Monday, April 12, 1999

hurts life in the

Fast-merging traffic is the
biggest complaint about the system
created to alleviate the
H-1 rush hour crush

By Lori Tighe


When Mike Magata uses the Zip-Lane to commute from Ewa Beach to Honolulu, he loves it: "It bypasses traffic and works well."

But when he's stuck in the car-pool lane alongside it, "it can be a nightmare."

He refers to ZipLane drivers who merge into his lane at breakneck speed from the left, and drivers who zoom into his lane from the right - at the same time.

People in the ZipLane like it, but some in its neighboring lanes say it has made their commute more dangerous. The ZipLane borrows from the westbound lanes to give to the eastbound traffic in morning rush hour.

Opened in August, the ZipLane has been praised as an ingenious way to temporarily add one lane for peak-hour traffic by mechanically moving concrete barriers. The same system is also used in Dallas, Boston, San Diego and New York.

Ten miles long, it begins in Waikele and ends near the airport. After morning rush hour, an $800,000 Zipmobile removes the barriers by the same method.


"I rate it very good. It carries double the number of people compared to regular lanes on H-1," said Transportation Director Kazu Hayashida.

Close to 2,500 vehicles use it daily between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m., he said. Bus drivers report they save as much as a half-hour in the west-east commute, and car drivers report saving between 10 and 15 minutes.

The reason the ZipLane works headed toward downtown is that 60 percent of the morning traffic is headed eastbound while 40 percent is westbound, said transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali.

But in the afternoon traffic headed in both directions is evenly split, and if a ZipLane were installed headed Ewa-bound, it would jam up motorists headed eastbound, Kali said.

But since the ZipLane was created, the freeway by Wahiawa Exit 8B has been a magnet for accidents, say some motorists. TheZipLane left only one lane continuing Ewa-bound.

Motorists cruising along on the right side of the freeway Ewa-bound suddenly found themselves in the wrong lane and changed lanes veering to the left to go straight.

To clear up the problem, the Transportation Department painted arrows on the lanes and emphasized overhead signs recently to warn drivers earlier about the upcoming lane changes.

"We hope that will take some confusion out and make it safer," Hayashida said.

In the future, state transportation officials want to make theZipLane narrower to enable two lanes to continue to Ewa.

Now the ZipLane stretches 22 feet wide to accommodate one lane with a shoulder for breakdowns.

Initially drivers tried to pass each other on the ZipLane, which caused a hazard, Hayashida said.

"We discouraged them from passing," through a public education campaign, he said.

Honolulu police officers also have discouraged drivers who ride with less than the required three people in the ZipLane.

Tickets can reach as high as $250 with three months jail time. So far 48 tickets have been issued to ZipLane violators, said Milton Hee, manager of Traffic Violations Bureau in District Court.

"More people are saying the lane is a necessity, than not," said Lt. Alfredo Torco, in charge of the Solo Bike detail, the motorcycles which patrol the highways. "It's a great thing."

As far as increased pileup accidents or speeding, Torco has seen both increase all over Oahu.

"The reason for collisions is mainly speeding. When they decriminalized the traffic code, it is just a matter of paying a fine," Torco said. "People just need to slow down."

Disabled cars also have been a problem in the ZipLane, as well as trash and debris, and slow drivers who don't go 50 mph, said Pericles Manthos, highways administrator for the Transportation Department.

A few Ziplinks, concrete barriers used to make the ZipLane, have been hit by cars but were replaced quickly by Zipcrews, he said.

A Zipcrew now takes a run before the ZipLane opens, to clear trash away. And a tow truck service remains on call for disabled cars.

But slow drivers continue to frustrate some people on the Zip-Lane.

"All in all we think the ZipLane has been successful," Manthos said. "People have requested it in other parts of Oahu. However the rush-hour traffic is heavy in both directions so it's not feasible. But it's encouraging they want it."

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