A tricycle provides admirable stability in a perilous world dominated by cars.
When I bought my adult tricycle, I was met with two very different responses from the guys at the bike store. Off Road Scooters Electric
One of them said, sincerely, “It’s great you’re finding a way to keep riding.”
The other guy, puzzled, asked bluntly, “How come you don’t get a regular bike?”
Though I’ve had the trike for two years now, pretty much every response I’ve encountered has been a variation of one of those two reactions.
The latter, less empathetic response is not entirely unwarranted. The term “adult tricycle” lends itself to disparagement; anything clarified by the word “adult” before it, whether it’s a diaper or a film or a tricycle, is usually accompanied by some degree of shame and embarrassment.
And most of my fellow three-wheelers are either twice my age, or have some sort of injury or disability. I’m just not that confident riding a regular bike to work.
Part of that is because I learned to ride a bike later in life and then proceeded to rarely ride one, but part of that is because the commute itself is kind of sketchy, despite being only about 20 to 25 minutes.
Though the last stretch of my commute is on the single most pedestrian-friendly road in Kailua, for the first 10 to 15 minutes there’s basically no sidewalk, just thin patches of grass that separate the road from the walls at the edge of property lines. Cyclists of all kinds then have to choose between sharing the road with cars, or sharing 18-24 inches of grass with pedestrians and other riders.
If you only ever drive, you may not be aware just how dangerously obnoxious cars can be. Inattentive drivers can drift precariously close without noticing, and even when they do notice cyclists, the frustration from being momentarily inconvenienced by a slower vehicle regularly causes drivers to speed up and around them with little regard for anyone else on the road. Now that cars are roughly the size of WWII-era tanks, the lack of adequate infrastructure makes biking (and triking) needlessly threatening.
“In the U.S. we’ve just come to accept that people in vehicles are very dangerous for people who are on bikes, on foot, scooters, wheelchairs – anybody who’s not in a vehicle,” says David Ho, bike enthusiast and professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s getting worse. Traffic fatalities are going up, and it’s all people outside of vehicles who are dying.”
In 2021, 63 of the 94 people who died in car accidents in Hawaii were not in cars.
Hawaii’s infrastructure deficiencies are comprehensive: narrow or nonexistent sidewalks; bike lanes that only sporadically differ from the regular street; a dearth of bike racks, let alone ones that protect from the rain; and crosswalks that are hard to discern. We’ve relinquished most of our physical space to accommodate cars, even in places like Kailua that should be bikeable.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When I lived in Seoul, a city with seven times the population of Hawaii in less than half the land area of Oahu, it was significantly safer for people outside of cars. Sidewalks were wide enough to comfortably accommodate bikes, e-bikes and a substantial number of pedestrians.
Because the city was not designed to give automobiles supreme deference – and because it also boasts one of the world’s best and cheapest mass transit systems – it’s rare to see the kind of tank-sized trucks that are popular here; they’re just inconvenient. Most cities in Europe and Asia are like that, and many cities in America are starting to molt into something similar.
There are obvious health benefits that come along with more exercise incorporated into more daily routines, whether that’s biking to work, to get groceries or somewhere else. And the fewer combustion engines in daily operation, the better for everyone on the planet.
“The biggest thing is to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Ho.
Although Hawaii is not collectively responsible for large amounts of emissions, “per capita Hawaii is just like anyone else.” Encouraging feasible alternatives to car travel is one way to reduce emissions, on top of everything else.
There is also a significant psychological change when you drive less. For drivers, “there’s this loss of a sense of community,” says Ho. “When we drive, oftentimes we don’t encounter another human being. We get into our cars, we drive, then we get to our destination, maybe we talk to the check-out person and that’s it. Whereas when you’re cycling, you’ll say hello to whoever you encounter. You interact more with people. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of interaction.”
This tracks with my experience triking to work in the mornings. I exchange familiar smiles, shakas and good mornings with the regulars, even though I’ve never actually met them and don’t know their names. Sometimes I see old friends I haven’t seen in a while and we briefly catch up in the collapsing space between us before we’re behind each other. It feels more human than being in car traffic.
The other side of that is other people don’t feel like obstacles the way they do when you drive.
“When you’re in a car, you’re in competition with everyone else on the road for space,” Ho says. “Cyclists don’t feel the same way. It doesn’t feel like they’re in my way. There’s not like a traffic jam because of more bicycles.”
Part of the beauty of the adult tricycle is that it makes a fundamental mode of transportation and leisure accessible to nearly everyone, regardless of age, ability or physical fitness. That’s how our infrastructure should operate, too. People commuting from Ewa Beach to work in town likely won’t be biking to work and back, but there are plenty of locations across the islands that can be made more bike and pedestrian friendly.
This may seem like a niche concern for a niche community, but I see it as something like curb cuts. Curb cuts were done to accommodate people with disabilities, and while they were intended to benefit people who use wheelchairs, they also help people on walkers or crutches, people with bad knees, people pushing baby strollers or shopping carts or suitcases, rollerbladers – everyone, really.
Renovating our infrastructure to become more pedestrian, bike and trike friendly is another example of curb cutting: making things better for a particular purpose, and in doing so making things better for everyone.
By Vicky Cayetano · October 25, 2022 · 6 min read
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Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.
Great! More bikes and trikes. By almost any measure, bikes and trikes are great around town - short errand and commuter - transport: Health, efficiency, environment, social connections, cost. Now, how do we get HI DOT on board?
Those are the "crashes", not "accidents". "Accident" implies that such events are inevitable, and thus no action can or should be taken to prevent them. It also absolves drivers for those instances when they are to blame.
If there were no designated bike lanes available, I've always wondered why bicyclists couldn't ride on the sidewalk and were required to ride on the road.A collision with a bicycle and a car would more likely result in a fatality than a bicycle and a pedestrian.
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