A Travel Blog By: Erin Higa
I spent my recent holiday traveling through parts of Morocco and southern Spain via train, bus, ferry, the odd cab, and by foot. Along the way we stopped in the Moroccan cities of Casablanca, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier; as well as the Spanish cities of Seville, Granada, and Málaga. My favorite thing about the trip was just how easy it was to get everywhere that we traveled, without a car! Walkability, bikeability and urban density within the cities, as well as reliable and accessible transport between cities (by bus and train), made travel largely stress-free.
One day as I was en route to the nearest tapas bar, a block from our Seville apartment, I slowed my pace to appreciate the sun kissed brilliance of the tangerine trees lining the street (a common sight in Spain, as well as Morocco) and it dawned on me: life in Honolulu would be so much better if getting around were as easy and enjoyable as it was here. An ever-growing consensus of research and popular sentiment exclaim the positive effect that walkability and urban density have on the quality of life of the people who live in a city. Why is it such a struggle to achieve this in American cities?
Well, then it dawned on me: the ease of inner city travel and the convenience of urban density that I was currently experiencing, was no coincidence, or the result of modern planning. These were cities of antiquity with narrow cobblestoned streets, and dense, historic urban cores; home to sizable populations for hundreds of years. They were built for foot traffic, carts, and draught animals, not cars. I thought back to the Moroccan cities that we visited, each with its own l’ancienne medina or “old Medina,” completely inaccessible by car, where it doesn’t seem that much has changed (except cell phones) in at least a few hundred years. Within a five minute radius of our riad in the Medina of Fes was a carpet seller, a tiny convenience store, a sweet shop, a fresh produce stand (which included tangerines, of course), a spice shop, and multiple stalls serving up the seasonal Moroccan soup staple, bissara. A ten minute walk brought you to a little open square, where everything else you needed could be found, from jewelry, to clothes, to copper pots.
Parts of cities this old and dense, built for travel by foot and donkey, need very little as far as infrastructure to make them bike-friendly. The difficulty faced by city planners here, is in making these streets car-friendly, a much different struggle than the one faced by planning departments all over America (including Honolulu), trying to go back to the drawing board to add bike lanes, and to create complete streets. It’s funny how a visit to the old world, gave me a vision of the future…I hope.
A side note: Honolulu is becoming more walkable, bikeable, and in certain pockets, more dense, as the city and developers revamp sections of neighborhoods over time.
HHF has taken an active part in making Honolulu more bike-friendly by updating the O‘ahu Bike Plan for the City and County of Honolulu, and as an active Business supporter of the Hawai‘i Bicycling League. Here’s more from us on bikes: