prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis.

Additionally, studies show that biking improves sleep quality, relieves stress, and mitigates anxiety and depression. And a half hour of riding a bike has been shown to improve mental focus and subjective mood. That’s the scientific way of saying that riding a bike can make you sharper and happier!

7 Tips for Safer Bike Riding

1) Communicate Clearly: It might seem boring, but play it safe by riding in a straight line. Signal your turns and look behind you before turning or changing lanes. And it should go without saying that you should not swerve between cars when riding.

Don’t ride on sidewalks if you can help it. And make eye contact with drivers if possible, so you can be sure they see you.

2) Be Visible: When you ride, your intentions should be clear to everyone you share the road with. But if you’re not even visible, then clear intentions won’t be very helpful! Bike where others will see you and go the extra mile by wearing bright and /or reflective apparel.

Both neon colors and reflective clothing can get a driver’s attention, keeping you safer. And wearing reflective clothing on the top and bottom will actually create a human shape that is reflected back to the driver! Reflectors, a front white light, and a rear red light will also go a long way in keeping you visible while on the road.

3) Be Proactive: Keep any eye out for potholes, debris, and other hazards in the road. Watch for vehicles that are turning or pulling out of driveways and parking lots. And don’t weave around parked cars, or ride too close and risk being hit by a car door that’s opened too quickly.

Practice defensive riding, taking note of what other cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians are doing and anticipating any hazards so you can take the necessary precautions and stay out of harm’s way. And be aware of your surroundings by staying off your phone and minimize distractions by leaving your headphones at home!

4) Be Ride Ready: Before you head off for a ride, check your bike’s tires to ensure that they have enough air, test that the brakes work properly, check your chain for rust or anything that may keep it from running smoothly, and make sure that the quick release levers are closed. If appropriate, carry a spare tube, mini-pump, and multi-tool with you when you ride.

And never take off on your bike without a helmet! No, a helmet dangling from your handlebars doesn’t count. And we all know better than to plop the helmet on our head and ride off without fastening it first… Right?!

5) Social Distance: Until we’re completely out of the woods with COVID, it’s best to keep a bandana, mask, or neck gaiter with you when you ride. Make sure it’s something you can easily pull over your nose and mouth when others cross your path. And continue to keep at least six feet between you and other pedestrians and cyclists (that’s about one bike length)!

6) Obey the Law: Bicyclists have the same rights as drivers, but we also have the same responsibilities as well. Riding a bike doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you, so obey all stop signs and traffic signals.

If you are riding your bike on the road, then ride with traffic, staying in the bicycle lane or in the shoulder. Whether you are riding on a bike/pedestrian path or on a roadway, always use the rightmost lane and ride in the direction you are headed.

7) Protect Your Fellow Cyclists: When you’re behind the wheel of your vehicle, don’t forget about your fellow bike riders. In case you haven’t heard, there is a Safe Passing 3 Foot law in Hawai’i (hooray)!

The Safe Passing 3 Foot law requires that motorists passing a bicyclist offer a minimum of three (3) feet of separation. Simply put, your driving should reflect how you want to be treated when you are riding a bike.

The Takeaway
National Bike Month is NOT about who can ride the most miles, but about encouraging everyone to set biking goals and ride for health and happiness. This May, we’re celebrating the many benefits of bicycling and hoping that it inspires a few more folks to give bike riding a try!

If you’re looking for more ways to get in on Bike Month, Bike to Work Week 2021 will take place May 17 through May 23, 2021. And if you only hop on a bike once this month, we hope it’s for Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 21!

See you out there!

Happy Heart Month: 4 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health Now

This time of year, you can’t walk into a store without seeing large clusters of heart-shaped balloons and row after row of Valentine’s candy. It’s hard not to associate February with Valentine’s Day!

But this month is about more than romantic cards and candlelit dinners – February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to shine a light on the importance of improving our heart health and preventing heart disease.

Happy Heart Month: 4 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health Now

This time of year, you can’t walk into a store without seeing large clusters of heart-shaped balloons and row after row of Valentine’s candy. It’s hard not to associate February with Valentine’s Day!

But this month is about more than romantic cards and candlelit dinners – February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to shine a light on the importance of improving our heart health and preventing heart disease.

