Kauai Fights to Reduce Traffic Congestion, Preserve its Environment in Hawaii

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

April 11, 2016

Every year, INRIX, Inc., a traffic data and insights organization, releases its findings about the most awful cities to drive in. Not much changes from year to year. In 2015, just as it did in 2014, Los Angeles topped the list for the nation’s most congested cities, with the added headache of having four of the worst ten stretches of highway – globally. Read the full story at the CAPS homepage, and my personal, nightmarish experiences of driving in the ten worst 2013 cities here.

This is NOT a Hawaiian paradise.

While lower 48 residents are losing hundreds of hours of quality time stuck in hair-pulling traffic, the same bumper-to-bumper conditions have transformed paradise, namely Hawaii. An alternate traffic survey ranked Honolulu the nation’s sixth most traffic-jammed city. The common denominator in California’s and Hawaii’s traffic crisis is unsustainable population growth, with record tourism which invariably involves renting a car.

But one Hawaiian island is tackling the traffic problem head on. Kauai, the geologically oldest and fourth largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, is determined to create transportation alternatives and reduce the carbon footprint automobiles create. The Kauai Multimodal Transportation Plan, adopted in 2013, encourages walking, biking and riding the local bus.

Celia Mahikoa, Kauai county transportation executive, said an estimated 80 percent of Kauai’s population lives within three-quarters of a mile of bus service. The bus makes about 65,000 trips a month, and serves an estimated 800 individuals daily, 10 to 15 percent of whom are tourists.

Kauai Path, a community organization dedicated to preserving the island and its habitat, acknowledges that the challenge of converting islanders from driving to walking is formidable, and that success will require “incremental steps.”

But without reduced automobile dependence, the Hawaiian Islands, including tiny Kauai which has developed a tremendous tourism following, will become a destination to avoid.
 

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