When I purchased my adult tricycle, I encountered two very different responses from the guys at the bike shop.

One said sincerely, “It’s great that you find a way to keep riding.

The other guy, puzzled, asked bluntly, “How come you don’t have a regular bike?”

Although I’ve had the trike for two years now, pretty much every response I’ve encountered has been a variation of one of these two reactions.

This last, less empathetic response is not entirely unjustified. The term “adult tricycle” lends itself to denigration; anything clarified by the word “adult” in front of it, whether it’s a diaper, a movie, or a tricycle, usually comes with some degree of shame and embarrassment .

And most of my three-wheeled buddies are either twice my age or have some sort of injury or disability. I’m just not so sure about riding a regular bike to work.

Part of that is because I learned to ride a bike later in life and then rarely rode one, but part of that is because the ride itself is pretty sketchy , although it only lasts about 20-25 minutes.

Although the last stretch of my ride was on Kailua’s most pedestrian-friendly road, for the first 10-15 minutes there was virtually no sidewalk, just thin patches of grass separating the road from the walls at the edge of property lines. Cyclists of all kinds must then choose between sharing the road with cars or sharing 18 to 24 inches of grass with pedestrians and other cyclists.

If you’re just driving, you might not know how dangerously nasty cars can be. Inattentive drivers can drift precariously without noticing, and even when they notice cyclists, the frustration of being momentarily inconvenienced by a slower vehicle regularly causes drivers to speed up and steer around them without regard to others. on the road. Now that cars are roughly the size of World War II tanks, the lack of proper infrastructure makes cycling (and triking) unnecessarily threatening.

“In the United States we have just accepted that people in vehicles are very dangerous for people on bicycles, on foot, on scooters, in wheelchairs – anyone who is not in a vehicle,” says David Ho, cycling enthusiast and professor of oceanography. at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s getting worse. Road deaths are on the rise and everyone outside of vehicles is dying.

In 2021, 63 of the 94 people who died in car crashes in Hawaii were not in cars.

Josh Conner shows off his adult tricycle
Josh Conner’s adult tricycle offers admirable stability on car-dominated streets. Courtesy: Erin Conner

Hawaii’s infrastructure shortcomings are complete: narrow or non-existent sidewalks; cycle paths that differ only sporadically from the ordinary street; a shortage of bike racks, let alone ones that protect from the rain; and difficult-to-discern crosswalks. We’ve given up most of our physical space to accommodate cars, even in places like Kailua that should be bikeable.

It doesn’t have to be that 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 much safer for people outside of cars. The sidewalks were wide enough to comfortably accommodate bicycles, e-bikes and a significant number of pedestrians.

Because the city was not designed to give supreme deference to automobiles – and because it also has one of the best and cheapest public transport systems in the world – it’s rare to see the kind of tank-sized trucks that are popular here; they are just annoying. Most cities in Europe and Asia are like this, and many cities in America are starting to turn into something similar.

There are clear health benefits that come with more exercise incorporated into more daily routines, whether that’s cycling to work, to grocery shopping or elsewhere. And the fewer combustion engines in daily operation, the better for everyone on the planet.

“The most important thing is to stop burning fossil fuels,” Ho says.

Although Hawaii is not collectively responsible for large amounts of emissions, “Hawaii per capita 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 the drivers, “there’s this loss of sense of community,” Ho says. “When we’re driving, we often don’t encounter any other human beings. We get in our cars, we drive, then we arrive at our destination, maybe we talk at check-out and that’s it. Whereas when you ride a bike, you say hello to everyone you meet. You interact more with people. There is a lot to be said for this kind of interaction.

This matches my experience of commuting to work in the morning. I exchange familiar smiles, shakas and good mornings with the regulars, even though I’ve never 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 finding ourselves behind each other. It’s more human than being in car traffic.

The other side of it is that other people don’t feel like obstacles like they do when you’re driving.

“When you’re in a car, you’re competing with everyone else on the road for space,” Ho says. “Cyclists don’t feel the same way. I don’t feel like they bother me. There is not like a traffic jam because of more bikes.

Part of the beauty of the adult tricycle is that it is a fundamental mode of transportation and recreation that is accessible to almost anyone, regardless of age, ability, or fitness level. This is how our infrastructure should also work. People commuting from Ewa Beach to work in town probably won’t be cycling there and back, but there are plenty of places 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 sidewalk cuts. Sidewalk cuts were made 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 strollers or shopping carts or suitcases, rollerbladers – everyone, really.

Renovating our infrastructure to make it more pedestrian, bicycle and tricycle friendly is another example of sidewalk cutting: making things better for a particular purpose, and in the process making things better for everyone.