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Before they drive downtown or to Waikiki, Oahu drivers face two major considerations: traffic congestion and the lack of parking.
They may be able to time their trips to avoid the worst of the traffic, but figuring out where to park is a problem any time of the day or night.
The scarcity of parking can frustrate tourists, which results in avoidance of certain locations, businesses and attractions and an overall less happy experience in Hawaii. For locals, it can also mean denial of timely access to government services (like marriage licenses, birth certificates, business registration) and worst of all, lack of participation in the public policy process.
In Europe and a growing number of mainland states, lack of parking is viewed as a good thing to some planners, because it is believed to be good for the environment, promoting use of public transit, walking and biking.
In a study by the Norwegian Institute of Transport Economics, researchers determined that policies that limit the availability of parking or make it more expensive help to de-incentivize car use and promote urban density.
Said another way, the latest policy trend is to force you to stop driving.
The problem with that approach is that it also severely inconveniences people who really do need to drive. Some might suffer from arthritis and can’t walk long distances to a bus stop or rail transit station. Others need a vehicle because their business involves transporting people or supplies on a daily basis. Families with kids often need cars to travel places together.
And besides, the point of all civilized infrastructure is to ensure that citizens can go where they please and do as they wish without unreasonable hardships.
So how about some more parking, Honolulu?
“We need to walk a reasonable path of common sense,” said state Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Health Committee, when I asked him about the purported environmental and health benefits of parking scarcity.
“When we craft policy, we need to do this prudently,” Mizuno said. “Who will this hurt, and how can we adjust this through time to ensure our elderly and disabled are given maximum access in the downtown area?”
He said he would support bills to increase funding for public parking.
“This is a core area, and this is power to the people,” Mizuno said. “We’re going to have to fight for the people and have their voice in government. At the end of the day, we can talk about being green and clean and that’s fine and good, but it’s the people’s right.”
Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, recognizes that encouraging urban density is important, but she also believes that parking availability is vital.
Inouye, leaning on her prior experience as both a former Hawaii County mayor and a planning commissioner, says that context is important when it comes to parking policy. Places like Kakaako, which are optimized for urban density and multi-modal transportation, may not need more parking, but other places on the island do.
“Maybe it’s a good time for us to consider what we’re going to do with the parking issue,” Inouye said, suggesting options could include special purpose revenue bonds or tax incentives for developers to build more parking.
She also said the state and county should consider public-private partnerships to build parking garages to support use of the rail transit hubs. Ultimately, however, Inouye says that developers should step up and provide more parking for the public benefit.
Inouye suggests that operators of existing private parking lots could be encouraged to convert them into vertical structures to boost parking availability for nearby residents, tourists, public employees and patrons of government services. She says another option is allowing after-hours parking at government parking lots, or even Department of Education parking areas, to help tourists and locals attend nighttime events.
Inouye says she’s open to holding information briefings or introducing resolutions next session to raise the issue of parking availability.
On Oahu, things have never felt more congested and inconvenient.
Whether it is through public action, private initiative or a combination of both, we’re going to need more parking for tourists and locals.
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