Kaua‘i’s first traffic lights

The first traffic light on Kaua‘i was installed by Kekaha Sugar Co. in the late 1950s to signal the right-of-way for the plantation’s big haul-cane trucks at the intersection of the company’s main haul-cane road just outside of Kekaha town and the Koke‘e Road.

No other traffic lights had been put in place on Kaua‘i by September 1971, when the Kaua‘i County Council called for a study on whether to introduce traffic lights because of increased vehicular traffic.

Yet, when Councilman Francis Ching’s proposal was sent to Mayor Antone Vidinha and his administration, no action was taken.

Then in September 1973, McBryde Sugar Co. Manager Philip Conrad made a request to Mayor Francis Ching to install a traffic light at the intersection of McBryde’s haul-cane road at Po‘ipu Road, which was approved, and the traffic light was placed as indicated shortly thereafter.

Two months later, in Nov. 1973, the first two traffic lights were installed by county workers in Lihu‘e, at the intersections of Rice and ‘Umi streets and Rice, Hardy and Kalena streets, “in order to facilitate the flow of traffic at these intersections,” while a crowd of curious spectators watched from a distance.

Some residents disagreed with Ching’s decision, however, in the belief that there was actually not enough traffic congestion to warrant them, and busy intersections could be adequately controlled as needed by traffic cops.

KUAI radio disc jockey Bill Dahle even joked about them.

He said, “Now everybody can congregate on the corners on Friday nights and watch people run red lights,” a reflection today of just how relatively “slow” the pace of life was on Kaua‘i in the those days.

Meanwhile, the county Public Information Office published news releases in three languages — English, Japanese and Ilocano — explaining what to do when approaching the new traffic lights.

It read, “The basic signal-light displays to be used at both intersections are the steady circular red, circular yellow, or circular green. Basically, red means stop, green means go and yellow means caution.”

By 1975, there were six traffic-lighted intersections in operation on Kaua‘i.

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Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at hssgms@gmail.com

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