The frequency of letters and opinions published in TGI on the subject of traffic problems plus the number of testimonies submitted to the County Council on the same subject is a true indication that this is one of the hottest concerns of Kauaians.
It is understandable, because most people, rich and poor, are affected by an ever-increasing pace of undesirable changes. The problems are so obvious that neither the Planning Department nor the County Council have to hire outside consultants to determine how bad the situation is.
When the change of the traffic conditions is viewed and measured throughout the past 5 years or more in the light of the visitor industry statistics, fool-proof track records are created. Exactly these track records invoke the accountability of our County Council considering the approval of the General Plan.
Accountability applies not only for things done, but also for things undone, for example for ignoring the options of improvements when they are otherwise feasible. And this is exactly the situation with traffic congestion.
I cannot understand why in the world this county is planning to update the General Plan for the next 20 years, when even countries like China and India and others make only five-year plans, keeping a few long-range goals separately.
There were different suggestions published in TGI, but apparently the county is taking a comfortable approach with additional lanes, bicycle lanes and increased and/or “improved” bus service.
They are ignoring the facts that the additional lanes cost a lot of money that they don’t have, and even if they had enough, the new lanes will not solve the traffic problems, especially when you consider the new direct flights coming in already next year bringing in almost half a million more visitors per year. Those visitors want to rent cars, adding to the traffic congestion.
Building new lanes will take years and by the time they finish them, the congestion will be even worse. Plus building the new lanes will affect traffic on the existing lanes, too, because the new lanes need to be connected to the existing, already congested one, so in order to build it at least one of the existing lanes has to be closed for the time of the construction.
The increased/improved bus service will not make a penny profit, because it is profitable only if there are enough fee-paying passengers, but that’s a nice dream only. As Glenn Mickens clearly presented in his letter to TGI the people will not give up their cars. I fully agree.
Most Americans and Americanized Hawaiians are married to their cars, and for them it would be totally unimaginable and unAmerican to give up their convenience even if it would save the environment. They would reject any effort of re-education in this context.
So, the situation requires an out-of-the-box solution that is affordable, can be easily and quickly implemented and does not create economic hardship for the island. None of the single solutions offered so far will be able to meet all these requirements. So we need to combine several solutions with the aforementioned objectives in mind.
The first step is to go back to the major causes: too many cars and too many people. To eliminate these causes the county has to limit the number of rental cars on the island and limit car ownership by the households. If rental cars are not available the visitors will postpone their trip until rental cars become available, or they will have to resort to using alternative transportation on the island which can be ready within months.
One of these options for flexible mass transportation is fixed-route taxis, which are very popular in other countries. These are minibuses or larger vans for 12 to 16 people and they run on fixed routes, which on Kauai should include several beaches too.
The fare is staggered according to the distance traveled. They are numbered like buses. The difference is that they run frequently and anyone can flag them down on their routes and anyone can get off at any point on the fixed route, wherever the driver may legally stop. They do not need any bus shelters, just a post at the beginning and the end stations with the routes and the frequency of operation.
A good network of less than 10 interconnected routes would guarantee good and reliable transportation for visitors without rental cars. With good publicity and reliable service, they may become the most reliable alternative transportation. Even car rental companies or other entrepreneurs may consider operating these fixed-route taxis.
The limit on household vehicle ownership would teach the families to combine trips and thus reduce the number of vehicles on the road or use the regular bus or the fixed-route taxis occasionally.
At the same time some cane roads should be opened to certain types of local vehicles like pick-up trucks and cars with four-wheel drive.
Owners who want to drive on them would apply for a special permit, and receive a special license plate of different color, like blue with red numbers. At the entrances of the cane roads a big board would warn drivers that only permitted vehicles with blue license plates are allowed on these roads, and violators will pay a fine. No rental cars would be allowed on cane roads.
This simple system would work without any automation, gate or special access control. The permit fees and fines collected would also increase the revenue of the county.
In addition, putting a moratorium on certain types of development and limiting vacation rentals, plus requiring the owners to live on the island, would further reduce the causes of traffic congestion.
Does the county have the power to implement such restrictions? Definitely yes, because those would serve the good of the entire community.
If the county has the power to restrict the number and type of businesses operating on the island, it has the power of legislating these restrictions too. The key is that our local government leaders should convert their interest-oriented leadership to people-oriented leadership.
These suggestions are the foundation of resolving some of our hottest problems within a short time and without significant investment. Their implementation still requires some planning and coordination between the different departments of the county and the state, but no outside consultation is necessary.
It requires an honest will and resourcefulness to preserve the current lifestyle on the island plus the island’s attractiveness and beauty. Ignoring these options and doing nothing is negligence, and if the county does not reduce the reason of the traffic congestion they are accountable for it.
The restrictions will only balance, but not hurt, the tourist business on the long run, because Kauai is still a very desirable travel destination, and will remain so unless greediness for more will make us suffocate in our traffic and overpopulation problems, conclusively turning the island into an undesirable travel destination for visitors.
János Keoni Samu is a resident of Kalaheo.