Eleven sidewalk extensions installed last July at four intersections in Chinatown are causing a ruckus at Honolulu Hale.

At a City Council Planning Committee meeting Tuesday, Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said it was “disturbing” that the city did the work without consulting merchants in the neighborhood.

The city said the extensions made the streets safer, but some business owners said they confuse drivers, make it difficult for people to stop at curbside for quick deliveries or pickups and are eyesores in the historic district.

The committee approved a measure that would prohibit the city from creating any more of the extensions in Chinatown. Planning Committee Chair Ikaika Anderson and Councilman Brandon Elefante opposed the bill, but were outnumbered by Fukunaga, Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and Council Chair Ernie Martin.

The full City Council will hold a final vote on the measure May 9.

The sidewalk extensions in front of The Arts at Marks Garage feature large flower planters painted with images of indigenous flora and fauna. Natanya Friedheim/ Civil Beat

How many businesses have to go under to show that this type of insensitive installation of pedestrian safety features without any consideration of the businesses and the communities in which they’re being installed in has really got to stop,” Fukunaga said.

Anderson amended Fukunaga’s original measure, which would have required the council to approve any so-called Complete Streets projects in Chinatown.

The sidewalk extensions are part of a city policy called Complete Streets that aims to make the city safer for pedestrians, bike riders and passengers using public transportation. 

The extensions did not replace any parking spots, according to Department of Transportation Services Director Wes Frysztacki.

Frysztacki said that previously cars and delivery trucks would illegally park at curbsides that the extensions replaced. The parked vehicles made it difficult for drivers in the next lane to see pedestrians crossing the road.

During the seven months before the city installed the extensions, the Honolulu Police Department recorded 12 accidents at three of the locations, Frysztacki said after the meeting. In the seven months following the extensions, the number of accidents dropped to four.

State Department of Health official Heidi Hanson-Smith opposed the bill and argued Complete Streets projects make the city more accessible and safe.

Chinatown resident Anthony Chang, whose sister died after being hit by a car in Chinatown, echoed Hanson-Smith’s sentiments.

Honolulu City Council member Carol Fukunaga.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga has argued businesses suffer as a result of Complete Streets changes in Chinatown. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Walking is my family’s and my main mode of transportation,” he said. “The (extensions) have made me feel safer.”

If the measure passes the full council, it is not clear if the city will have to remove the extensions already installed.

Frysztacki said if the city removes the extensions and there is an accident, the city could be liable. But Fukunaga said the data does not sufficiently prove the extensions make the sidewalks safer.

“It’s a little hard to swallow that you want to make the area safer and you don’t have sufficient data at this point to say what the impacts will be,” she said.

In impassioned testimony, Chu Lan Shubert Kwock of the Chinatown Business and Community Association said no one wants to go to Chinatown anymore.  

Why are we subjected to this nightmare of experimentation?” she asked.  

Robert Kroning, director of the Department of Design and Construction,  said the city needs more time to gather data on the economic impact of the extensions, which could be determined by comparing the general excise taxes the businesses paid before and after they were installed.

The city installed sidewalk extensions and a Biki bike station in front of The Arts at Marks Garage, a gallery at the corner of Nuuanu and Pauahi.

Laurein “Lala” Nuss said the sidewalk extensions and a Biki bike station in front of The Arts At Marks Garage make Chinatown more inviting to pedestrians. Natanya Friedheim/ Civil Beat

Laurien “Lala” Nuss, the gallery’s the public programs and events manager, said the changes have been a boon to the area, making the neighborhood more inviting and increasing foot traffic.

“Chinatown is an old neighborhood, change can be hard sometimes,” she said.

Nuss added that the changes have been less popular at intersections two blocks closer to River Street, where the boutiques and art galleries give way to an immigrant community of lei stands, dim sum restaurants and fresh produce markets.

On Tuesday afternoon, Anne Wu sat counting receipts at Garlic & Ginger, a dim sum restaurant on the corner of Smith and Pauahi. Live crabs clawed the wall of a glass tank next to her. Wu said the extensions are an improvement, making it safer and easier to walk.

But Deth Soulatha, who owns Hong Fa Market two streets down, said the extensions make the street too narrow for cars and have not helped pedestrian safety. A campaign poster for Fukunaga was hung at the entrance to his store.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author