Under the Sun
Freedom of the road now a nostalgic memory
A KAUAI resident who hadn't been to Honolulu in about three years was astonished that even on weekends, traffic packs the H-1.
She had assumed that when people told her to always expect slow going on the freeway they were exaggerating. They weren't. She found that no matter if it was Saturday or Monday or Wednesday, through most of the daylight hours and into the night, cars stream relentlessly over Oahu's roads.
Kauai, she said, had traffic problems, but nothing like the city's. She said it made her feel better about her daily 20-minute commute, at least until a minor fender-bender tacked on more than 45 minutes one rainy morning.
That's the thing about traffic. You don't much care about it as long as you don't get stuck in it.
When some national study or other details how drivers in Skokie, Ill., or Franconia, Va., spend 63.78 minutes a day in jams, then spins out stats that show we in Honolulu don't have it as bad as others, I laugh because, as that Kauai woman conceded, knowing others suffer doesn't necessarily lessen misery on island roads.
It wasn't always painful. I'm remember when the freeway first opened, the family piled into the black four-door sedan -- was it a Pontiac? -- for a test drive. By turns, each of the kids got to sit by a window for a spell, no seat belts or harnesses to restrain us, few other cars to block our views.
At 40 mph, mock orange bushes planted between the coming and going lanes became blurred green barriers, but we could still catch the sweet scent of their white blossoms in the rushing air.
At the service station, $2 was the standard order for a fill-up of gasoline, the pump so slow that the attendant had enough time to wipe the windows and check the tires before its ping-pinging stopped.
In college, a friend's huge white car -- was it a Chrysler? -- gave the gang a cheap, weather-proof hangout that could accommodate six in comfort. Each of us would chip in a buck for gas and still have cash to pick up guava juice and mochi crunch to sustain us through the cruising.
The itinerary would vary from town cruises -- Tantalus, Waikiki and Manoa -- to runs to the airport or night-time tours up the old Pali Road where we'd scare ourselves telling ghosts stories about pork and apparitions of white-haired women in the rear-view mirror.
Problems with traffic never entered our minds. The freedom of the road had yet to be confined by the price of fuel and number of vehicles.
We're talking now about a transit system, probably rail, that we hope will lessen traffic congestion in Honolulu. The notion is that drivers will leave their cars -- or a least one of the two or three each household seems to own -- in the garage and hop on a train instead.
Even then, I don't expect free-flowing movement on the H-1, the H-2, H-3, Kapiolani Boulevard or Moanalua Road.
There are just too many people, each with destinations too far from home or purposes too numerous to perform without a private vehicle. It will be tough to persuade them to surrender the independence and convenience of a car.
Humans are good at adapting. Some will undoubtedly reconcile themselves to a heightened misery factor that's sure to come as the island's driving population increases. But I hope more will adjust the other way and decide that a car doesn't have to be the hub of their lives.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org