So far this year, there have been eight pedestrians killed on O‘ahu’s roads. Advocates say one solution includes revamping streets to make them safer for all users, whether on bike, car or foot.
Jared Christenot meets me on a busy Kalihi street, outside Kaewai Elementary. He works at Kōkua Kalihi Valley, a nonprofit community health center. That busy street we’re on, Kamehameha IV Road, connects Likelike highway with North School Street. Big semis and trucks whizz by the largely residential neighborhood. Next door is a middle school and a district park.
“A lot of students walk to and from these facilities,” said Christenot. “Ensuring that you have a safe environment around you is critical.”
This area, and Kalihi in general, has been battling traffic safety and speeding issues for decades, says Christentot, who also runs a program through Kōkua Kalihi Valley called KVIBE, a bike shop across the street.
“Our parking lot is actually on Kam IV Road,” said Christenot, who told me employees have to cross the road to get to work. “We’ve had staff hit on that road. There are a lot of accidents because it’s a four lane road. You’re not really able to see people who want to cross.”
Christenot said it’s especially dangerous for the neighborhood’s older residents. “[This is] a community with multiple generations living together, a lot of elders in homes,” he explained. “Making sure that they feel safe walking on our sidewalks and crossing the road is very important.”
On a personal note, my own great grandmother was struck by a drunk driver half a century ago, when she was crossing this very road.
“This road really was designed exclusively for cars,” said Daniel Alexander, advocacy and planning director with Hawai‘i Bicycling League. Last year, he partnered with Kōkua Kalihi Valley to rally for a bike lane on this road, citing a city ordinance passed in 2012 called Complete Streets. “That means that we would take every opportunity with projects to look at how we can make the road safer for those that walk, bike, drive.”
One year—and several community meetings—later, their work has finally paid off. The City and County of Honolulu recently finished the $3.19 million project. Today Kamehameha IV Road is repaved and restriped, complete with a new dedicated bike lane. It’s something Jared Christenot believes is a lesson to be applied elsewhere.
“When there is a repavement project, we want to have voices in that repavement project,” he said. “Making sure that it takes in all users of that road, not just first and foremost cars.”
The community plans to gather this afternoon at Kaewai Elementary starting at 2:30 p.m. to celebrate the new road.