Yes, We Have Fast In Honolulu

Look. Forget about all the advertising you’ve seen or heard that presents Hawai‘i as this quiet, restful, Mai-Tais-under-the-coconut-tree type of place. For one thing, you gotta watch those trees, lest a coconut fall out and whup you upside the head. For another, they may call Hawai‘i the “Aloha State”, but damned if this amoeba can find any of that stuff. They must use it all up on the tourists at Waikiki Beach, leaving nothing for the rest of us. Believe it, bruddah, this place has got a fast lane.

All you have to do is find it.

No, I’m not talking about rush hour on the (ahem) interstates around here. Everyone in Honolulu knows that, during the unfortunately-named morning and afternoon “drive times”, you can get to/from work faster by walking on top of the cars in the roads than by sitting behind their wheels.

But at other times of the day, the roads free up (more or less), and it’s actually possible to drive at the posted speed limits. And maybe a little more. Um, would you believe a lot more. Every chance that people get, thousands of Hawai‘ian motorists show their aloha spirit by racing each other for a spot in the fast lane.

Whichever lane that might happen to be.

Hands up, mainland Americans. Who remembers their driver-ed training? On any limited-access highway (freeway, expressway, toll road, whatever they call it in your state), the zippiest traffic is supposed to be in the leftmost lane, with slower cars in the middle lane and the slowest ones on the right. Not so?

Not here.

As often as not, a car will get on the H-1, or H-2, or H-3, take the shortest possible path to the lefthand lane, and then slow down. There is no tool known to humankind – no horn, no lights a-flashin’, no one-fingered salute – that will budge them from the lefthand lane until they get to their destination. Which is usually someplace about 40 miles away from where they started. And from where everybody else has started doing race-car maneuvers to pass them. Which, sooner or later, leads to a wreck. Which transforms the fast lane, and all the other lanes, into a rush-hour parking lot. Again.

Now, the guys who designed the freeways in the first place thought they had a great system. But I’m convinced they forgot to take into account the psychology of those slowest drivers. Why, after all, are they going so slow? Because they’re nervous. They’re not terribly comfortable out there. They just wish to get where they’re going, and be out of everybody’s way while they’re doing it.

So, the road designers ask them to get into the righthand lane. They got signs all over the place tellin’ ’em to. But where on the average freeway is the trickiest driving to be done? In the righthand lane. Where people are ducking in and out of exits (those in Hawai‘i have to be the worst-designed freeway interchanges this side of the Merritt Parkway) and changing lanes like brokers desperately trying to sell stock in Freddie Mac before the price drops another ten points. And half the time, the road itself is screwing the pitch on the drivers in the righthand lane. “What the bleeping hell do you mean, ‘Exit Only’?!?” The last place that Anxious Alex wishes to be is in that righthand lane, dealing with ten exits in the space of as many miles, and ten split-second decisions for each one.

Where Alex wishes to be is in the lefthand lane, as far away from that blasted commotion as he can get. “At last! Safe!!

Except maybe from that fellow who’s riding his rear bumper. Typically with a “Drive with Aloha” sticker on his own rear bumper.

The Honolulu police (who are, essentially, the O‘ahu police) do what they can. They have marked and unmarked cars to catch the worst speeders and weavers. They have checkpoints for impaired drivers. And unsecured drivers. Yes, like most American states, it is illegal to drive or ride in a car unless you have your seatbelt fastened.

But it is not illegal for a person to ride, unsecured, in the back of a pickup truck.

So it’s entirely possible for an officer to be writing up a clerk driving a new Buick for not wearing his seatbelt during a Click It Or Ticket drive, and watching helplessly as a rickety Ford F-150 roars by with seven teenagers bouncing around in the bed.

That must make them feel real wonderful.


  1. Quilly, in Oklahoma, they had a speed limit sign once that was 57MPH. Why 57? They wanted to see if anyone actually noticed. Everyone noticed, but nobody cared. Oklahomans tend to drive SLOOOW.

    OC, welcome back! You know, I never really pondered it, but you’re right. The worst place to be is in the righthand lane. And I’ve encountered more than my fair share of people in the back of a pickup (again with the Oklahoma thing). Fortunately my mother made it clear that was never an option, and the lesson stuck.

  2. i don’t know whether that’s good or not but our highways only have two or max three lanes… the traffic gets real slooooow at times and there are always dawdlers on the fast lane but somehow they still swallow the traffic most of the time

  3. Brig — in my younger days I spent a week crossing Nebraska behind some farmer in a rusted out pick up truck …. zzzzzzzzz.

    Diesel — ah yes, but that was the era when, “The Grownups Wanted Us Dead.”

    Polona — the best thing about a “slow rush” is having a better chance of coming out the other side of an accident alive.

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