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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 6 of 6)

Honolulu Unzipped

Is traffic worse than ever?

Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


2010: The Warning 

No. 2, Worst Commutes in U.S.

Lunalilo Freeway (H-1) eastbound, S. Vineyard Boulevard/Ward Avenue

Length of worst bottleneck: 0.82 miles

Weekly hours of congestion in worst bottleneck: 36 

Speed of worst bottleneck when congested: 16.4 mph

Source: INRIX; The Daily Beast


2012: The Year Traffic Got Bad Everywhere

“We started seeing an increase in automobiles on the road, increased trips, no down time. I used to be able to get on the freeway on Saturday or Sunday and it would flow. Now, it’s just crazy. Flow is an exception.” 

—Michael Formby, director, Honolulu Department of Transportation Services


2013-14: Gridlock

“Nobody saw this kind of population coming. In the ’60s, our average daily traffic was 20,000 vehicle trips. Planning people in the 1970s said, ‘We think it’s going up to 60,000, so let’s double that.’ Today our daily count on the H-1 ‘Aiea conduit is 250,000. The eastbound to town and from Windward is 150,000. We’re trying to adjust capacity to volume. But we cannot build our way out of congestion.”

—Edwin Sniffen, deputy director, state Department of Transportation


“There was a time when nobody could get out of ‘Ewa because every road was under construction. Literally. The city and the state, these guys hadn’t talked to each other. It became a part of my life where I would call the traffic departments and ask, ‘Do you have any projects going on in my district this week?’”

—Kymberly Pine, Honolulu City Councilmember 


2015: ZipperGate

“During the week of Carmageddon, with the cell phone violations, I was probably the most hated man in Honolulu.”

—Maj. Darren Izumo, Commander, Traffic Division HPD (all citations were forgiven, as is Major Izumo)


Traffic Apps

Real-time traffic conditions, now with push alerts so you can plan your commute over coffee, goakamai.com 


Real-time traffic conditions, with crowdsourced reporting on accidents and congestion from your fellow commuters, Waze.com


Driven by data, may merge with Waze



HPD recommends this for accident and road reports, Nixle.com



Real-time accidents and  incidents await you at honolulu.gov



5 Useful Traffic Hacks 

Consider Giving These a Try:


Uber, Lyft – These short-haul taxi substitutes are gaining popularity, but the cab companies are not pleased. 


EnterpriseShare – rental cars by the hour using an automated log-in from a website—brilliant. What took them so long?  enterpriseshare.com


Car2Go – in talks with the city at press time, a setup similar to Enterprise’s except you pick up the car where the last user left it (at a convenient place, one assumes). Downside: uses parking spaces to store inventory. car2go.com


BikeShare Hawai‘i –180 stations with 1,700 public-access bikes for short trips are slated to be available early in 2016. bikesharehawaii.org



Who you gonna call?


Freeway Services Patrol: 841-HELP (4357) for gas, tow or push. Call the white trucks.



City Hot Line: 768-7777; state Hot Line: 536-7852; HART (city rail project roads and sites): 566-2299


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Honolulu Magazine May 2019