Please step out of the vehicle!

SUBHEAD: It's for your own health, safety and sanity. You can't say you haven't been warned.

By Juan Wilson on 3 March 2015 for Island Breath -

Image above: Kauai Police Department’s Sgt. Roderick Green stands with one of the new Ford Explorer Police Interceptor Utility vehicles. From (

Last week I attended a meeting with some of the members of a Kauai group of a national environmental organization. The group does good work for the community as well as provide services for the island and its visitors.

Much of the in-house work of the group has been adapted to work done at home and through telecommunications. This saves greatly on fuel burned in order get from Hanalei and Hanapepe just to sit and the same room and talk.

However, every so often we do get together for meetings when needed. The meeting was set for 11:00am at a unit of the Waipouli Beach Resort opposite the Kapaa Safeway. I began my trip from Hanapepe Valley with over an hour set for traveling time. Thus began my tribulation. 

Highway Blues
There is only one way around the island - the Kaumualii and Kuhio Highways that link up in Lihue.   They were crowded all the way from the Westside to the Eastside of the island. Some of it was normal Kauai traffic but I also had to pass a nasty accident between Tree Tunnel Road and Halfway Bridge.

If you are familiar with  in that area you might have noticed there is a "Bike Lane" marked with signs going west from Puhi. It mysteriously disappears before you get to Knudsen Gap with a cryptic sign that simply reads "Bike Lane Ends". What bike lane merely ends in the middle of nowhere?

I think this "Bike Lane Ends" is due to the fact that the bridges over the stream crossings along much of the Southside after Halfway Bridge were built in the 1930's when the vehicular traffic on Kauai was so light that oncoming traffic was a rarity.

Back then one-lane bridges were acceptable. From 1911 until the late 1938 the main highway over the Hanapepe River was a one-lane bridge.

Now those one-lane bridges over the Route 50 on the Southside are deathtraps to pedestrians and bikers, if two trucks are passing one another while you are on one of those bridges. Between the stone wall of the bridge and the side of a speeding truck there is hardly the room for a wobbly bike handle bar.

Several years ago my wife Linda and I were driving west on this section of road and came across a couple with three young children on bikes as they were approaching the "Bike Lane Ends" sign. They kept going and Linda and I worried about their safety.

Image above: Approaching the "Tree Tunnel" Road from the west. Note stone bridge over stream ahead with no margin for bikes or pedestrians. (

Accident Along the Highway
As I passed the Tree Tunnel Road going east there were cones in the road diverting traffic around a tree trimming operation that was working on the side of the road going westbound. Traffic slowed to a crawl. But the traffic was not alleviated once past the tree trimming trucks. There were more cones behind the trucks diverting westbound traffic toward the east-bound traffic so as to avoid the tree trimming. Ahead of me were flashing lights. Two cop cars and a fire truck were there. Also an ambulance with a empty stretcher.

East of the ambulance a single new model car was parked on the verge with a caved in grill. Behind the ambulance I could just see the outstretched arms of the victim. It seemed the paramedics were still working to stabilize the victim before transfer to the stretcher.

What seems to have happened was a cyclist followed the line of cones and was clipped from behind by the car with the bent grill. A did not see a twisted bike, but I figure someone walking would have stayed outside of the cones and avoided the traffic until they got to the tree trimming.  

More Different Bike Path
If the state and county had any interest in cycling they would change their priorities entirely. At a fraction of the cost per mile of their current "Bike Path"construction plans, they could make much of the island accessible for bikes. They would simply add a relatively cheap bike crossing bridge on the sides of the 1930 deathtrap they call bridges now along the southern leg of Route 50. I have not counted them but my sense it it may be as few as a dozen such crossings.

On the Southside this would open Koloa, Poipu, and Kukuiula to cyclists as well as be the first phase of a gateway to the whole Westside. Once past Kalaheo riders could take the lovely Rt 540 bypass down to Old Hanapepe Town. Beyond this, biking is fairly easy.

Image above: Does this Costco look familiar? The corner entrance, the food court on the right hand, the mountain in the background?  No it's not Puhi, but Costco Rancho Cucamonga. From (

Continuing Down the Road
The traffic was solid past halfway Bridge and into Puhi.  There a large new shopping plaza is arising in what was recently an open field opposite the Chiefess Kamakahelei, Middle School and the YMCA of Kauai Fitness Center. Both of those were fields in recent years too. Nearby is the Home Depot and Costco (which replaced a public park). The effect of all this is architectural chaos and suburban sprawl.

What was once open space on either side of the road is morphing into the southern California hell of Rancho Cucamonga.

The road goes on in a river of rental cars and commuters through the new (five years in the making) highway widening passing the Kukui Grove Mall, on past the Walmart and beyond.

I know, I know... this is what progress means. More time in your car's air conditioning, listening to an $800 dollar sound system while you checking your iPhone's text messages. At least you're getting some hard earned "me time".

But I digress.

Counter Intuitive Counter Flow
Once past the Walmart and Lihue we're into the chute of traffic cones that define the Counter Flow Lane between Hanamaulu and Kapaa. Every weekday northbound Route 50 is reduced to a single narrow lane by the placement by hand of thousands of OSHA orange traffic cones that allow two lane traffic south for the rush hour for half the day. I forgot the cost for this daily service that requires two trucks and a crew of eight.

Along the way we come to the next hurdle -  the traffic pile up once over the Wailua River of people trying to access Kaumoo Road and one of the largest areas of residential development on the island. This bottleneck is right where some idiots want to rebuild the Coco Palms Hotel. It was a bad idea when it was built over a Hawaiian cultural site and graveyard in 1953 and it's a worse idea now.

