Wednesday, December 2, 2009

White Rocks, Black Tires and Green Shoulders

Warning: this blog is going to be of interest mainly to Volcano residents and visitors.

It's the week after the Volcano Artists' Hui's annual Open Studios event, and the evidence still remains around the village. On Haunani and Kilauea and Lehuanani and Wright Road -- wherever there was an open studio -- formerly grassy road shoulders have been turned into a morass of muddy ruts where visitors parked along the roadsides.

It happens every year. The Artists' Hui has tried to limit the damage, (and neighbors' complaints of noise and traffic snarls) by limiting the number of participating artists, by having more than one artist at a site, and by using sites on major streets instead of the one-lane trails by which many local residents reach their homes (hardly any of the official "open studios" are actually held in real artists' studios any more), but a number of other artists continue to hold "unofficial" sales at their houses on the same weekend.

Some neighbors put up obstacles such as construction-scene tape to keep vehicles off the shoulders near their homes. But that reduced the areas where cars could park, concentrating the damage and causing some drivers to pull off in really soggy places they might otherwise have avoided.

It's probably a small price to pay, in the long run, for the economic boost that the event gives the Village every year; not only the artists, but the local stores, restaurants, lodges and B&Bs all benefit from the flood of visitors. And the fault isn't wholly with the artists: it rests in part on the people who permitted and built the village's substandard roads.

And rutted road shoulders are not just a one-weekend-a-year problem. The cops were up here a couple of weekends ago, ticketing cars parked on the shoulders of Wright Road during Farmer's Market (another runaway success story, which keeps outgrowing its facilities despite the bulldozing of several acres of rain forest for parking lots.) And just day-to-day, the village's one-lane roads occasionally force cars onto the shoulders to avoid head-ons, though most of us long-time residents have become quite adept at pulling off on driveways when we see another car coming.

Which leads me to what I really want to talk about. A number of residents (and vacation rental owners) have taken to protecting the grass in front of their houses by placing rows of large rocks or stakes on the shoulders. Sometimes the rocks are painted white to make them more visible; sometimes not.

I'm sorry, but that practice is dangerous and illegal. Road shoulders, soft or not, are a functioning part of the right of way, not part of someone's lawn.

No resident in his right mind would pull off on a soft shoulder and risk getting stuck, if there's a viable alternative. But sometimes you have to. I was approaching a blind intersection of two one-lane lanes in the village a few days ago, when another car suddenly pulled into the intersection and turned toward me. The house next to the intersection apparently had guests, one of whom had parked on the shoulder opposite the house -- because the shoulder beside the house was lined with rocks. Had I been going a little faster or been a few feet closer to the intersection, I would have faced a split-second choice between head-oning the moving car, running into the parked car, or ripping off my exhaust system on the rocks.

Many residents would argue that our substandard roads and grassy shoulders are part of the Village's charm, and part of the price we pay for living in such a rustic and beautiful setting. The narrow lanes have imposed a sort of etiquette of consideration, with drivers pulling off and giving each other a friendly wave as they pass, that are part of the joy of living here. If people use a little common sense and common courtesy, the roads are not that big a burden. But rocks on the road shoulders are not charming at all.

If you live in a rain forest, there's going to be mud. But if you live in a rain forest, the grass will grow back really fast anyway. So visitors, please, if at all possible, don't pull off on the grass if there's an alternative. And residents, please cut it out with the rocks already.

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