Silent ride, loud message: Kona cyclists pedal to remember crash victims, promote road safety

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Retired District Court Judge Joseph Florendo speaks to cyclists before the Ride of Silence on Wednesday at the Kona Aquatics Center.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Kona Community Policing officers get ready to mount up for the Ride of Silence on Wednesday at the Kona Aquatics Center.

  • Cyclists and Kona Community Policing officers take part in the Ride of Silence on Wednesday.

    LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today

KAILUA-KONA — A little more than a week ago, Pam Harlow was cycling on Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Kiholo Bay when a southbound van sped past her in close enough proximity she could have reached her hand out and touched it.

The vehicle inappropriately used the merge lane there as an opportunity to pass another driver. If the van had slid even a foot or so farther to the right, Harlow might not have been riding Wednesday. She might not even have been breathing.

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“It happened so fast, there was nothing I could do,” she said. “I’ve had enough close calls that I know how quickly bad things can happen, even when you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing. Bad things still happen.”

Harlow, president of Hawaii Cycling Club, spent her Wednesday early evening participating in the Ride of Silence. The ride, a national event held annually on the third Wednesday of May, is intended to bring awareness and visibility to bicyclists and encourage safer, more level-headed interactions between those who pump the pedals and those who step on them behind the wheel.

The ride, the ninth in Kailua-Kona and which began at the Kona Community Aquatic Center and circled a 2-mile loop through Kailua Village, was dedicated to all those cyclists who lost their lives or were injured in accidents the past year.

One name that rang out Wednesday was that of James Sakai, who died in October after colliding with a pickup truck turning in to the airport off Queen Kaahumanu Highway. An avid member of the cycling community, Sakai was 61.

Joining in the silent ride were six police officers, four of whom accompanied around 20 riders who gathered to pedal together for a cause. Among them was Sgt. Roylen Valera.

“Sad to say, if you ask any one of us, we’ve had to respond to such terrible accidents involving bicyclists alone,” he said. “So I think bicycle safety is something we should all remind ourselves regularly about.”

Along with Hawaii Cycling Club and the Hawaii Police Department’s Community Policing Program, sponsors included Coffee Talk Riders and People’s Advocacy for Trails Hawaii.

Tina Clothier, executive director of PATH, was in attendance and spoke to cyclists before they embarked on the ride.

PATH’s attempts at trail-making stalled to a degree when the Hawaii County Council shot down Mayor Harry Kim’s proposed general excise tax, which would have provided funds for road improvements, including bike and pedestrian facilities.

Clothier said the next pathway likely to be built in Kailua-Kona will accompany the construction of Oneo Lane, a mauka-makai connector between Alii Drive and Kuakini Highway.

The current proposal for the connector is only about 600 feet long. However, Clothier said a trail accompanying such a connecting road would still be valuable. There is money for design but not construction of the road, Clothier added.

“That’s what it comes down to,” she said. “Money in the budget.”

The county Department of Public Works confirmed the road project has not yet been sent out to bid.

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Conversations also are happening at a state level about narrowing lanes from 12 to 11 feet, Clothier said, which would “slow traffic significantly.”

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.