Sunday, January 06, 2008
Kauai Bridge Etiquette
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the laid-back atmosphere of Kauai more than its many single-lane bridges along the road heading west out of Hanalei to road’s end. The road ends at Ke’e Beach and the famed Kalalau Trailhead. Driving this rural, curvy road that sometimes hugs the coast and sometimes affords lofty views high upon the bluff, you learn patience and you learn to take your time. Kauai is the most unhurried of the four main Hawaiian Islands. If you insist on living life at mainland pace, you’ll miss the point. And this brings me to the single-lane bridges.
The two-lane road simply collapses into a single lane at numerous bridges. Here’s what you do.
First, you’re hopefully not driving more than 25 or 30 miles per hour. As you approach the bridge, if there are no cars approaching from the other direction, you’re free to go. Once you’re on the bridge, any opposing traffic will (there’s really no choice here) wait for you to cross.
If a car is already on the bridge coming towards you, you wait behind the point that the road becomes a single lane. This is where the etiquette part kicks in. Drivers are not expected to alternate—that would slow things and produce confusion. Instead, cars considered in the flow are expected to cross with the lead car. Perhaps 3 or 5 cars will go. When this number starts to grow large, a polite Kauaian will defer to the opposing traffic and become first in line for the next crossing. Now, as you wait, you see that there indeed is an end to the stream of automobiles advancing over the bridge. After the last one passes, you can cross. While you were waiting, chances are others have lined up behind you. They too have become part of the flow and will cross with you.
Much of the time, the entire line of waiting cars will proceed across the bridge. If a straggling car now approaches the bridge, there is an obvious break in the flow. A polite driver will recognize this and stop so that the opposing traffic, still waiting, can proceed.
Amazingly enough, this works pretty well, but with 6 or 7 bridges, you can see how your travel time the last 6 miles of the highway is slow. And that’s partially the point. If you can’t slow down your pace and take your turn, well, politely speaking, you should just probably stay at a resort in the airport city of Lihue. But for those who want to see the end of the world, one-lane bridges are a great introduction to island life.