Land Use Drives Honolulu Traffic Congestion

On paper, Honolulu should be the ideal candidate for public transit. As a coastal city, it ranks as one of the highest density cities in the U.S. Urbanization also follows a linear path from the southeast corner of O’ahu (Diamond Head) westward past Pearl Harbor to Kapolei. This is an ideal design for a transit supportive corridor. On paper.

What I found when I visited was a mid-size city with traffic congestion rivaling L.A. on its main highway corridors despite very high levels of bus ridership. These high levels of traffic congestion were the result of two factors: the decentralization and fragmentation of O’ahu’s population toward the west and north, and the unwillingness to invest in highway infrastructure to meet rising demand. Transit investment is going to little to relieve these traffic choke points because the current plans connect the wrong places to the wrong people.

The Grassroot Institute and the Hawai’i Reporter have now published my commentary on the Honolulu’s traffic congestion, showing how land use changes are inextricably linked to solving the urbanized area’s transportation problems. The most important solutions are relatively modest–adding an elevated reversible HOT Lane from just west of Pearl Harbor to the University of Hawai’i. A few queue jumpers on the arterials would also clear back ups onto the limited access highways. A more ambitious proposal would be a tunnel linking the newly emerging regions on the southwest side of the island to downtown Honolulu.

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