LIHUE — North Shore residents and citizens concerned about transportation reform on Kauai gathered at a Lihue coffee shop Thursday to hear about logistics, obstacles and benefits of a proposed shuttle that would run from Hanalei to Haena.
The community meeting at Ha Coffee Bar was co-sponsored by The Hanalei Initiative and Community Coalition Kauai, two groups that have been involved in developing a plan for a transportation system aimed at reducing traffic congestion on the North Shore.
Joel Guy, executive director of The Hanalei Initiative, kicked off the discussion — the first of several “learning forums” to be held on the subject in 2019 — with a general overview of the proposed shuttle.
“We were clearly seeing an out-of-balance with humans in Hanalei,” Guy said, describing the congestion in North Shore neighborhoods before the main highway beyond Hanalei was closed to non-residents after the April floods.
Guy cited a 2013 study that estimated 3,500 cars drove through the North Shore every day, a number he said is now much lower.
Guy and other proponents of the shuttle say that the floods, although devastating, have provided residents with a unique opportunity to use the area as a sort of proving ground for their proposed public transportation system, which they hope may later be used as a template in neighborhoods all over the island.
Planning for the “community-developed, government-supported” shuttle is still in the preliminary stages, and community leaders are working to identify systems that will care for visitors and tourists to the area while still allowing locals to enjoy a way of life that had been lost to traffic congestion prior to the floods.
Guy explained the first step is to get a regular shuttle running from Kilauea to Ke‘e, and to work out the kinks and add more stops based on needs and feedback.
Startup funding for the shuttle will come from a grant through the county, according to Guy, but long-term economic viability is an issue he and other organizers are still working on. One promising idea, Guy said, is to encourage shuttle use by limiting parking space at Haena State Park.
A master plan for the park, completed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in May, calls for a parking lot that can hold roughly 100 cars, but says the number of spaces may be reduced “to encourage use of the shuttle or transit system being planned for the North Shore.”
Guy said the idea comes with an added challenge — ensuring that parking does not bottleneck and overflow into surrounding areas — but he told people to have patience and be flexible as plans continue to develop.
“Nothing’s in concrete yet,” he said. “But these are ideas we’re continuing to talk about.”
JoAnn Yukimura, a former mayor and county councilmember, spoke about the importance of developing islandwide public transportation in the immediate future.
“We can’t afford to fail this time around,” Yukimura told the crowd of about 25 North Shore residents.
Yukimura cited a transportation plan for the county that called for a 1,000-percent increase in bus ridership by 2035 in order to offset the transportation demands of an ever-increasing population.
“That’s a huge challenge,” she said, and shuttles are a big part of it.
Lee Steinmetz, a transportation specialist with the county Planning Department, asked the crowd, “What if we could change the transportation model for the island?”
Steinmetz said 90 percent of all tourists who come to Kauai rent cars, a number he thinks can be cut significantly by the implementation of an affordable and widely available shuttle system.
Jim Braman, a board member with the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said the current situation on the North Shore makes it a good place to test and develop a shuttle, and encouraged organizers to seize the moment.
“This is our opportunity. Don’t let it pass,” Braman said. “Get that main line going. The rest will fall into place.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.