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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.


(page 5 of 6)

Road Tales

Shivon Alexander 

Age: 33
Occupation: Medical Assistant in Makiki
Commute Time: 1 hour from ‘Ewa
In The Car: Four People
Photos: Odeelo Dayondon

​​“My husband and I moved to Mililani, then back to town because of the commute. The rent in town is atrocious. So we bought a house in ‘Ewa. 


“My husband leaves at 4 a.m. to go to the gym and then work. I get the kids up at 5:30 to leave by 6; all three go to school in town, different schools. I pack lunch for them every day. I drop the first no later than 6:45, the oldest before 7:10, the middle one by 7:30. I have to get to work by 8. Going home, two children ride with Dad, and I shoot over to my son’s preschool by 5:30. I’m usually home by 6:30. (I do drive a little over the speed limit.)


“I don’t mind it, actually. That’s the time I get to talk with the keiki. We do a lot of chit-chatting. 


“It’s just the way you look at things. What makes the difference is I’m not paying someone else’s mortgage. I’m going to my house, my home.” 



Shaun Chillingworth

Age: 33
Occupation, Public relations specialist in downtown area
Commute Time: 55 minutes from waikele
In The Car: One Person 

“I just recently moved out to Waikele from Honolulu. My wife, Jessica, is from Waipahu, and it was a good opportunity to get some more living space for us and be closer to her family. Sometimes the trade-off is worth it. Other days, like the ZipLane fiasco, I definitely question whether it was worth trading my 6-minute bike commute for hour-plus days on the road.


“My wife and I carpool both to save gas and to take advantage of the designated lanes. We stick to her schedule for the most part. If she’s traveling off-island then I don’t carpool; I avoid traffic at all costs, and usually don’t leave until after 8 a.m. I won’t leave town until after 6:30 p.m., but early enough to avoid construction closures.


“Rubbernecking is horrible. There’s nothing worse than being backed up in the ZipperLane, only to quickly accelerate after passing an accident in the opposite direction. It’s crazy! We can save each other so much time if we just pay attention to the road ahead.”

—As told to Ikaika Ramones



John Woodward 

Age: 62
Occupation, Vanilla farmer in Lā‘ie, woodworker in Kailua
Commute Time: 1 hour from Kaimukī to Lā‘ie, 20 minutes from Lā‘ie to Kailua
In The Car: One Person 

“If a leaf falls on the freeway, it’s going to back up traffic. Kamehameha Highway and Kalaniana‛ole Highway are very narrow, only two lanes [in some areas]. If a tree falls on the freeway, or if there’s an accident, I’m done. 


“Earlier this year, while driving along Kamehameha Highway near Waiāhole, I saw a tank of asphalt roll off a truck and onto a neighboring car, killing the driver only 15 spots ahead of me. If I had left work 15 cars earlier, that could have been me. I turned around before the backup got worse, taking a route through Hale‛iwa; but then there was roadwork, so it took me four hours to get home. It was backed up all the way from Waikāne to Valley of the Temples. I have friends living in that area who said it took them eight hours to get home that day.


“I used to get crazy, but I’ve been doing this for so long, I just get in the car and go.”

—As told to Ikaika Ramones      



Darren Flores

Age: 55 
Occupation: Advertising Executive in WaikĪkĪ 
Commute Time: 2 hours from ‘Aiea
In The Car: One Person 

“When I moved here from Maui, it was stressful because my commute went from 15 minutes a day to two hours. Now I’m grateful I don’t live in Mililani or I’d be commuting three hours a day. 


“My commute from ‘Aiea is worth not being in a smaller condo looking at the side of a building in town. It’s not worth getting a larger townhouse in Mililani and giving up an additional hour a day to commuting.


“When I go to pick up my son at school, the drive adds to the anticipation of seeing him. Once I get him, it’s all good; the traffic works for me because he’s stuck in the car talking to me for 30 minutes. So my ‘fix’ for traffic does not attempt to change the time on the road, but to appreciate that it’s so long.”



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Honolulu Magazine July 2019