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E-Bike enthusiasm! The next big leap in transportation

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 10, 2018

“E-bikes are a game-changer for people craving a more car-free lifestyle to carry cargo or kids, avoid parking and traffic woes, be more environmentally minded and have a more cost-effective form of transportation,” said Lee Chamberlain of RideSmart Maui. PHOTO BY SAMAN DIAS.

WEST MAUI – Bike-sharing programs and electric bikes (e-bikes) are a hot topic these days. Already being called the future of transportation, bicycles and e-bikes are creating a quiet revolution – people are rediscovering clean, quiet fun. By some estimates, U.S. sales skyrocketed nearly 70 percent in 2016 alone, and there’s no sign of a slowdown.

Lee Chamberlain from RideSmart Maui, Kahana, says that with an e-bike, you can easily maneuver through the Maui traffic in a safe, green and fun way.

Chamberlain provides those visiting Maui, as well as residents, an alternative means of transportation to travel and experience the island. E-bikes are just like a regular bicycle with a quiet, built-in electric hub motor to provide additional assistance when needed on hills and headwinds or to make the ride easier.

“E-bikes are popping up all over the Mainland,” said Chamberlain. “Many cities across the country are searching for ways to relieve car traffic congestion by improving bike infrastructure. On Maui, there are numerous bike lanes and a proposed 25-mile West Maui Greenway (WMG) that will transform the abandoned Cane Haul Road into a pedestrian-bicycle friendly community.”

For the past five years, Chamberlain has been involved on Maui with educating and advocating for the WMG through the Maui Bicycling League and through his business focus of renting and selling e-bikes.

The WMG is a proposed bike plan for West Maui that would establish a regional network of bikeways and pedestrian paths. The plan promotes residential communities that would provide convenient pedestrian and bicycle access between residences and neighborhood commercial areas, parks and public facilities. The vision is to minimize automobile use and prevent traffic congestion.

“When the WMG is completed, it will create one more reason why Maui is a tourist destination that our local economy can rely on,” Chamberlain said. “It seems so obvious to me that the WMG, a friendly, green, non-intrusive infrastructure, will enable residents and tourists to have a healthy, livable environment.”

Chamberlain continued, “The State of Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Bike Plan Hawaii 2003 outlined the establishment of a regional network of bikeways and pedestrian paths statewide. The goal is to reduce oil dependency and provide greater opportunity for mobility as a transportation alternative to the automobile.”

Bike Plan Hawaii serves as a blueprint to improve conditions for the thousands of people who are already bicycling and to encourage new users. It is a tool to integrate bicycling into the state’s transportation system and outlines how the state intends to accommodate and promote bicycling. It draws on a combination of existing and future bicycle facilities, policies and programs to ensure a successful bicycle network.

Additionally, Bike Plan Hawaii lists the proposed bicycle facilities in the WMG to the lower cane haul roads as a Priority One to be completed in less than ten years. This plan is supported in the Maui Island Plan and the West Maui Community Plan.

“I recommend that bike-pedestrian infrastructure, as exemplified in Bike Plan Hawaii, be implemented as an alternative to exclusively automobile infrastructure,” Chamberlain said. “Taxpayer dollars can go much further in construction of bikeways instead of highways, if done effectively and efficiently.”

Consistently seeing some funds go into the WMG, Chamberlain worries that it is only to appease advocates with results of a mile or so here or there.

“We need to establish a long-term strategy for bicycle facility improvements, enable better coordination between transportation and land-use planning, increase the ability to leverage funds for bicycle facilities, and achieve community consensus,” he said.

“Other islands are working towards implementation of bicycle projects,” Chamberlain noted. “The City and County of Honolulu are moving forward with some infrastructure in some areas of Honolulu through the Oahu Bicycle Master Plan. Their plan will guide the future implementation of bikeway improvements and support the growth of bicycling as a safe and convenient transportation option.”

Also, Kauai has a vision to connect communities via bike paths, linking towns with bicycle-friendly infrastructure in the inhabited areas of the entire island, from Kehaha in the south to Hanalei in the north. What is unique about this venture is that it is run by a community organization, Kauai Path Inc., which has the vision of Kauai residents working together to preserve, protect and extend access island-wide through the design, implementation and stewardship of non-motorized, multi-use paths.

“Many people ask me how to get bike infrastructure in their neighborhood,” Chamberlain mentioned. “It is needed and wanted everywhere, so we need to make some serious changes in the way we look at how people move throughout the islands.”

On Maui, portions of a path are installed but do not connect to destinations or other paths. So far, there appears to be a lack of funding and a real agreement to finish the WMG.

On the other hand, there is a consensus that having fewer vehicles will reduce traffic congestion, reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to Hawaii’s goal to eliminate fossil fuels by 2045.

Acknowledging the high cost to implement the full WMG project, Chamberlain said, “We might need to move forward in a different way. Perhaps it is forging a public-private partnership to empower an entity to economically create this new infrastructure or something aside from the way we are currently proceeding. We need to poke at the complicated system in a new way.”

The cost of a five-foot bicycle lane can range from approximately $5,000 to $535,000 per mile, with an average cost around $130,000. A paved multi-use trail can range in cost from approximately $65,000 per mile to more than $4 million per mile. An unpaved path can range from approximately $30,000 to $400,000 per mile.

“Although this sounds expensive, it is far less expensive than Hawaii highway construction,” Chamberlain explained.

“Hawaii is the third most expensive state nationally in which to construct highways, as shown by the West Maui Bypass cost of $100 million for 2.6 miles.”

He concluded, “We have much data from around the world that shows ‘if you build it, they will come.’ If we want to save the Hawaiian Islands and respect the Hawaiian culture, a strong stand should be taken to reduce automobile numbers and enable alternative transportation with safe bike-pedestrian pathways and bike-share programs tied to the resorts and Lahaina Town.”

RideSmart Maui offers numerous e-bike brands to meet Maui community needs. For more information on e-bikes, visit www.ridesmartmaui.com or call (808) 633-8553. For additional information on WMG, visit www.westmauigreenway.org.