Natalie Iwasa and family
Natalie Iwasa and family on bikes

BY NATALIE IWASA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report that indicates Hawaii’s obesity rate among adults is just under 22% or the second lowest in the nation.  This is nothing to cheer about, however.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 28.5% of children ages 10 – 17 were overweight or obese in 2007 and about the same percentage of children entering kindergarten are also overweight or obese.  Some of the reasons given for this increase include supersized portions, more “screen time” and less physical activity.  While Hawaii has some of the best weather in the world year-round, some people, parents in particular, do not feel comfortable biking or walking even short distances.  In addition, improvements in our infrastructure that would motivate more people to bike or walk to their destinations takes years.

For example, Hawaii has received approximately $7 million in federal funding under the Safe Routes to School program.  The program started in 2005, yet as of June 30, 2012, Hawaii was tied for second to last in the United States for the amount of federal funding obligated and dead last in the amount of awards announced.1  Thirty percent of funding under this program may be used for non-infrastructure projects such as education.  The remainder is to be used for infrastructure, e.g., projects such as building sidewalks and installing bicycle facilities.  Fortunately, other places around the world provide better models of active communities.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the bicycle commute rate is about 50% in town and about 33% from the suburbs.  A bike superhighway 14 miles long was recently opened.  Transportation leaders in that country hope to increase the bicycle commute rate from suburbs to town to 50%.

In Bogota, Columbia, approximately 75 miles of roadways are closed to motorized traffic each week.  Over a million people participate in Bogota’s, weekly ciclovias.  (Ciclavias translates into English as “bike paths,” and are often referred to as “car-free days” or “open streets” on the Mainland.)  In addition to providing bicyclists and pedestrians usage of the roads free of motorized traffic, these events include a variety of physical activities such as aerobics classes, dancing and yoga.  The benefits of these events go well beyond improving health and include positive impacts on the environment, the economy and society in general.

In an effort to encourage people, families in particular, to become more physically active on Oahu and to demonstrate how easy it can be to take short trips via bike, several bicyclists and community members have been busy planning Hawaii’s first cyclovia (spelled with a “y” to tie to “cycling”).

Hele On Kailua will be held Sunday, August 26, and will be kicked off with the Hele On Kailua 5k run at 10 a.m.  Escorted rides will be available from Hekili Street to Enchanted Lake Community Park at 11:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. and the Hawaii Marine Corps Base at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.  Bicycling skills 123 for youth will be taught at Enchanted Lake Community Park at noon and 1 p.m.  The escorted rides and bicycle education courses provide a way for inexperienced riders to practice riding in a group with others.

Other activities include zumba, a boot camp class, children’s games, wellness tests, yoga and BMX demonstrations and bike maintenance.  Bike shops and various other vendors will provide information on healthy living and active lifestyles.  A Cycle On Runway will provide a spotlight for bike shops and clubs as well as race teams to describe their services to the public.  Unusual bikes will be highlighted to show the variety of options available to those who might not be interested in the high-tech bikes seen on our roadways.

The timing of this event also provides an opportunity for the public to learn about healthy and active transportation from a national expert.  Gary Toth, Director, Transportation Initiatives with the Project for Public Spaces, will be assisting county and state transportation planners with implementation of Complete Streets policies the week of August 26 and will give cyclovia participants an overview of ways to integrate transportation and land use.

It took decades for us to move from play-in-the-streets days and a bike- and walk-to-school rate of 48% among children 5 to 14 years old to only 13% in 2009.2  It will likely take as long to return to those levels.  In order to hasten that change, a variety of opportunities to promote and encourage biking and other physical activities are required.  Helmets and prizes will be given away during the day (while supplies last) to motivate participation in Hawaii’s first cyclovia.

1 Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Safe Routes to School Federal Program – State of the States As of June 30, 2012.

2The National Center for Safe Routes to School (2011). How Children Get to School: School Travel Patterns from 1969 to 2009.

More information on Hele On Kailua can be found at HawaiiCyclovia.org or on Facebook at Cyclovia-Hawaii.

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