Changing a mindset on travel a tough task

It sure sounds like a good idea. Sounds pretty easy, too. Instead of driving to work, ride a bike. Or maybe walk. Heck, run. Or perhaps catch the bus. Not only is it politically correct, it’s environmentally correct, too. Stop burning fossil fuels, start burning fat by leaving our cars behind. Do your part to reduce traffic on our roads.

It’s hard to argue with the premise that as a community, Kauai needs to embrace, or at least strongly consider modes of transportation that don’t include our vehicles. It is a way to ease the highway congestion that plagues Kauai, even if it is one driver at a time, one car at a time. It starts with us. It’s great to see this lesson being taught to keiki with safe routes to school because that’s where we have to start to create the change we want to see.

Some communities are set up to encourage biking, walking and running. They have spent funds and committed planning and time toward that end. Kauai is trying. It’s getting there. But it’s a small island with limited finances. The Hardy Street project is a good example of what can be done to promote ways to get folks moving by the power of their own muscles. The county isn’t wrong to look at ways to make this island more welcoming and encouraging of cyclists and walkers. It isn’t wrong to preach environmentally friendly modes of travel on Kauai. It’s what we should do.

Will it help reduce the number of vehicles on the island’s roads anytime soon? No. We’re talking about changing learned behaviors over decades. Change will be a long time coming. So while it’s a good to be looking to do things differently, traveling on Kauai without the primary source being our cars is at best years away.

Let’s face it. People like their cars. That’s how they’re going to get around. Biking or walking to work, for the vast majority of residents, simply isn’t feasible. It’s probably a good guess that most folks travel more than 10 miles to their jobs. Well, very few would bike those 10 miles there and back, even if they could shower at work. On Kauai, it’s usually hot and humid. When it’s not hot and humid, it’s often raining, though not much lately. Neither is appealing to a cyclist, even an avid cyclist headed to work. And Kauai isn’t exactingly biking friendly, either. There’s a reason few ride bikes on the shoulders of the highways. It’s dangerous.

When it comes down to it, cars are an effective and affordable way to travel, even if it means sometimes getting stuck in traffic, and we’re decades from changing that. Many people have no choice but to drive their vehicles.

What about the Kauai Bus? Sure, you would save money over owning a car if you could take the bus everywhere. It sure sounds like a great opportunity. But taking the bus requires extra time walking to and from stops, and waiting around for the bus. While an extensive public transportation system could reduce that waiting time and make taking the bus more convenient and realistic, such a system would also be costly and would not pay for itself. Taxpayers would end up footing the bill for an expanded bus fleet. Taxes are already high enough on Kauai, so it’s hard to believe most taxpayers would want to fund a public bus system they don’t plan to use.

On the possibility of reducing the number of rental cars on our roads, while it’s nice to think that with more buses or shuttles visitors could be encouraged to use public transportation instead of renting a car, that’s just not going to happen.

Again, the vast majority of Kauai’s million-plus visitors each year are going to rent a car. Few people will plan a vacation to an island and then plan to get around by bus or shuttle. Folks pay thousands of dollars for airfare to get here. They’ll pay thousands for rooms. They’re not going try to save a few bucks when they come here and not rent a car even if there is top-notch public transportation.

What about building more roads? That would help. But that would also be expensive and Lord knows how long that could take. And frankly, the more roads we build, the more cars you’ll find on them. It wouldn’t take long for traffic to soon be backed up on those new roads, too.

So, where are we headed? Hmmm. We agree it would be great if more people would try biking and walking and taking the bus. See how life goes without a car as the primary way to get around. If it’s feasible, bike to work. Walk home. Catch the bus. Who knows. You might actually find you enjoy it and you don’t need to drive everywhere you go.

But we’re guessing, not.

Bottom line, traveling by two wheels or by two feet, or by bus, is a long way from impacting traffic congestion on Kauai. We can talk about it all we want, but there isn’t a quick fix. There never was and never has been and there never will be.

So what are we trying to say? Just this. Get used to traffic. It’s here and all our complaining won’t change it. Perhaps one day, traffic will flow smooth as butter on Kauai and we’ll smile and wave at each other. But until then, be thankful today you live on one of the greatest places on the planet.

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