Lanikai Jam

There’s no easy solution for Kailua’s thoroughfares.

On days when he is on call at Hawaii Pacific Neuro-science at Castle Medical Center, Dr. David Kaminskas parks his car near Kailua town—a couple miles from his Lanikai home. When a phone call comes in, Kaminskas hops on his bike and rides to his car, and then drives to the hospital from there.

It might seem like an overly elaborate process to get to work—and it is—but it is one that has become necessary for Kaminskas in recent months.

“When it comes to a stroke, minutes are critical,” says Kaminskas, a neurologist. “I need to really move quickly in order to get to the ER in order to provide these people care.”

But moving quickly to get out of Lanikai has become increasingly challenging due to heavy, sometimes gridlocked, traffic. Kaminskas has yet been in a situation where the traffic prevents him from getting to the hospital to treat an emergency patient, but it is something he worries about.

Residents have been noticing an uptick in traffic for the past few years, coinciding with Kailua as a whole getting busier. If ever there was a balance between sharing Kailua’s beaches and its small-town charm while also preserving them, stories like Kaminskas’ indicate that the scales have tipped the wrong way. The influx of traffic and resulting congestion has turned into a public health and safety issue—and one that is taking the efforts of the entire community in a collaboration among residents, community organizations, elected officials and the City and County of Honolulu.

More than an Inconvenience

Driving from Lanikai into Kailua town should take less than 10 minutes. But on weekends, holidays or even just sunny summer weekdays, traffic can back up far into the loop and all the way up to Kalapawai Market, and that quick trip can take up to three hours.

The infrastructure of the neighborhood, residents say, simply was not meant to handle that.

“We’re just a big cul-de-sac—once you get in, there is only one way out,” explains Michael Groza, a Lanikai resident and president of Lanikai Association.

Residents have had to make adjustments in their daily routines. Lanikai Association’s traffic committee chairman John Foti, for example, runs errands late in the evening or drops a car off in Kailua town before the peak weekend aſternoon traffic starts.

But the real issue is more than an inconvenience. It puts residents and beach-goers alike at risk.

“Department of Transportation Services always has recognized congestion in Lanikai as a safety issue, not so much a traffic-congestion issue,” DTS director Michael Formby explains. “With one way in and one way out and traffic at a standstill on weekends and holidays, it’s a safety issue for the community.”

Foti and Groza oſten have seen police cars, ambulances or fire trucks in the Mokulua Drive queue. Plus, a number of physicians, like Kaminskas, live in Lanikai.

And getting around within Lanikai has become a giant, dangerous game of Frogger for pedestrians and bicyclists as they try to avoid parked cars in the bike lane and moving vehicles on the road.

With so many cars, parking has become something of a free-for-all. Desperate to snag a spot, drivers might park on street corners, in the bike lane, and occasionally even leave half of their vehicle jutting out into the middle of the road.

“You’ll be driving along and there will be [a car] in the bike lane. And then the door swings open, and there is no room for you in the car,” Foti says.

“This is not safe; it is absolutely not safe,” state Rep. Cynthia Thielen says.

Traffic also has become problematic in Kailua town, which Thielen anticipates will only worsen as the area continues to grow with developments like Target.

“A lot of the pedestrians are from other countries and aren’t quite aware of our traffic laws in Hawai‘i,” Thielen says.

“Time aſter time, I see people going across from the Macy’s parking lot over to the post office side, right snack in the middle of the road,” she adds.

Coming Together

Efforts to address these issues began about three years ago, when signs that Kailua had become a major tourist destination were undeniable. DTS, local elected officials and community groups that include Kailua Neighborhood Board, and Malama Ka‘ohao, in addition to the Lanikai Association, have discussed the issue at public meetings, and conducted traffic studies and surveys.

“I think we are all in unison that the problem is at epic proportions,” Groza says.

As a result, a number of measures already have been put into place. To discourage drivers from parking in the bike lane, a “No Parking” icon has been painted in increments along Mokulua Drive. Plus, signs informing people there is now a minimum $200 fine for parking in the bike lane have been posted on telephone poles around the loop. These aren’t perfect solutions—some of the signs aren’t very visible—but they’re a step in the right direction.

“People parking in the bike lane is way down,” Foti says. “It has been helpful in mitigating it to some extent.”

But he admits the sheer volume of cars has drowned out the impact. One way to address that is to promote alternate modes of transportation.

“It would be a much better experience for them to park in Kailua town and walk in or ride their bike,” Foti says, adding that education is key. “They will have a better time, and we will have a better time.”

Formby says that DTS also is looking at the possibility of other signage that would ban parking at major intersections and high-pedestrian spots, as well as a notice at the beginning of Lanikai that would inform drivers about potential backups. Based on conversations with the community, DTS also is exploring the installation of a roundabout near Kalapawai Market and construction of multiuse paths that extend from Kailua town to the beach.

But some proposed solutions are a little more contentious, like whether a traffic signal or roundabout should be installed near Kalapawai Market, or whether all parking should be banned on Mokulua Drive—and getting the community to agree on what needs to be done still is a work in progress.

Through this all, though, a common thread seems to be forward thinking and a collective dedication to solve a complicated problem. If there is a longing for a simpler, less-crowded time, it’s a healthy dose of nostalgia, not a crippling one.

“That is the advantage of having a community like this, where everybody kind of becomes a steward of the community in different ways,” Groza says. “Nobody in the community is saying don’t come to the beach, don’t enjoy Lanikai. Nobody is saying that at all. What we are trying to do is work in the spirit of aloha to make it a wonderful experience for everybody.”