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PATH-Maui Advocates for a Walkable South Maui

Organization proposes pedestrian underpass for the Pi‘ilani Highway: safe routes to Kihei High School, proposed neighborhoods and commercial developments.

October 17, 2013
Celeste Keele - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

"Why walk, when you can drive?" Some concerned community members on Maui are eager to answer that question. Public Access Trails Hawai'i-Maui (PATH-Maui) advocates for public access to hiking trails, and walking and biking paths. Moreover, PATH-Maui members want to "reestablish walking as a culturally fundamental transportation" by creating a walkable South Maui, connecting existing paths, building more of them, and making South Maui a safer and more enjoyable place in which to travel on foot with health, environmental and cultural benefits.

Joe Bertram III, lifelong Maui resident and former state representative for South Maui, is a founding member of PATH-Maui.

Bertram explained the importance of walking on this island: This is the way people traveled on these islands; this is our heritage.

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Joe Bertram III, lifelong Maui resident and former state representative for South Maui, is a founding member of PATH-Maui.

"It's a shame that we seem to have neglected the importance of walking, especially because of the special history of the Hawaiian Islands," Bertram said. "Walking is not only a cleaner method of transportation--it is the original method of transportation. The Polynesians who first arrived here crossed Hawai'i's broad beaches and green valleys on foot. Like Eddie Pu [see "PATH-Maui" sidebar], they observed the wonders of nature around them, listening to the sounds of the wind and stopping to gather plants that could ease all sorts of aches and pains" (Star, Vol. 12, Issue 70 - Sunday, March 11, 2007).

PATH-Maui wants paths to become "the preferred link for Hawai'i's people, because they will provide easy and safe connections between homes, businesses, schools, shopping and other commuter oriented destinations."

How would this affect our daily lives in Kihei? The Maui Weekly joined Bertram on a walk to find out.

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Navigating through the dirt piles and scrub brush of Ka'ono'ulu Gulch underneath the Pi'ilani Highway on Wednesday, Oct. 9, International Walk to School Day, Bertram enthusiastically explained the cultural, spiritual, communal and physical importance of paths and walking. He wants to see this area turned into a path for use by future high school students and Kihei residents who want to cross safely under the highway.

This undeveloped corridor is important, said Bertram, because it is a direct connection between two busy neighborhoods. Kenolio dead-ends there, and Waipuilani and the bike path on Liloa Drive are on the other side of the gulch--and from here, inaccessible. In addition, some major developments are slated for this area mauka of the highway.

There are many such small, forgotten tracts of land in Kihei, with roads and paths leading nowhere. But this one is of special importance, Bertram stressed, especially now that Kihei High School will be built on one side of the gulch and the proposed commercial development will surely be built on the other. There will be a need for a safe place for students to walk to and from school, and a safe and fun route for families to access new shopping centers and new neighborhoods, he said.

Bertram hopes this can be a start of smart planning for what he hopes to be an "Uptown Kihei," complete with paths and trails and mixed-use neighborhoods.

"This will be a long project, creating a trail system," said Bertram, "but well worth it."

Bertram and PATH-Maui propose that the Kulanihakoi streambed be developed "as a trail that is a safe route to school and that provides a pedestrian underpass for the Pi'ilani Highway and implements our open-space community master plan. The trail also provides pedestrian access to the proposed 'uptown' development in Kihei."

Bertram has been an advocate of paths in Kihei for a long time.

"It's something I've wished for Kihei since I was a kid," he said. He would ask himself, "Why can't Kihei be walkable and beautiful and the 'jewel of the Pacific?'"

Bertram explained that so much has been lost here in South Maui in terms of the environment and culture, but most notably, the native plants and wetlands.

"Kihei used to be known as the shimmering necklace of Maui, for the string of wetlands you could see from Upcountry, bordered by beautiful native plants," said Bertram.

"This is something we can do," he continued. "We just need to start doing it--re-creating, honoring, and bringing those wetlands and plants back."

It starts with the trails, he said, and remembering what it is like to walk on the land, enjoying native plants and the silence away from traffic. He talked about the health benefits of walking for adults and children, and how an increased number of studies highlight the health benefits of walking regularly and the importance of teaching these healthy habits to our children.

Bertram also talked about how it makes our community more fun and more social, having these paths and getting out on them, seeing and talking to other people regularly.

According to PATH-Maui's Website, "As a result of these trails, community bonds have strengthened and both children and adults are more physically and mentally healthy."

"Let's start putting these trails in," pleaded Bertram. He asked the community to "please join us--please help us."

What would need to happen to provide high school students, families and commuters access to "uptown" development across the highway? According to Bertram, first, the area needs to be cleaned up. This is volunteer work. Second, all the plants and shrubs need to be removed and "a wreath of native plants" put back in their place. Third, rights of way and corridors need to be established. In other words, the county and the new developers need to support the project. That will take the community getting interested and involved, "especially if you are a proponent of the new high school and are concerned about safety for all these students crossing the highway to get to school," insisted Bertram.

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