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Danny De Gracia: Oahu Traffic is Making Us Miserable. We Deserve Better & More News

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The last few days on Oahu have been a traffic apocalypse. Things were especially heinous for West Oahu drivers on Wednesday as accidents on H-1 ground traffic to a halt both in the morning commute, and the late afternoon drive home.

Not only do incidents like these make motorists late for their destination, but they carry a psychological intimidation and torment that starts and ends one’s day in the worst way possible.

Gov. David Ige should be working overdrive in “beast mode” to end his term with stellar solutions to Hawaii’s problems. Instead, he’s in “Sesame Street” mode, taking photos at the Joint Traffic Management Center while telling us all to consider alternative transportation as a response to the 50,000 students hitting the road this week and next.

I, for one, feel sorry for the people who actually attempt this advice, especially the kupuna among us. Imagine being an elderly person who has arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, Type 2 diabetes, or worst of all, bowel or bladder issues, and you innocently get on a bus thinking that you’ll be home in 45 minutes or less.

Instead, you’re trapped for hours because of an accident on H-1, packed like Spam in a can with other riders, and your body all the while is enduring a personal hell where an ongoing calculus is racing through your mind as to how many more seconds you can endure before passing out or losing control of your bodily restraints. And now imagine this happening to you multiple times in one week.

At least if you’re in a car, if things get too bad, you can potentially pull over to the side of the road or attempt to make your way to an exit ramp where you can find respite until traffic clears. But then again, the last two weeks have shown us that when a rush hour traffic disaster strikes on Oahu, whether you are on the road in a car or bus, we’re all stuck together and left to deal with it.

“Danny,” I can already hear some of the more esoteric people saying, “there is nothing more destructive to society than an automobile, because it promotes inequality and is bad for the environment.” Thank you, Captain Obvious. I’ll especially remember that “inequality” when I see well-compensated, well-rested local elected officials going to work after peak traffic has already passed or leaving for home before traffic starts in their nice cars.

Lone jogger runs on the bikepath/road along South Beretania Street to avoid pedestrians on the sidewalk during the COVID-19 pandemic. October 5, 2020
Traffic was sharply reduced in the early stages of the pandemic, but drivers flooded back onto the roads with the lifting of Covid restrictions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

This is why nothing actually gets fixed here in Hawaii, because as I have said so many times before, many of the people who have the power to change things have no skin in the game and have little exposure to the daily inconveniences facing the rest of us.

We urgently need to do something about Oahu’s traffic crisis. Are we going to have two or more major accidents every day now – one on the way to work, one or two on the way home – and be in traffic gridlock for the rest of our miserable lives? Are we going to accept traffic congestion as a permanent status quo? Are we just going to have to adjust our lives around Honolulu’s inconveniences?

To begin, we need to make some kind of short-term compromise that gets as many cars off the road as possible or redistributes traffic in ways that don’t have everyone flooding H-1 at the same time.

The University of Hawaii and community colleges should encourage virtual, distance learning or hybrid in-person/online classes where people don’t have to physically be on campus. And both the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu should allow anyone who wants to telework and isn’t involved in direct customer service to work from home as well. I’m sure people would also appreciate not having to spend gas money as an additional benefit of this idea.

Next, the Hawaii Department of Transportation and the Honolulu Police Department need to find faster ways to clear car wrecks, keep traffic from piling up and conduct rescue operations or investigations without shutting down the island for hours on end. This is something that we may need to experiment with and try different approaches, but what we are doing right now isn’t working fast enough.

If we find that accidents keep happening in or close to the same locations, then perhaps we should have a “quick reaction alert” team pre-positioned nearby so that when accidents happen, injured people can be quickly evacuated and damaged vehicles can be towed away. (Or maybe there’s something wrong with the road design that needs to be changed.)

As absurd as this sounds to pre-position units on the side of the road in anticipation of accidents, anything would be an improvement from just letting things stay as they are. As they say in the military, “it’s imperative to have the right faces in the fight places.”

Last but not least, I think it would be entirely appropriate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Green and Republican nominee Duke Aiona to immediately hold a joint town hall-style forum to discuss and debate how they would address Oahu’s traffic crisis. We need to hear what their reactions are to this week’s nightmare and what they would do to make it stop.

The problems of overcrowding and insufficient transportation infrastructure on Oahu need to be dealt with. I’m tired of decades of worthless excuses and inaction. Oahu deserves better.

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