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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Let them perform their jobs

David Shapiro
can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net

When I was a newspaper editor, I had to learn the hard way that there are some things you don't mess with lightly if you value your tranquility.

You think twice before replacing long-running comic strips, no matter how stale they've become. You see your shrink before fooling with the horoscope, no matter how much its banality insults your readers. You take a deep breath before switching to a new crossword puzzle, no matter how good its reputation among aficionados.

Because no matter how much you believe you've improved your newspaper, any of these changes will seriously annoy a great many people who liked things the way they were. They'll make a hobby of tormenting you until you relent and change things back — or your secretary convinces them that you've fled the jurisdiction.

State and city traffic engineers must get the same feeling when they tinker with highway flow to try to make our roads run smoother and safer.

No matter how good their intentions, somebody is always going to hate the idea and raise a godawful fuss. This seems especially true when it comes to the thorny problem of pedestrian safety along residential sections of the Pali Highway.

We Windward commuters can be a surly bunch. We take it as a right to whiz through Nu'uanu at our pleasure, staring down elderly pedestrians standing at crosswalks with looks that warn, "Don't even think about it."

Pali scofflaws were among the chief targets of the state's ill-advised deployment of traffic cameras to catch speeders. And we helped lead the counterattack that brought the Cayetano administration and Legislature to their knees.

Now we have a new state administration — and a new flap over the relatively small matter of rumble strips installed on the Pali Highway to slow traffic in areas thick with pedestrians.

It looked like a benign enough way to address a longstanding problem. If it worked, it certainly seemed preferable to more intrusive solutions such as unsightly pedestrian overpasses or more traffic signals that would further clog the commute.

Drivers immediately groused, however, that the speed bumps could damage cars that hit them too fast and pose a danger to motorcycles.

The state responded quickly to the complaints by lowering the strips to half their original height and cutting lanes to allow motorcyclists to avoid the bumps.

But drivers still didn't like getting their brains rattled even a little bit as they sped through the strips, and residents complained about the rumbling noise made by passing cars. Acrimonious debate ensues.

If we think about it, this isn't the atmosphere we want to create for those we elect and hire to serve our interests. If we ever want things to get better, we must allow these professionals leeway to employ trial and error — especially when they're willing to correct for unexpected problems.

We should remember that traffic pros often know what they're doing and come up with creative ideas that work out nicely.

Despite initial public skepticism, for instance, the city greatly reduced the drive time from downtown Honolulu to H-1 and the Pali by opening a mauka-bound lane on Punchbowl Street near the civic center and making smart lane adjustments on upper Punchbowl.

Frustrating traffic is a stressful part of life on Oahu, and it's only natural that we're easily upset by changes that threaten more aggravation.

But sometimes we have to suspend our annoyance for at least a little while to give our public servants a fair chance to do their jobs.