Climate change driven global warming will make this spot untenable in not much more than a generation. We have already seen the ocean cut away the beach right to the edge of the highway in 2012. (see and and Some kind of passage across the  Coco Palms site may be the only way to to keep the north and south sides of the island connected.

Image above: Wailua Beach in 2012 with erosion taking out the life guard stand and endangering the highway. From (

The Last Leg
Soon we are on to what was once called the Royal Coconut Coast. A 100 acres of coconut tree orchards were spread out on both sides of the Kuhio Highway. Over decades it has been picked apart by development. The Coconut Marketplace was one of the earliest big modernizations. It is now an almost abandoned shopping area with a few tourist traps. Most recently a gigantic Longs Drugs plaza was built blacktopping acres of coconut trees. More is planned. A few scraggly patches of palms still stand. Even that will be gone soon.

Then we crawl through traffic to Waipouli. Sprawl is dense here. Large supermarket anchored plazas (Foodland and Safeway) sit side by side. In the Waipouli Shopping Plaza where the Safeway is sits the now abandoned old Long's Drug store and a variety of low traffic store fronts.

Deep in this plaza was once a beautiful inner court that featured a waterfall behind a lava lock stage facing a lawn with a stream leading past a koi pond next to an artist's gallery.  Papaya's Health Food Store faces that courtyard and had tables and umbrellas for people to eat and rest in a cool quiet space away from the highway. It was truly a place of refuge on the suburbanized Eastside of Kauai.

Now waterfall, the stream the grass and the pond and gallery are gone. It was all  blacktopped over for additional parking that were requested by struggling retailers.

Across the street from the Waipouli Shopping Plaza was once about ten acres of undeveloped beachfront property with low dunes rimmed with ironwood trees. A field of grasses and bushes came all the way to the highway.

This was my destination. But it was not a field any more. It is now the recently opened Waipouli Beach Resort. It's also provides residences and vacation rentals.

Image above: Nighttime under the stars at theWaipouli Beach Resort. Tropical Elegance of Surf, Sun & Sushi equals Livin'the Dream!" From (

The meeting I was going to was to take place - in a top floor suite of the Waipouli Beach Resort. This one was one of the projects our group had fought so hard to stop in 2005 and 2006. (see and

I had never been on this site after construction. After the meeting I went on a walking tour around the grounds. The buildings are dense and as tall as legally allowed. They cluster around one of these amusement park styled pools that go on forever with slides and coves and even sport an artificial beach. I finally crossed the Eastside bike path along the ocean shore.

The developers of the Waipouli Beach Resort tried to force it mauka to go along the highway instead of along the shore. They lost that battle but their landscaping kind of hints that you are trespassing if you are in front of their beach.

But strangely that beach was empty. The swimming there is not good. It requires crossing a long shallow jagged reef.

Even so, you'd think that if you were at a "beach resort" you might try at least try sunning on the shore for a while. But no. Everybody was at the pool. It was safer and you can get a drink and a hamburger poolside. Who even needs a beach at a beach resort?

Some background
I guess I'm spoiled by having driven on Kauai for over a year in 1971-72. Back then there were no traffic lights at intersections of public roads. There were yellow warning lights on public roads that were occasionally turned on at harvest time when cane haul trucks crossed public roads loaded with sugarcane going to the mill.

Today the mills are dormant and much of the island is denied via the cane haul roads by padlocked gates. But back in the day the public had access to the streams, waterfalls, and forests of the plantations if it wasn't harvest time. Back then you could enter plantation property to park and then hike into all kinds of wonderful places. Not any more.

One after another those special mauka (inland) places have been denied -  Ooiki Falls in Hanapepe Valley; Waipahee Slippery Slide, Kealia; Kipu Falls, near Puhi...

...That is unless you have paid a hefty fee for a ride in an off-road-vehicle across tough terrain, or on a zip line through the trees, or in an inner-tube down a ditch.

Those old places for recreation will be lost to people on Kauai until the credit card wielding tourists don't come by the thousands anymore and the GMO companies fade back to the mainland.


1 comment :

Anonymous said...


Thank is interesting what you point out about the progressive occupation of shoreland property. Here in New Brunswick, Canada most of the river, lake and ocean front waterfront is still open and accessible. There have been large tracts within 20 minutes of a major city where affluent residents have constructed major residences that serve as an insult to the beauty they replaced. That has happened over the last 30 years. Common people can still access lots of wilderness that is not defined by a provincial park.

My wife is from New Hampshire. The United States was an interesting place for me to check out for 5 years. Some of the most beautiful people I have come to know are from New Hampshire but the common man had zero access to ocean front. Lakes were overrun with development. I did do some good canoeing but I abandoned fishing as it was weird sitting in a lineup of cars to get to the lake. There were stripers on the coast at public beaches.

What you describe should not be lamented. It should be very well understood and we should come to expect it. I tell the kids and the wife to stay off the road altogether if on foot or bicycle. It's not safe any way about it although sometimes we've got to go.

I don't approve of the improvement of social infrastructure in order to accommodate minorities but bike lanes are the exception. People need to be connected by bike lanes. Bike lanes should be emphasized but those cylclists that think they have a right should be banned. They should take enough responsibility to properly assess the hazards. There are all sorts of interactions with people that don't think like they do (for whatever reason).

No one should not be on bicycles on busy roads with inappropriate infrastructure. As a society, it is impossible to accommodate all major interests so take responsibility for your actions. PG

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