By Jay Fidell
It’s Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Coming down Kalakaua from Beretania you already know you’re in trouble. You’re stuck and all you see ahead of you is block after block of green traffic lights. But traffic is jammed the whole way. Drivers are decompensating while the traffic stands stock still.
The time creeps with the traffic but it doesn’t get any better once you cross Kapiolani. Now you’re good and late, and it’s getting worse. The further you get into Waikiki, the more the traffic compresses. Still a sea of green. It’s total gridlock, not just tonight, but every night. We’ve all been there.
Waikiki, of course, is the jewel, the undisputed engine of our economy. It’s also the exchange point between the tourists and the community. Surely we can do better about the traffic coming and going in and out of Waikiki, but we accept it just as it is, suffering in silence not saying a word.
The lights in and through Waikiki are not timed, even though timed lights are ubiquitous in cities around the mainland, and cheap. I guess we can’t spend even that to alleviate the traffic in the center of the undisputed engine of our economy. We’d rather ignore the elephant in the room.
The makai lane on Kalakaua is lined with a quarter mile of cars who can't turn right. It’s because there are no right turn signals. You’d like to turn right, but pedestrians fill the crosswalk while you wait, so you can’t. Then the light changes and pedestrians fill the other crosswalk so you can’t turn then either. You have to wait for a sliver of a break in the traffic. For dollar half right turn signals could avoid the problem, but in a $12.6 billion industry I guess no one can afford them.
Who’s in charge here? Where’s the Mayor? Where’s his staff? Is there one person at City Hall who cares about this, who has some sympathy for the prisoners of Kalakaua, who spends even one moment dealing with it? Absolutely not - they’re all busy pushing rail. That is what they do.
Signal light sensors could also help, also for dollar half. They could change the signals when there’s no cross traffic. But there are no sensors either, so you’re stuck while the cross-streets are empty, forced to sit watching the lights turn from red to green, green to red, for what seems an eternity. Incredible that our great nation could put a space ship on the moon, but then this.
No, nothing is being done. As a result, the traffic is jammed up without relief, while the lights turn interminably from red to green, green to red and we grow frail basking in the glow. This is a huge barrier to visiting Waikiki. Who says we should go there? This is proof we should not.
People’s tempers flare, their horns blare, everybody is at their wits’ end. Nobody wants to come here again. And it seems to get worse every time, because the traffic is more congested and no one has done anything about it. I used to think that sometime, somewhere, some city employee would notice the agony of the congestion in Waikiki, but by now I know better.
Just as the traffic is hopelessly jammed, city government is jammed on the traffic, leaving the engine of our economy jammed. It’s hard to believe the city could care less. It would be so easy to do something, even something modest, even as a humanitarian mission for all the poor souls suffering there, but in deafening silence no one ever does anything or even speaks of it.
And where are the police? You don’t see traffic cops out there trying to manage the traffic. Maybe they’re also stuck and can’t get close enough. So there’s no human intervention to help get us through it. All you see is that sea of lights, that deadly hypnotic rotation from red to green, green to red, while your time on the planet fritters away.
Really, what cows we are in Hawaii. Why we tolerate this grotesque insult to our quality of life, our economy and our intelligence, is hard to fathom. At the end of the day, or night, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for letting it happen in Waikiki and in so many other places on our island.