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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 18, 2005

Kaimuki parking woes befuddle city planners

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Parking is limited along Waiçalae Avenue in Kaimuki, and finding space in the area’s side streets may be just as difficult.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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For decades, the people of Kaimuki have struggled with the limited parking situation in their business district near Wai'alae Avenue. During busy hours, drivers circle the two municipal lots, searching in vain for a vacant stall.

Despite city funding, community meetings and a $75,000 parking study, the Kaimuki community cannot agree on a plan to improve the situation.

"I stopped going to the meetings because it caused so much animosity between me and people I cherished in this community for a long time," said D.J. Colbert, owner of Prosperity Corner on 12th Avenue. "I've lost good friends over it. I have a neighbor I don't talk to at all because we disagree on parking.

"Kaimuki is in a desperate situation," Colbert said. "There is no way businesses can survive without parking, and nothing is going to change because we can't agree."

The problem becomes more intense during the Christmas season, when the small businesses and restaurants in the historic community want to see customers park and spend money. Instead they often watch frustrated people drive away.

With many popular restaurants in Kaimuki, the most difficult time to find parking is during the lunch and dinner rushes.

By 11:15 a.m. desperate drivers watch people as they walk toward cars, hoping to move in as someone moves out. Some simply double-park, blocking others in.

Palolo resident Oliver Dameron, 27, got lucky the other day. While cruising the lot, he noticed a parked car's reverse lights go on and sped over to get the stall.

"You definitely don't come at dinner time," said Dameron, who was headed to Coffee Talk to work on his computer. "If I don't find anything, I go across Wai'alae Avenue. It's pretty hectic."

The city has set aside $200,000 for parking improvements, and had decided to shift the area's two municipal parking lots from metered stalls to attended lots. The plan was to charge users more per hour after the first few hours in the lot, which would limit the number of area employees who fill the stalls, and free up space for customers.

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said that when some residents opposed the plan at a recent meeting, the project was postponed indefinitely. The money sits in city coffers, awaiting a community decision, she said.

Eric Wong, president of the Kaimuki Business and Professional Association, supports the plan for attended parking, at least on a trial basis.

"The money is sitting there," Wong said. "If people can get together, then we can move forward."

Michele Acedo, owner of A Taste of New York Deli & Market, is opposed to the attended lot plan. Acedo said the obvious answer is more parking spaces.

"The parking attendant solution, I strongly opposed because it wasn't going to add any more spaces," she said.

"How is that going to help? I thought it would create a barrier for customers."

Acedo said parking in Kaimuki is no worse than other shopping areas during the Christmas season. She would rather see the $200,000 used to repave the parking lots, which are cracked and uneven.

Valet parking proved a success during the past two holiday seasons when Colbert organized a pilot project to use a small area of one lot for the service. Colbert said a section with 15 metered stalls was able to accomodate 40 cars. The $2,500 cost for the valet service was paid for by Colbert and merchant Bead It Inc., with support from the Greater East Honolulu Community Alliance and other merchants who validated parking.

This year her business has struggled, and she just could not afford to pick up the tab.

The business district has two municipal lots with metered parking stalls between Wai'alae and Harding avenues. The larger lot has 271 angled parking stalls divided by several one-way lanes. The smaller lot has 110 stalls.

The city contracted Urban Works in 2003 to develop both short- and long-term plans to alleviate parking problems in the busy shopping area. The report looked into several possibilities for increasing parking, including parking structures, re-striping the municipal lots and creating a valet service, but not how to pay for them.

The Kaimuki business district was hurt in the 1960s when the expanded H-1 Freeway allowed people to bypass Wai'alae Avenue. The business mix then shifted from larger retail stores to restaurants and small shops, whose customers tend to use parking stalls for a longer time. Throw in some 100 area employees taking up valuable spaces in and around Wai'alae Avenue, and parking becomes even harder to find.

Acedo said the parking problem simply shows that Kaimuki is a place people want to come to shop.

"There are places in here that people want to come to. That is the appeal," she said. "They get mad when they come here and can't find parking, but if there were a bunch of stores and businesses in here that nobody wanted to go to, no one would care about the parking."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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