By Tommy Noyes
Lihu‘e, the heart of Kaua‘i, is an evolving urban center. The Kaua‘i County Public Works Department is almost done with progressive enhancements celebrating the historic core of the town — and the improvements will make Lihu‘e more pedestrian-friendly.
The Hardy Street roadway upgrades have already improved vehicular, pedestrian, public transportation and bicycle circulation. The project implements complete streets concepts, and now the street is safer and more welcoming for all users, including cars, bikes, pedestrians and transit.
The project’s centerpiece is a well-designed roundabout at the intersection of Umi and Hardy streets. Artifacts rescued from the Lihu‘e Plantation Mill — industrial sugar cane cutters, rollers and crushers — adorn the center of the roundabout and celebrate our cultural roots as a sugar plantation town.
Will more vehicles pass through a roundabout or an intersection with stop signs within a given period of time?
MythBusters conducted comparison of the two types of intersections, and posted a short entertaining video at wimp.com/testroundabout/. The findings support the volume-handling efficiency of roundabouts. The reduced likelihood and severity of crashes in a roundabout and the fiscal efficiencies from reduced maintenance and energy expenses provide strong incentives to replace signalized intersections with passive roundabouts.
The Hardy Street project was in the planning stages for quite some time. In 2007, the County of Kaua‘i finished the Lihu‘e Civic Center Site Improvements Master Plan, followed in 2008 by the Lihu‘e Town Core Urban Design Plan. The goals of both plans were to revitalize the Lihu‘e Civic Center, create a pedestrian-friendly town and incorporate alternative modes of transportation such as bicycles and buses.
The newly reconfigured Hardy Street now includes two travel lanes with a landscaped median, back in diagonal on street parking at Wilcox Elementary School, turn lanes, bike lanes, planter strips and continuous sidewalks running the entire length.
Bicyclists, pedestrians, and people who rely on mobility assistance devices all appreciate these traffic-calming measures. Reducing motor vehicle speeds adjacent to our elementary school, library, church and civic center increases safety by reducing the risk and severity of injuries.
This new complete street is affecting Wilcox Elementary School students. Get Fit Kaua‘i collects survey data annually, tracking the number of students walking and bicycling. Steady increases in the number of students using active transportation to and from Wilcox Elementary School are anticipated.
In any case, the morning and afternoon traffic congestion around the school during drop-off and pick-up times has been eased, largely due to the roundabout accommodating a constant flow from Umi and Hardy streets because there are no conflicts from trying to drive directly across the intersection or waiting to make a left-hand turn.
It may take a few months for this new aspect of Lihu‘e to be generally accepted, but I predict soon Hardy Street will be proudly showcased as a prime example of good governance and planning. Mahalo to all who helped bring this new streetscape to reality.
- Tommy Noyes works for the Hawai‘i State Department of Health’s Public Health Preparedness branch, serves on Kaua‘i Path’s board of directors, and is a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor.