Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

October 20, 2003

Traffic: Small can be beautiful

We have made some fairly inexpensive changes to our highway system of late that have had a profound effect on traffic congestion — far greater than anyone might have expected.

For example, not too long ago someone had the bright idea of installing a second left turn lane at the foot of the Pali Highway by the Pali Golf Course. It freed up the Kaneohe bound traffic and then, in addition, the through traffic to Kailua flowed freely because the usual long line for the one left turn lane had been eliminated. A paltry few hundred thousand dollars and a major plug taken out of the traffic tie up.

More recently, the Hawaii Department of Transportation installed a contraflow lane along Nimitz Highway that has had a dramatic improvement on all H1 and Moanalua Freeway traffic. The additional lane is an incentive to motorists to leave H-1 before it gets to the merge with H-78. By pulling off traffic before it builds into a plug, it has had a greater benefit than anyone expected — including the planners.

Then there was the lack of impact of the bus strike. Most people were expecting gridlock and instead found that in many places traffic flowed better than it had with the city buses running. Hopefully, we have learned from the strike experience that an increased use of bus turnouts to get buses out of the traffic lanes and a greater use of vanpools and jitneys, rather than large buses, can have a highly significant effect on traffic congestion.

There are other inexpensive actions we can take that will similarly help with congestion.

For example, we can install ramp metering at those on-ramps where vehicles tend to arrive in large groups at the same time. It can happen where a traffic light near an on-ramp causes a large number of vehicles to build up at the red light, and then, when it turns green, they all arrive at the on-ramp together. Such a platoon of vehicles moving into a barely stable traffic flow causes a major disruption of the type that makes people to look around and ask, “What caused that?” Ramp metering puts a traffic light just before the freeway entry and meters vehicles evenly into the freeway traffic; everyone gets to their destination faster.

Some on-ramps cause such a disruption of the traffic flow that Professor Prevedouros, UH traffic expert in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, predicts that if they were merely closed during rush hours that it would greatly enhance freeway traffic flows.

Another option that would benefit traffic would be legalizing the use of hybrid Taxi/Jitneys. It would allow those taxi operators using vans to change from being exclusive-ride taxis to jitneys as business warrants. To change to jitney operation all they would need to do is change their dome light color and prominently post jitney fares. During rush hour this could provide jitney service between downtown and nearby densely populated areas. Such a fast, guaranteed-seat van service would be a boon to customers and entice more car drivers off our roads.

And then, of course, there are our traffic lights, which, the city assures us, are computerized and synchronized. Right. Our traffic lights must be our longest standing municipal joke. How many times do we motorists find ourselves sitting interminably at red lights at major intersections when there is absolutely no cross traffic?

There are many relatively small changes we can make that will be of significant help to traffic congestion. In time we will realize that there is no silver bullet for traffic congestion. Instead there are a myriad moderate changes to be made that in the aggregate will reduce traffic congestion far better than any visionary ‘silver bullet’ proposals — and at much less cost.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater