By Tommy Noyes

Twenty-eight Hawai‘i Congress of Planning Officials conferees attended a bicycle mounted mobile tour. Their morning was dedicated to an eight-mile cruise on Ke Ala Hele Makalae, Kaua‘i’s ambitious coastal multi-use path system, and in the afternoon they went through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery project area that will soon transform Rice Street and the Lihu‘e Town core. Photo courtesy of Samantha Thomas

Hawai‘i’s four counties take turns hosting the annual Hawai‘i Congress of Planning Officials. Last year, it was Kaua‘i’s turn, and the County of Kaua‘i’s Planning Department orchestrated the event under the banner “The Tao of Planning.”

Balance was the key theme. The program explored challenges the planning field faces in seeking equilibrium between many competing needs and interests while moving our communities forward.

Crucial aspects of balance in managing development are the health impacts — whether negative or positive — to communities as their growth unfolds over the coming decades.

The health sector, including medical insurance providers, hospitals and public health officials, recognizes significant long-term benefits are possible when health considerations are carefully embedded in the community planning process. Communities around the world that have made healthy choices the easy choices have increased residents’ quality of life and markedly decreased the onset of preventable life-threatening chronic diseases.

“I bicycle in a postcard!” said Bev Brody in a story appearing on the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s website. They featured Ke Ala Hele Makalae  (Kaua‘i’s Eastside coastal path) as their August 2016 Trail of the Month. As director of Get Fit Kaua‘i, Brody promotes exercise and healthy eating on the island.

“It is such a joyous sight; everywhere you look, there are people enjoying some part of the trail. I never get tired of it,” she said.

A friend who lives in Ha‘ena called me to share a compelling experience. She and her husband biked up Ke Ala Hele Makalae to the pavilion overlooking Kuna Bay, North of Kealia Beach. They got into a conversation with another couple who were enjoying the sweeping ocean views from the rest pavilion. The folks were visiting from O‘ahu, and were both amazed and envious that Kaua‘i has such an awesome facility. They wondered why O‘ahu doesn’t have a path system this attractive.

My friend realized that building a world-class path system like ours takes determination and persistence. Several county mayors had to believe in the value of pursuing that ambitious goal and champion the project through challenges. Our mayors Yukimura, Kusaka, Baptiste and Carvalho have all shared a vision for this linear park that legally assures and protects the public’s access to our coast while promoting healthful and enjoyable physical activity.

We would not have our path system and the other improvements sprouting up around the island that support active lifestyles without serious effort going into planning the shape of our future. That only happens when planners, government officials and interested members of the public can share ideas and best practices for guiding the way toward communities that deliver on the promise to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Gatherings like the Hawai‘i Congress of Planning Officials help us win funding for projects like the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) award that will transform Rice Street and the Lihu‘e Town core.

Mahalo to all of you who creatively think about and support planning and building healthful communities.

  • Tommy Noyes is Kaua‘i Path’s executive director, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and active with the Kaua‘i Medical Reserve Corps.


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