Afterthoughts: Cycle City

How many bikes will fit into Waikīkī?

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Honolulu might be about to find out, thanks to a new bike-sharing program—Biki—scheduled to begin this month. It’s similar to programs you might have seen in other cities, including New York City; Portland, Oregon; London and Paris. Biki is promising 1,000 bikes at 100 self-serve rental stations around the city—just check out a bike at one station, ride to another, check it back in, walk away.


SEE ALSO: Honolulu’s First Bike-Sharing Program Brings 1,000 Bikes to the Streets June 28


I’m a daily cyclist, and am all for getting more bikes into regular use in Honolulu. But I’m also morbidly curious to see what kind of traffic hell is going to be unleashed on Waikīkī once hundreds of tourists unfamiliar with local laws and streets start bumbling around Kalākaua and Kūhiō avenues. According to the map of the Biki network, there are going to be more than 30 stations in Waikīkī, with space for 10 bikes each. Imagine 300 bikes added to the normal mix of Waikīkī traffic.

  Cycle city

illustration: kimberly salt


You know Waikīkī—it’s a dense, traffic-filled crunch of commuters, rental cars and gawking pedestrians, even on a good day. And I have to say, from personal experience, that it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, bike-friendly.


There are technically two bike lanes that run through Waikīkī, one westbound on Ala Wai, and the other eastbound on Kalākaua. The Ala Wai lane isn’t bad. It’s not physically separated from auto traffic, but it’s well-marked and reasonably wide.


The lane on Kalākaua, though, the busiest thoroughfare of the neighborhood, is sketchier. Long stretches are clearly defined by paint, if very narrow, but, then, midway through, the lane disappears as the road narrows right around the Cheesecake Factory and the Moana Surfrider. There are still “sharrow” symbols, indicating that cars must share the lane with bikes, but how many malihini cyclists—or drivers, for that matter—are going to understand that?


Add to the mix the lack of bike lanes on any of the cross streets, those weird all-way pedestrian crosswalks on Kalākaua and that, because it’s a special district, Waikīkī’s sidewalks are off-limits to bikes, and Biki-riding tourists are going to be in for a real adventure. I’m a confident cyclist, and even I think of Kalākaua as a stressful pedal.


What happens next? Well, I try to be an optimist in all things, so I’ll say first that it’s entirely possible the sudden appearance of crowds of cyclists in Waikīkī will spur some quick upgrades to the bike infrastructure there. Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been famously bike-friendly, pushing through the City Council first the King Street bike path and then, more recently, lanes on South and McCully streets. (Each one of these, I have to say, has been amazing for me, personally. I regularly bike into Waikīkī via McCully, a trip that was always dicey, squeezing between the moving traffic and the parked cars. The new lane turns that stretch into a breeze, a thrill that hasn’t yet worn off for me.)


But I think it’s also possible that Biki traffic will engender a backlash among impatient drivers, similar to the one that’s been happening on the Windward side as Japanese tourists cycle aimlessly the wrong way through Kailua Town. It’s a basic issue of territory, and I’m not sure there’s an easy way to make both drivers and cyclists happy, short of routing bike paths completely separate from automotive roads. Paris has the best implementation of this I’ve seen—many roads in the city are split down the middle to allow both a protected bike lane and a pedestrian walkway. Heaven.


We’re not likely to see anything like that in Waikīkī—the grid of roads and hotels is just too tight to accommodate anything luxurious. But I really do hope for the best—Honolulu will certainly benefit from having fewer cars on the road, and tourists, especially, will love seeing paradise from atop a bike. I just think I’ll avoid Waikīkī for a bit until the Biki fleet becomes the new normal.