This year, the federally designated observance has taken on even greater significance, as the coronavirus can directly impact heart health. Recent research shows that in some cases COVID-19 may affect the heart and vascular system negatively.

COVID-19 has also impacted Americans’ health indirectly: with team sports and road races canceled for the season, and many gyms and fitness studios closed indefinitely, it’s been a lot harder to find ways to stay physically fit. Additionally, worldwide lockdowns make it tempting to spend all those hours at home eating poorly and drinking more alcohol. In excess, these behaviors can contribute to heart disease, which is already the leading cause of death in Hawai’i. In fact, stroke and cardiovascular disease are the cause of nearly 4,000 deaths statewide per year. Every year, more than 18,000 hospitalizations in Hawaii are the result of cardiovascular disease.

While heart disease continues to be the greatest health threat to Hawai’i residents, there is good news: cardiovascular disease is largely preventable!

Here are some of the American Heart Associations’ top ways to prevent cardiovascular disease:

1. Determine if you are at risk. Factors such as a family history of heart disease or kidney disease can increase your risk of heart disease. Smokers and those with conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high blood sugar are a greater risk.

Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes that reduce your risk of heart disease and prevent many cardiovascular conditions including: Having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.

From smoking to vaping to chewing, all tobacco products increase your risk of heart disease. Period. But quitting can be challenging!

Don’t go it alone and do not try to trade one tobacco product for another. Seek the help of your healthcare team and the support of your family and friends to become tobacco-free for good. Your heart and lungs will thank you! *

2. Determine what medication you should and should not take. If you have a preexisting health condition, work with a healthcare professional who can help you determine what medications will help to control your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Take all your prescribed medications as directed.

Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin, especially if you’ve never suffered a stroke or heart attack.* Taking aspirin daily has been known to actually cause health problems rather than prevent them. If you have had a stroke or heart attack, talk to your doctor about whether or not a low dose of aspirin will help you prevent another one.

3. Eat smarter. At first this may take some planning, but healthy eating can be fun and affordable! Take some time each week to plan your meals by finding dishes and recipes that are based on fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, plant-based proteins, and nuts. Families with limited resources can swap out red meat in recipes for fish and lean animal proteins.

Then create a shopping list based on the nutrient-dense meals you choose. If you do choose to purchase packaged foods, be sure to read the nutrition facts label and avoid products with added salts, sugars, trans fat, and saturated fats. When it comes to snacking and dining out, limit your intake of processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sweetened drinks.

4. Stay active. Work with a medical professional to lose weight if you are overweight. Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, there are an abundance of reasons to move more! *

Working out can improve your quality of sleep, help you focus, reduce stress… and it happens to be one of the best ways to prevent disease and protect your heart. Aim for a minimum of 75 minutes of brisk activity each week or 150 minutes of moderately-intense aerobic activity.

Here at PATH, one of our favorite ways to get active and maintain the health of our hearts is by biking! Studies suggest that if you bike as little as 20 miles per week, then you can decrease your chance of suffering from heart disease by around 50%.

Here’s the reason why:

Cycling recruits the large muscle groups in your legs to propel you forward, which gives your heart rate a boost and ultimately leads to improved cardiovascular fitness.

Not only is riding a bike an effective form of heart-friendly exercise, it’s also a fun form of recreation and even transportation. According to the American Heart Association,  biking can help you turn your commute into a workout, since you’ve already set that time aside to travel to work. Your bike can be your vehicle of transportation and your exercise equipment simultaneously!

On Hawai’i Island, cycling is now more accessible than ever! With multiple HIBIKE (formerly Bikeshare Hawaii Island) stations throughout Hilo and Kona, and more planned for the coming year, you can easily use the bikes as a great transportation option for the first or last mile of your commute to work or school, or just for fun and fitness. HIBIKE Membership is FREE to all Hele-On monthly pass holders.

Find out more about HIBIKE (formerly Bikeshare Hawaii) here: Hawai’i Bikeshare 

and HIBIKE for Mass Transit pass holders here: Hele-On, Ride On Hawai’i

And ride your way to a healthy heart this February!

* All content found in this blog post was created for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Before starting a new exercise program or beginning or stopping medications consult with your physician. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or disease. And never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the ER, or call 911 immediately.