On weekday mornings three times a week, Hawaii Kai resident Natalie Iwasa rides her bicycle with her two sons to Honolulu Waldorf School. The route takes them down Lunalilo Home Road, and then down Kalanianaole Highway. The trip is five-and-a-half miles long and takes about 30 minutes.
Iwasa has been biking with her kids, who are now 13 and 9, for years. But her efforts to encourage biking extend far beyond her own family. As a part of her ongoing efforts to increase bicycling in the community, she has started what is known as the Bike School Bus. Kids from the neighborhood can join Iwasa and her sons on the route to school. And just like a regular school bus, the group makes various stops along the way to drop off kids at different schools.
“I have ridden a bike for most of my life,” says Iwasa, who is a CPA with a private practice. “And I want to make things better for my two boys. I actually want kids to be able to play and to feel free to run around and walk and bike. And these days, it is just not like that … I am just really concerned about the obesity rate and the lack of physical activity that a lot of kids experience, and I just think it is really important for us to do something about that.”
In order to encourage kids to ride their bikes, Iwasa has been instrumental in promoting a program called Safe Routes to School. At the end of last school year, she helped kick off a schoolwide bike or walk to school day at Waldorf, and the students achieved 58 percent participation.
In addition to these efforts, Iwasa has been involved with bicycle-related legislation and has taught bicycle safety classes. She has been active in advocating for biking since Charter Amendment 8, an initiative to make Honolulu more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, went before the City in 2006. It was during her efforts to promote the amendment that others in the community began calling her Bike Mom – a nickname that has stuck with her through the years.
Iwasa’s goals for this school year include establishing the bike or walk to school days as a monthly activity. She also is working to promote cyclovias – an event that blocks off a street to cars in order to encourage walking or biking. One is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 26 on Hekili Street in Kailua. The event will include escorted bike riding on two different bike paths. For more information, visit cycloviahawaii.com.
“I would like to see bike racks at school full off bikes and I would like to see bike racks in our parks,” Iwasa says. “And I would like to get back to the days when more than 50 percent of kids biked or walked to school … If we had that, I would probably still keep pushing for more, but I would be pretty satisfied if we got to that point.”