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How Did Traffic in Honolulu Get So Bad?

Honolulu's traffic is second-worst in the nation. How bad is it going to get? Is there any way out? How do we survive our commutes from hell? A comprehensive guide to an epic mess.


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(page 2 of 6)

What’s next? 

In June, a series of town meetings on the West Side evoked “howls of pain,” in the words of City Councilmember Brandon Elefante. “It’s all you can hear at the town meetings,” says Michael Formby, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services. “They’re just furious. It’s palpable. And it’s going to get worse. We have to deal with it—the state gets it, the city gets it. We’re working with the business community so they get it.”

 

“I think there is a sense of urgency,” says Elefante, who, after his town meetings, introduced a resolution urging employers to offer flextime, carpooling, bus passes and more. It complements an existing bill, HB 1010, signed by the governor in June, that would offer incentives for vanpooling and other transit options by allowing workers to deduct commuting costs from their taxable income.

 

Long term, demographics may make things better, a little. The number of 15- to 19-year-olds registering to drive in Hawai‘i declined 18 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 29,171 to 23,805. Rail and transit-oriented development may stem the trend of driving alone. 

 

But relief is a long way down the road. In fact, as rail construction gets closer to Downtown, traffic is likely to get a lot worse. “From 2016 to 2018, there will be construction on the entire route, guideways being placed on columns and right-of-way clearance,” says DTS director Formby. The city is launching a major push this month around its GoAkamai traffic app, which is adding push-alert text capability in time for the opening days of UH and private schools. But algorithms can’t add lanes or subtract cars; something has got to give.

 

Audiobooks, Bluetooth phone calls, soothing talk shows on the radio—none of it can distract the hyperactive driver on H-1 who feels she’s losing her mind. She dials her real estate agent to put the house on the market. Just then the Watcher swings his joystick, peers at Screen 80, and punches in a code to the intersection down at street level, where the traffic exiting H-1 is pooled at a long red. At the Watcher’s command, the normal two-minute green-light cycle is lengthened to four. Once cars begin to move on the surface street, the freeway follows suit a minute or two later. Next, the Watcher orders a “gawk screen” for the bulldozer; hopefully by morning it will be hidden from rubberneckers behind orange plastic sheeting. He knows something else, a new distraction, will take its place. But, for the moment, traffic is moving again, if barely, so that when the real estate agent picks up, the driver shouts, “Can’t talk right now—gotta drive.” She’ll stick it out another day.

 

The Housing Equation: Time Vs. Money 

The farther you go out from Downtown, the cheaper housing gets. But you pay in time. Mākaha’s got great bargains, but the commute is an endurance test. Town is a breeze, but you’ll pay the price. What’s more important to you?  

 

*adjusted for Kawamoto sales // Research: Ikaika Ramones. Source: Honolulu Board of Realtors, MLS

 

What Time Do We Leave For Work?

You gotta get up pretty early in the morning to live on the West Side. In Tantalus, not so much. This chart shows the percentage of residents in each neighborhood by departure time. Nationally, 31 percent leave for work before 7 a.m.;  on O‘ahu, it's 46 percent.

 

 

12–5 A.M.

5–6 A.M.

6–7 A.M.

7–8 A.M.

8–9 A.M.

Honolulu

7%

15.4%

23.7%

21.4%

11%

‘Ewa Beach

12.2%

22.3%

22.4%

16.6%

6.4%

Central ‘Oahu

8.9%

21.7%

24%

18.2%

7.6%

Moanalua to Pearl City

6.4%

16.5%

28.9%

22.8%

8.4%

Nu‘uanu to Kalihi 

5.1%

12.5%

21.8%

23.7%

12.1%

Tantalus to Waikīkī

3.5%

6.3%

16.9%

25.8%

18.1%

East Honolulu to Kapahulu 

3.9%

8.4%

24.8%

25.1%

14.4%

Ko‘olaupoko

5.6%

13.7%

28.8%

22.5%

11.8%

Rural O‘ahu

12%

22.8%

20.3%

14.7%

9.2%

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Honolulu Magazine June 2018