HANAMA‘ULU — Happy, laughing faces greeted the motorists stuck in traffic outside the King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School.
The faces belonged to the more than 50 students, their families and government leaders who took part in the first walking school bus for King Kaumuali‘i.
“I didn’t realize the traffic was this bad,” one Kaua‘i Police Department officer said while gazing at the line of cars, which backed down Hanama‘ulu Road from the Kuhio Highway traffic light. “I normally work in Hanalei and haven’t seen this traffic since my daughter went to school here.”
In addition to providing a healthy alternative to getting to school, a benefit of the walking school bus is to reduce or eliminate the traffic congestion created by parents dropping off students.
Carie Inouye, the King Kaumuali‘i teacher who coordinated the inaugural walking school bus, said there were about 60 students signed up to participate, but with a sudden deluge of rain, which opened up at the starting hour, more than 50 students trekked past the welcoming line.
At the welcoming line there were members of the school’s staff, parent volunteers and other students who distributed water and literature on safer routes to school.
“I can’t believe this,” said Bev Brody, island coordinator for Get Fit Kaua‘i, a partner in the walking school bus program. “I had a group of about 20 students at the Pa‘anau Village. Do you realize that 75 percent of those students do not walk to school, even if it’s across the street?”
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., accompanying the group which left Laukona Park, asked one of the students if they would walk to school if there were safer sidewalks and crossings, getting enthusiastic nods of agreement during the brisk walk.
Currently, the county has plans and has worked on improvements in several school zones. The actions are derived from the walking school bus program, which is coordinated by the Safer Routes to School program and Get Fit Kaua‘i.
Jenn Linton, the SRS Kaua‘i coordinator who accompanied the group as the tail end anchor, said the walking school bus takes place on the second Wednesday of each month during the school year and has several schools participating including the Kapa‘a Elementary School, Kilauea Elementary School, Kalaheo Elementary School and St. Catherine School. King Kaumuali‘i, with its inaugural walk, joins the growing list of participating schools.
Kaua‘i Police Department officers assisted in the effort, although the goal of the walking school bus is to eventually wean itself from KPD assistance.
“They did an amazing job,” Brody said. “They were able to get the staff to assist, and setting up the finish station in an area where it allowed traffic to flow through the school and still have impact is amazing.”