Residents: Racing may turn tragic

LIHU’E — Hanalei resident Richard Parks went on a mission before the Kaua’i County Council this week to help 52 other Weke Road property owners fight back against the carracing they say has terrorized them for four years.

Parks, who contends someone could die in a high-speed accident if government officials don’t help out soon, found out he has to wait some more.

During a meeting at the historic County Building Wednesday, four council members deferred action on Parks’ request to install four additional “speed tables” on the road to help curb speeding, to reduce the speed limit of Weke Road from 25 mph to 20 mph, and to install three stop signs at the intersection of Weke Road and Aku Road.

Weke Road is a county road that runs parallel to parts of Hanalei Bay, a popular destination for residents and visitors, particularly on weekends.

The trouble spot, Parks said, runs three-quarters of a mile eastward from the intersection of Weke Road and Aku Road to the Hanalei River boat ramp.

At the request of council Chairman Kaipo Asing, the majority of the members of the council voted to defer action on the request because three members of the seven-member council were absent from the Wednesday meeting.

In addition to Asing, council Vice Chairman James Tokioka and councilmembers Jay Furfaro and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho attended the meeting.

Councilmembers Mel Rapozo and Daryl Kaneshiro attended a meeting of the National Association of Counties in Washington D.C., and councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura was sick.

Asing said he wanted a deferral on the request because he wanted to get input from members of the entire council before a decision was made.

County Engineer Donald Fujimoto, who attended the meeting, said data collected by his agency and speed-relief measures undertaken by Kaua’i Police Department officers last fall show the need for action now.

“There are more fatalities than ever before, and this is across the state,” Fujimoto said after the meeting. “So we have got to take this seriously.”

Speeding on public roads “should not be condoned,” he said, adding, “We need to address this pending issue.”

Many motorists exceed the speed limit by five to 10 mph, but some have driven in excess of 70 mph, according to officers in the Kaua’i Police Department.

Parks said the racing warrants action by the council members now.

“I want the council to do what they are elected to do,” Parks said after the meeting. “And the No. 1 thing that any elected official should have in mind is public safety first, every time.”

Lack of action by the council members could lead to violence and more property damage along Weke Road, Parks contends.

Last year, upon witnessing speeding in front of his home, a property owner on the road confronted the perpetrator, saying speeding threatened the safety of his family. That man was beaten for voicing his concerns, Parks said.

Parks also said speeders who lost control of their cars “took out” 600-feet fencing located on private property over the last four years. A telephone pole on Weke Road also cracked in half after a speeding car plowed into it, Parks said.

Council members indicated they are sympathetic to the plight of the 52 property owners, and expressed concerns the placement of the speed-calming devices could cut into the response time of emergency vehicles to homes on or around Weke Road, possibly triggering lawsuits due to the delays.

But Parks contends the delay won’t be significant because not all the emergency trucks are equipped with special equipment and have to drive over the speed tables at slower speeds.

Parks said as well that he wants county leaders to implement a pilot project to install four additional speed tables on the road, to complement one the Kaua’i County Department of Public Works crew members installed previously.

The speed tables are about 22 feet wide and 14 feet in depth, and rise about three inches from the ground.

County officials bought all five speed tables in anticipation of implementing the pilot project on Weke Road.

For the pilot project to be successful, though, 10 speed tables have to be installed, a DPW official said.

The use of the speed tables is the most logical and viable solution, Parks said, noting they can be moved to other spots if necessary.

In addition, the program can be used as a model for other neighborhoods needing the speed traps, Parks said.

Wailua Homesteads resident Glenn Mickens said establishing the pilot project on Weke Road will open the way for the installation of the speed tables all over the island.

“I am not a speed hump, speed bump (other types of speed-curbing devices) kind of guy,” he said.

County officials also voiced concerns that speed tables will slow down the response time of emergency vehicles, like fire trucks and ambulances.

If the speed tables are installed, and the vehicles don’t get to an emergency in time, the county could open itself up to lawsuits, according to testimony given at the council meeting.

Parks said some emergency vehicles with special equipment will have to slow down more than others as they go over the speed tables, but not all the vehicles have such limitations.

Kaua’i resident Donald Kagawa said Kaua’i Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman estimated the response time to an emergency could be delayed by a minute with the speed tables in place.

Kagawa said, “I think it would be two.”

Mickens said having more police presence on island streets is a better alternative.

“If the cops drive around, I think anybody will back off on your accelerator,” Mickens said.

Kagawa said there may not be enough cops to catch speeders.

“You can sit in front of (the) 7-11 (store in) Lihu’e and, boy, you can see speeding up and down, and we don’t have enough police officers to even police this stuff,” he said.

The Kaua’i Police Department has 140-plus uniformed police officers, and some 25 or more vacancies.

Parks said he and other Weke Road property owners understand KPD leaders have a manpower shortage, and have commended the department officials for their work in trying to curb racing there.

“We don’t have a huge police force that can keep up with the fast growth rate of the island,” Parks said after the meeting. “And so saying it is the police-man’s fault, you just can’t pass it onto the police when they are understaffed.” Parks and Fujimoto said electric speed signs with cameras to catch speeders can be used if the speed tables are taken out.

Parks said speeding started on Weke Road 10 years ago, and the situation has gotten worse in the past four years, with more growth.

The speeding, Parks said, occurs during the day and at night.

In response to public complaints about speeding, leaders with the DPW conducted a study last fall to document how many motorists used the road, and set up an electric speed sign to curb speeding.

Kaua’i police officers also parked patrol cars, and used radar guns. At other times, police officers responded to calls about speeding on Weke Road, only to find no violations when they reached the road.

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