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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Events hurt business access

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The city's transportation director promised to improve traffic access at big holiday events, after road closures in downtown and Waikiki last weekend caused big head-aches for residents and businesses.

In Waikiki on Friday night, a portion of Kalakaua Avenue was closed for four hours for the black-tie opening of the Honu Group's new upscale shopping center. Waikiki traffic was diverted onto Kuhio Avenue.

The following evening in downtown Honolulu, all mauka-makai streets in the area bounded by King, Punchbowl, Beretania and River streets were closed for the Honolulu City Lights Parade.

Cheryl Soon, city director of the Department of Transportation Services, said it was a big weekend for public events and the first year of the extended Electric Light Parade.

"Unfortunately, the first time you do something, you make some mistakes and we did here," Soon said. "We can certainly make some adjustments next year."

Downtown streets were closed from 4:30 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. Residents say they are accustomed to having public events close some streets, but with so many streets closed the entire area was brought to a standstill for more than three hours, and businesses paid the price.

"Every single mauka-makai street was closed and nobody could get through," said Lynne Matusow, chairwoman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board. "How can residents get to their garages to park their cars?"

Matusow said residents knew the extended parade route would close King Street, but the city didn't inform residents about the restrictions even though a city representative attended a board meeting just two days before to talk about the parade.

The Jim Nabors Christmas show was also that night at the Hawai'i Theatre, and many seats at the sold-out performance were empty because ticket holders couldn't get there or park. Indigo Eurasian Cuisine, near the theater, had 35 no-shows on reserved tables and 15 fewer walk-in tables than on a usual Saturday night.

"I wish we would have known," said Paul Carey, manager of Indigo, "We would have had a block party."

Burton White, producer of the Nabors program, said the only way the show went on at all was because he gave police a list of the cast and crew members who then allowed them to drive in, but not customers.

"I hope the city addresses what caused this thing," White said. "People were dragging violins, harps and wheelchairs for four blocks because somebody wasn't thinking."

Soon said next year all the mauka-makai streets downtown will not be closed and there will be some breaks in the parade to let traffic pass.

"We were a little bit vindicated by the fact that so many people come to enjoy the event," Soon said. "We feel terrible about the impacts on those who unfortunately experienced a problem because of it and hope their complaints will help us do it better next year."

Compounding the congestion in Waikiki was that Honolulu Marathon runners were required to pick up their packets for the race Sunday at a spot on Lewers Street and there was big meal for runners at the Waikiki Shell along with other smaller events.

Waikiki resident Johnny Ong said people are used to roads being closed with the many parades and events in the crowded tourist area, but closing a block for a private party with so many other events going on was too much.

"What really upset me is when you walk on the sidewalk in front of those expensive stores they say it is closed," Ong said. "Police told us to go on the other side or into the street. The sidewalk is public property."

Soon said the shopping center road closure was a one-time thing, and that the city will talk with marathon officials about possibly modifying its schedule.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.