They’re leavin’…leavin’…on that midnight plane to Georgia. With approximately 12 hours of flight time behind them and confused body clocks set to somewhere just past midnight Hawai‘i Standard Time, a tired but excited contingent of six representatives from Maui entered a conference room in Decatur, Georgia. The mission? To learn and begin work on a plan that hopes to become the backbone of walkable community design in Maui County for years to come.

Ten teams from across the nation were awarded a competitive grant to attend the 2019 Action Institute to Increase Walking and Walkability also known as the “Walkability Action Institute” or “WAI”. To be considered, applicant teams were required to put together a multidisciplinary team consisting of public health, planning, transportation, and elected officials and demonstrate the ability to influence walkable community design through policy, systems, and environmental activities.

The Maui County WAI team includes Mayor Michael Victorino, Team Leader and Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Lauren Armstrong, State of Hawai‘i Na Ala Hele Maui Council Member Donna Clayton, Planning Long Range Division Administrator Pam Eaton, Healthy Eating Active + Living Coalition Community Coordinator Lauren Loor, and County Traffic Engineer Nolly Yagin.

Over the course of four days, the team participated in an aggressive agenda, covering topics such as public health, transportation and land use planning, the role of socioeconomics in walkable communities, disabilities, community engagement, private-public partnerships, safe routes to school, and safe bicycling.

Indoor classwork was balanced by outdoor teachable moments including a “Scavenger Hunt” covering almost seven miles of cityscape from Decatur to the outskirts of downtown Atlanta. The hunt required groups to use the public rapid transit system and walk a portion of the Atlanta BeltLine Multi-use trail while seeking and experiencing examples of topics covered in the classroom. The course culminated with presentations by each team explaining the key parts of the Action Plan they developed during after class hours and outlining next steps to help make the community they represent more walkable and, as a result, healthier.

Some important take-away information:

  • Approximately 75 percent of Maui residents feel that diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and lack of physical activity is a major problem.
  • A daily 15-30 minute walk can reduce your risk of or improve survival chances with heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer and a host of other health concerns. Walking can help to control blood sugar. It even boosts creativity.
  • 365,000 Americans die every year from chronic diseases related to a lack of physical activity.
  • Less than 10% of people get the daily recommended 30 minutes of physical activity.
  • Walking is reported as the most common type of leisure time physical activity.
  • And finally…today’s children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than that of their parents due to obesity and the chronic diseases linked to inactivity.

Sidewalks and paths are only one part of making Maui more walkable. Walkability also factors in traffic conditions such as vehicle speeds and volumes, land use patterns, development projects, accessibility, user experience, and safety. The WAI provided the Maui group with the knowledge and resources to implement a walkability plan.

Two in five people who responded to a Maui County survey do not feel (or feel only slightly) safe from traffic while walking in their neighborhoods. Individually and as a community, everyone should be able to enjoy walking. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of walking, making our community more walkable gives us one tool to help make our community healthier.

Authored by Nolly Yagin, County Traffic Engineer, Department of Public Works, County of Maui. For more information on the HEAL Coalition for Maui, Molokai and Lānaʻi, please contact the HEAL Community Coordinator, Lauren Loor, at lauren@hiphi.org.