One does not simply drive to Waikiki.

First, you must spiritually and emotionally prepare yourself for the journey.

Sure, maybe the tourists are having a fun time there. But locals often encounter chaos as they drive along Kalakaua or Kuhio avenues, and finding an open space on the street involves praying to the parking gods.

Exacerbating things is the neighborhood’s loading zone free-for-all. Tour trolleys, buses and commercial trucks often block curbs and traffic lanes, parking in both legal and illegal spots as they offload passengers and supplies.

It’s the busiest place in Hawaii in terms of ground transportation. It’s the Wild West.

Getting through Waikiki often involves dodging buses and trolleys as they load and unload passengers curbside. Marcel Honore/Civil Beat

“The curb … is really kind of the last frontier for battling for space,” Jon Nouchi, the city’s deputy director for transportation services, told Honolulu City Council members last week as they considered a bill aimed at better managing the growing chaos.

“If you’ve spent any amount of time in Waikiki you can see those conflicts occur,” Nouchi said. 

It’s been more than four decades since city officials last increased the cost of an annual loading zone permit. The pass works all over the island and it’s pretty easy to get one, city officials say.

Some of the drivers with the 10,645 loading permits issued this year use them to park well past the limit, when parking is scarce or next to impossible. It happens all the time in Waikiki.

Loading zone signs restrict the curb use on Seaside Avenue in Waikiki. Marcel Honore/Civil Beat

“We have video of a commercial truck in a 30-minute loading and unloading zone sitting there for eight hours,” said Rick Egged, president of the nonprofit Waikiki Transportation Management Association. “Every day there’s violations, there’s not much enforcement.”

The extended parking in loading zones causes a ripple effect, Egged and local operators say. It forces other large buses, trolleys and delivery trucks to circle the neighborhood, making Waikiki’s crowded streets even more congested.

Some of those commercial drivers eventually give up and park illegally, outside of the loading zones, in order to pick up or make their deliveries. That eats up even more available parking space and the downward spiral continues.

Cars that don’t even have permits stop in the loading zones, too.

“Right now we have an enforcement problem,” Wes Frysztacki, the city’s Transportation Services director, said Thursday. Special patrols by Honolulu police officers in Waikiki have helped, but “more needs to be done.”

Now, the WTMA and the city aim to help get a handle on the loading zones, reduce the ripple effect and make the drive through Waikiki smoother for everyone.

To do that, they’ll collect more money.

Currently, it costs $25 for an annual loading zone permit and decal. A bill moving through the Honolulu City Council would boost the price to $60. Plus, any drivers looking to use the loading zones in Waikiki’s special transportation management district, which was created in 2017, would have to pay for a new, additional $120 permit, Egged said.

A truck parks in a loading zone on Royal Hawaiian Avenue as double-deck tour buses rumble past. Marcel Honore/Civil Beat

The fees would strictly go toward managing and enforcing the curbside policies in Waikiki, he said. The plan is about five years in the making and has buy-in from tour and freight companies who are willing to pay more in fees because the situation has gotten so out of hand, he added.

“When you have a scarce product you have to manage its use,” Egged said. “If it’s just first come, first serve it’s a mess and it doesn’t work.”

Bill 38 just could help untangle the mess that is Waikiki traffic. It just cleared the council’s Transportation Committee and goes next before the full council.

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