LIHU‘E — The answer to traffic congestion lies in bolstering alternatives to single-person vehicle transportation, according to a recent report out of the advocacy organization Transportation for America.
The congestion report, released this month, considers traffic congestion in 100 of the largest cities in the U.S., and suggests a greater focus on facilitating public transit, pedestrian and other modes of travel could clear up traffic on the roads.
It looks at factors like changing population and commute times between 1993 and the most recent data set in 2017.
Kathleen Rooney, transportation and policy director for the Hawai‘i investment company Ulupono Initiative, explained that the report ultimately prescribes a change in philosophy — building roads that not only cater to vehicles, but include space for other modes of transportation.
“In some places we start to see an emphasis on keeping shoulders and extra space exclusively for buses so they can zip through traffic,” Rooney said, “looking at transportation systems that move more people over vehicles.”
On Kaua‘i, Rooney said the Ke Ala Hele Makalae multiuse path on the Eastside is an example of the study’s suggestions in action — a pathway that connects to shops and restaurants and allows for multiple modes of transit.
“When you start talking about building in that other network instead of road-building, it releases that pressure on the demand associated with bike and pedestrian (in the roadways),” Rooney said.
Other places on the island are restructuring to include both vehicles and other modes of transit, like the Rice Street construction project, funded in part by a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant.
“Those are the kinds of projects you want to see, projects that have multiple benefits — multimodal, economical, environment and connectivity,” Rooney said. “People are interested in it.”
The Kaua‘i General Plan includes future focus on multimodal and walkable-bikable towns and cities as well.
About 30% of the state’s population commutes by other modes than single-person vehicles, according to Rooney. That includes people who carpool, use public transit, walk or bike.
Public transit has its snags. Rooney points out it’s not always the first option for the general public, but she promotes a “build-it-and-they-will-come” strategy.
The same theory is illustrated in the congestion study, which reports that providing more supply for roads doesn’t necessarily solve the long-term congestion problem.
“After 60 years of trying to build ourselves out of congestion, it hasn’t happened,” Rooney said. “It’s allowing for the oversupply and the overconsumption of that space.”
In the end, it’s about balance and a potential answer to congestion on the highways — providing other ways to travel around the island.
“Sometimes the answer is construction, but I think it’s (more about) looking at operating the system more effectively across the board,” Rooney said. “The network isn’t as sophisticated (as some), but it is there, and if more people use it, then we can fund it more.”
Transportation for America has a webinar scheduled to discuss their report in detail on March 17.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.