POSTED: 3 April 2004 - 1:00pm

Automobile Traffic Problem Solutions

Star Bulletin photo of a typical H1 morning traffic in Honolulu

Life on Kauai is being destroyed by traffic and overdevelopment...
Building Highways Does Not Fix Traffic Jams...

Traffic snarls do not often occur on cul de sacs or country backroads. They occur where there is the greatest capacity to handle traffic... on highways. Kauai is a desirable place to live. That creates an increase population and leads to traffic congestion. People demand road construction. But this is rarely more than a short term solution. As more people come it leads to congestion again. There is a demand for more roads.

This process will continus until Kauai is not a desirable place to live anymore. Isn't that obvious. Examining the history of the mainland and other Hawaiian islands demonstrates the the greater road capacity is quickly filled with new commuters travelling to newly built suburban developments. We cannot build our way out of the problem. We have to change our ways.

Fewer people... or less driving.

Kauai has a single perimeter through road, the Kuhio/Kaumalii Highway. With the exception of only a few short bypasses, this perimeter highway system is the only route from one end of the island to the other. It is true that bypasses do serve a real service as an alternate when the highway is blocked with an accident, but bypasses are few and only relieve local blockages, they do not increase through capacity. Of course, on Kauai, our only perimeter highway deadends at both ends. This makes it much more likely that a driver will be trapped by any traffic interuption. Turning around to get to a destination another way becomes useless.

What is the data about Kauai traffic? According to the 2000 US Census there are 58,000 people on Kauai with about 45,000 people old enough to drive. According the Kauai County DMV there are now about 70,000 registered cars on Kauai; with about 8,000 rental cars in that number. That means there is at least one car for every potential driver on Kauai.
What are the habits of drivers on Kauai? The table below is again from the 2000 US Census.

19,599 people drove alone
4,143 people carpooled
1,413 worked at home
500 walked to work
356 used bikes and other means
172 used public transportation

The mean travel time to work was 22 minutes each way.

What the table tells us is that there are over 20,000 cars commuting a mean of 45 minutes a day. It is obvious that each tourist car that is rented is on the road all day everyday. Let's say 6000 rental cars (80% hotel occuppancy) a day all day. Add to this mix the commercial vehicles and it seems likely there are about 30,000 cars on the road morning and evening everyday.

There are 57 miles from Kekaha to Hanalei. That's 300,000 feet of what is mostly two lane road. With 30,000 cars on the road that's about twenty feet of main highway per car in each direction.

These numbers tell us less than 200 people use public transportation to get to work. It is interesting that three times as many people walk to work as use public transportation. A sad comment on our mass transit efforts.

I think the long term solution for traffic problems on Kauai is to reduce traffic, not to increase road capacity. This can be done in a number of programs that could be tested. For example:

Raise driving age to 18 years old. Provide free school bus program to students.
• Target reducton 2000 cars

Double office work at home in fields focussed on paperwork done on computers.
• Target reduction 1500 cars

Increase the frequency and range of public bus service. Distribute maps and schedules. Promote the hell out of it and add 1000 riders.
• Target reduction 1000 cars

Discourage 20% of tourist driving by putting a cap on the number of rental cars (at 6000 cars) and encouraging destination resort activities and group tours.
• Target reduction 1500 cars

Decrease the need to travel "around" the island to work by creating 1000 units of convenient housing in places near many jobs, like Princeville, Poipu and Kekaha.
• Target reduction 1000 cars

Encourage 50% more carpooling (2000 people) with cash rewards or gas coupons.
• Target reducton 1000 cars

Increase bike routes away from the side of the highways that don't mix bikes with high speed trucks and autos. Promote bike trails to tourists. This works well on Nantucket. My family vacationed there for ten years and never rented a car.
• Target reduction 500 cars

If successful these programs would reduce total peaktime driving by 9500 cars, or about a 30%. This would take Kauai back in time to about the traffic of the late 1980's. By today's standards, those were golden years.

Until these and other programs are tested to determine if they will effectively reduce traffic, I would recommend no approvals by the Planning Commisssion of commercial development that will generate any increase of traffic in the critical corridor between Kapaa and Wailua.

Ultimately, how you deal with traffic is a lifestyle issue. In Europe gas is twice as expensive and cars are half the size. In much Europe they have kept towns separated by rural landscape and have not developed suburban strip development between towns, like we have here in America (i.e. Kapaa).

In the US most people have bought into the advertising myth of success, sex and power emenating from having an expensive highway cruiser. Many who have don't understand why the road isn't clear in front of them and a tank of gas costs an arm and a leg (of an American in uniform).

Does sitting in an car with the AC turned up in bumper to bumper traffic have anything to do with why you live on Kauai? Can you escape? Can you get back to aloha, ohana... aina, or did you never know it.

It is my sense that the frustration with traffic and worry about gas prices go to the heart of what is wrong with America today. I suspect the very people that are complaining the most are the ones who have been suckered into getting those big loans on new massively ovewrsized SUV's.

Next time you are stalled in gridlock, look around - In the end it really is all about oil and money.