Walking, cycling, not more roads, key to easing traffic

Mahalo to The Garden Island newspaper for encouraging a healthy discussion regarding our island’s transportation needs and plans.

Kaumualii Highway was recently widened with an $80 million expansion, Kapule Highway is now concrete for much of its length, Nawiliwili Road is getting a facelift, and ground was just broken on the Puhi Road improvement project. Significant money is coming to Kauai to work on our roadways, and each of these projects recognizes the need to accommodate walkers and bicyclists.

One of our island’s most acclaimed big public works projects is the coastal pathway that serves the Eastside. Work is progressing to extend that system into Lihue and Anahola, and clear support is on the record for comparable paths that will connect communities on the North Shore, South Shore, and Westside.

If the state and county were to focus on “fixing” congestion problems with solutions that are exclusively intended to move more cars without taking into account public health improvement and injury prevention goals, prudent land use policies, and other road users, the result would be more urban sprawl and more oversized projects like the Kaumualii Highway widening.

Research shows that traffic rises to meet road capacity. Expanding road capacity does not necessarily alleviate traffic congestion, but often increases the number of cars stuck in traffic. Los Angeles’ snarled traffic resulted from their land use policies that relied on car-centric fixes to address transportation challenges. Clearly that is not a sustainable way to protect Kauai’s special rural character.

Much attention is being given to how traffic flows on Lihue’s Hardy Street, where vehicle speeds in that residential area now are better suited to the elementary school, tennis courts, auditorium, library, church, offices, and businesses.

More cars are able to roll through the Hardy and Umi Street roundabout per minute compared to the old design with four way stop signs. As a result of this improved street design residents are happier and people walking and bicycling in that part of town are safer.

The workers who will earn their share of over $13 million in the soon to be launched federally funded Rice Street revitalization will not only stimulate our local economy directly, they will also be improving safety for all users.

The Rice Street redesign uses a three-lane configuration that’s well suited to flowing cars smoothly through town centers, while protecting walkers and people on bicycles. These good design principles can be applied in other areas of the island, resulting in more win-win solutions for residents and all street users.

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Tommy A. Noyes is the executive director of Kauai Path, Inc.

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