Mayor Caldwell's vision for a modern, multi-modal Honolulu
Summit (S): What was the impetus for your administration’s push to make Honolulu a more multi-modal, bike-friendly city?
Kirk Caldwell (KC): We need to find a better way to grow and get around without the only solution being to build more roads. Honolulu enjoys the perfect climate for walking and bicycling. If we commit to make those modes safer by building protected bike lanes that give cyclists safe places to ride on the street and get them off the sidewalks, we will have moved the needle in transitioning Honolulu from a car-centric community into a multi-modal community. A multi-modal community adopts Complete Streets’ principles, where our greatest public spaces, our streets, are accessible for people of all ages and abilities to walk, ride bicycles, use public transportation, or drive.
S: Honolulu has long been known as a relatively dangerous city for cyclists. The city’s initial development was geared almost exclusively for automobile transportation and there is limited space to expand roads and add bike lanes. What are some of the strategies your administration has come up with to tackle these problems?
KC: The Complete Streets ordinance became law in Honolulu in 2012. My administration has focused on turning good policy into good projects that will improve the quality of life for Honolulu’s residents and visitors alike. Not only have we implemented stand-alone projects like the King Street Protected Bike Lane, but we have used roadway resurfacing projects as opportunities to go in and rethink the use of our streets. For example, the Wai‘alae Avenue resurfacing project allowed us to design safer bike lanes and sharrows in an important corridor that leads from East O‘ahu to the University of Hawai‘i. We are now looking for opportunities to improve and expand our bike lane and pedestrian system throughout the county.
S: Can you talk a little more about the Complete Streets initiative—what that means, what the end goal is, who the city has partnered with to develop the initiative, what other cities your administration is looking to as models, etc.?
KC: Complete Streets is about making our roadways safe and accessible for people of all ages, abilities, and modes of transportation. AARP Hawaii and the Hawaii Bicycling League have been great partners. Since 2013, the city has expanded its partnerships to include community groups, neighborhood boards, the Honolulu City Council, advocacy groups and private industry, all with a goal of delivering meaningful Complete Streets improvements in communities island-wide. The city is also producing a Complete Streets Design Manual which will insure consistency in design. The manual should be out by the end of this year.
We’ve had the opportunity to examine Complete Streets best practices from around the U.S., including places like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Minneapolis. While we cast a wide net to see what works elsewhere, new initiatives always begin here where we work with communities to adapt concepts that have been successful in other places to fit O‘ahu’s needs, like the protected bike lane or parklets.
S: Why is the initiative important to your administration; why is it important for your constituents?
KC: It’s important for my administration for the same reason it is important for our constituents: It is good policy that will reduce Honolulu’s dependence on motor vehicles and imported fossil fuel. It will also promote a healthier, cleaner and safer environment for all.
S: When the King Street bike lane was first proposed, were businesses along King Street hesitant to give up that extra lane, for fear it would impact their business? Is there any data showing the effects the bike lane and other Complete Streets features have had on business?
KC: During the planning phase of the King Street protected bike lane project, Department of Transportation Services staff visited businesses along King Street to notify them of upcoming changes and to discuss their concerns. Most businesses either supported the idea or had no major objections to removing a travel lane to put in a bikeway. In fact, 21 businesses agreed to go on record saying they supported the project. After the bike lane opened, a few businesses expressed concern about the safety of traffic entering driveways. This was addressed when the city removed several parking spaces near driveways to increase visibility.
Although we don’t have data on business activity here yet, other cities have reported increased business after installing protected bike lanes. In New York City, after the construction of a protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49 percent increase in retail sales. Studies in Toronto, in Davis, California and in Portland, Oregon have found that customers who arrive at businesses by bike spend the same amount or more per month, depending on the type of business, as compared to people who arrive by car.
S: How does complete streets tie-in with other city development projects such as the rail project and transit-oriented development (TOD)? How has your administration shifted development plans to reflect the vision for a multi-modal city?
KC: Complete Streets complements the city’s rail transit project and transit-oriented development by enhancing the walkability of neighborhoods surrounding future rail stations. Allowing people to spend less time driving is a major goal for Complete Streets, the rail project and TOD. Within my administration we have a TOD subcabinet comprised of representatives from key city departments, including transportation, planning and permitting, parks and design and construction, that meets weekly to coordinate plans for development around all the rail stations.
S: Kaka‘ako seems to be “ground zero” for this process. Can you talk a little about the neighborhood and its unique profile? What sort of challenges and opportunities does Kaka‘ako present in terms of realizing the vision of a modern, intelligently-developed city?
KC: Kaka‘ako is unique in that it was placed under the control of the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority in 1978 and the city has not played a major role in planning its development. The State of Hawai‘i has done a great job in investing in the infrastructure to facilitate the development of a dense, walkable urban neighborhood and we have been coordinating with them as much as possible. The continued buildout of Kaka‘ako will provide badly needed housing in the heart of Honolulu. But we need to keep pushing for more affordable housing in the mix to ensure this area can be a place for residents of all income levels to live, work and play.
S: What are the main obstacles still remaining between where we are now and where your administration would like the city to be, in terms of a multi-modal, mixed-use, TOD-based city?
KC: TOD in Honolulu will take years, if not decades, to realize its full potential. In the meantime, we must do our best to mitigate the growing pains that come in the form of construction and related traffic problems. We need to manage our traffic congestion and also keep building protected bike lanes while making the city safer for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. And while it takes time to lay this great framework for our city’s future, this is also an opportunity to do things better. It gives us a chance to engage communities, develop plans and make adjustments, to better incorporate the people’s vision into Honolulu’s future.