Mother touts bicycle awareness

Her passion stems from her belief in bicycle riding as a way of life. She extols it like a used-car salesman.

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Published March 18, 2007 by The Honolulu Advertiser
By Suzanne Roig 

HI — Many have seen Natalie Iwasa riding on her navy-blue bicycle, with one child in a seat in front and the other riding his bike attached to the back.

Bicycle safety, bicycle space and bicycle awareness. This is Iwasa's mantra that she pitches whenever she can and to whomever will listen. Her passion stems from her belief in bicycle riding as a way of life. She extols it like a used-car salesman. Quick talking and to the point: You see things on a bicycle that normally you don't experience in a car — you smell the world, you feel the misty rain.

And you have to dodge cars.

Iwasa isn't alone with her desire to make the community more bike-friendly. In last year's election, more than 77 percent of voters supported a ballot question amending the City Charter to make bike-friendly a priority for the city.

Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club Hawai'i director, said that bicycle safety and awareness needs more supporters. But support is difficult to amass as many people feel unsafe on Hawai'i roadways.

"People are afraid to get on their bikes," Mikulina said. "Therefore there's no constituency putting pressure on the issue. But I'm confident it will snowball as soon as we have more folk out there biking as a way of life. It's healthy. It's good for the environment and the traffic situation."

That's why Iwasa has made it her mission to remind the community to share the road. She regularly attends monthly neighborhood board meetings and has asked the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board several times to put her on the agenda so she can pass along her safety tips. Since May is bike safety month, she'd like to pass along what she knows.

"Bicycling is a big part of my life," said the 44-year-old Iwasa. "People need to be aware of bicycles and pedestrians. They're out there. I drill safety and awareness into my sons. I've done a lot of prep work with my 8-year-old son. My kids are probably tired of hearing me say these things."

Twice a week, she and her sons ride from their home in upper Kamiloiki Valley to Honolulu Waldorf School in Niu Valley. The 10-mile roundtrip trek takes them along roads clogged with commuters, on gutters covered in leaves and litter. They deal with cars pulling into and out of driveways, a big safety hazard for cyclists.

"My office is in my home, so I don't have a commute, and I have a supportive husband," Iwasa said. "I don't watch TV. This all allows me to be active in the community, do my work and be involved with my family."

Bicycling with her sons has created many memories for Iwasa. Some were scary, but most are the kind she'll long remember: the smell of wildflowers in Kamilo Nui Valley, the feel of the cooling breeze, the feel of a misty rain on her face. And then there's the life lessons: discipline, teamwork and exercise.

"I really try to teach my sons to have a minimal impact on the Earth," she said.

Iwasa, a Wisconsin native, came to Hawai'i Kai in 1986 to work for her uncle's company. When she moved here, she came with her bicycle, her sewing machine and her clothes.

The bike she uses today isn't the same one; it got smashed by an accident involving the garage door. Now she rides her 15-speed bicycle.

She became involved in bike safety and in leading an effort to block roadway improvements on Kaluanui Road that would have narrowed the roadway in an attempt to make it safer for motorists but narrower for bicyclists.

"I now have my son wanting to ride alone," Iwasa said. "I now want to make sure the bike paths are maintained."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com