KAILUA-KONA — Ironman week is upon us.
Approximately 2,500 athletes ready to take on the Ironman World Championship joined by their family, friends and crew are piling into Kailua-Kona for the even that gets underway Saturday morning.
It’s a one one-day endurance event that brings thousands of people to the area and is a boon to the local economy in the couple weeks leading up to the event. But, it also adds thousands to the roads, whether they are behind the wheel, on a bicycle or on foot.
“Just be a little more vigilant” than usual, Hawaii Police Maj. Robert Wagner advised all road users this week.
The Hawaii Police Department has increased patrols in the Kailua-Kona area, said Wagner. In addition to officers behind the wheel, officers are on foot cruising among the crowd.
“We have an extra presence in the Kailua area,” Wagner said. “They are there every day, just watching everybody and making sure everybody is abiding by the law.”
In addition, officers are also working to ensure athletes training for the big race are following traffic rules to keep everyone safe on West Hawaii roads. The department, he said, has received public complaints about cyclists not following the rules of the roads, among other gripes.
“There’s been a couple of things here and there that’s occurring, but there’s 2,500 athletes,” said Wagner. “Considering that we have 2,500 athletes, that’s not too bad.”
Cyclists who break the law are being cited, he said. As of Friday afternoon, two cyclists had been issued citations for blowing red lights.
“They have to stop like anyone else,” Wagner said, noting that both citations were issued after the cyclists simply slowed down without stopping at a signalized intersection and proceeded through the intersection against a red light.
Through Sunday, officers had written 11 citations to cyclists: four for red light violations, six for stop signs violations and one for riding side-by-side.
Last week, officers were more apt to warn cyclists than issue citations. This week, “we will not be issuing warnings,” Wagner cautioned on Monday.
Athletes taking on the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona are informed of the rules of the road and laws, and more, prior to arrival on Hawaii Island, as well as once they are here, according to Ironman communications director Dan Berglund.
“We provide race and training materials to athletes through email communications, the official athlete guide, social media, and content on ironman.com. Athletes are also required to attend mandatory race briefings offered in multiple languages to familiarize themselves with rules and regulations set in place to create a fair and safe environment,” Berglund said in a prepared statement. Race briefings are slated this Wednesday and Thursday.
The road rules and laws are included in this year’s Athlete Guide and Ironstuff 2018, the latter of which includes the exact document outlining safety tips, guidelines and rules for “Sharing the Road with Aloha” provided to race officials by PATH, Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii. Both say that violations may result in race disqualification.
The guides remind athletes to run and bike on the shoulder, ride single file when on a bicycle, to wear a helmet, and to follow all traffic laws as cyclists are subject to the same laws that govern motorists.
The guide also warns athletes that drivers are not accustomed to large numbers of cyclists and runners on the road, and provides cautions about some of the main roads, like that Queen Kaahumanu Highway is the busiest road in West Hawaii, Akoni Pule Highway has little to no shoulder, and Kuakini Highway lacks shoulders.
Ironman did not respond to specific questions from West Hawaii Today regarding when the information is provided, if athletes are encouraged to train in specific areas or at certain times, and whether there is a mechanism for the public to report violators and concerns.
To enforce the rules, Ironman has Course Monitors and Bike Ambassadors on the road prior to the race to ensure “triathletes are obeying the laws and are courteous to local residents.” They take to the roads about two weeks ahead of the race.
One of those Bike Ambassadors is local cyclist Franz Weber, who is also a bike and safety instructor for PATH and volunteer communication director for Ironman. The program, he said, is in its second year and appears to be successful.
“This year, we see far less people running on the wrong side, less people riding side by side, less people riding on the road, we see an improvement,” he said. “Allover, I think it’s quite an improvement.”
The ambassadors take to the road several hours each morning, cruising Alii Drive, Queen Kaahumanu Highway, Kuakini Highway and other roads to provide support and information, educate, encourage safety and check the roads for safety issues.
“Ironman puts out wordings that if you do a traffic violation and one of the ambassadors or monitors stops you, it can lead to disqualification,” he said. “We really stress the point: If you don’t obey, you could get disqualified. If you get a citation from a police officer, you could get disqualified.”
No athletes were disqualified in 2017, and through Friday, none had been disqualified from Saturday’s race, Weber said.
“It’s more like an encouragement to convince the ones that feel they don’t have to listen that, ‘hey, you know, there is a punishment, something could happen, just keep that in mind,’” said Weber. “For some people that could be enough of a reason to say, ‘OK, I guess we better be more attentive.’”
But, there’s always going to be those people — whether in a car, on a bike or on foot — who don’t follow the rules or take that extra step to ensure safety.
It can be frustrating at best (just take a gander at social media for an array of grumblings) and life-changing at worst. Take for example, last year, when just days before the race, Ironman record holder Tim Don collided with a truck ending his bid, suffering a broken neck.
But, Ironman has been held here for decades and we should be prepared.
“At this time of year, we as motorists need to expect to see cyclists and pedestrians on our roads,” added Tina Clothier, executive director with PATH, or Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii. “We need to be hyper-aware and really pay attention.”
That includes being on top of new laws, including one that went into effect July 1 setting a specific distance motorists must give cyclists when passing, said Clothier.
Drivers must now allow 3 feet between their vehicle and the cyclist, according to Act 47, signed into law this June by Gov. David Ige.
“If you are going to pass a cyclist, you need to give them 3 feet of space where it’s safe,” said Clothier. “If it’s not safe to do that, say you’re on a curve or there’s a car coming in the other lane, then you’d simply wait until it is safe.”