The problem with parking in Ala Moana isn’t that Ala Moana lacks parking spaces —  it’s that drivers often don’t know where to find them, according to a recent study of the dense urban neighborhood’s parking inventory.

“There’s plenty of parking to go around,” said Kazuki Sakamoto, a Columbia University adjunct professor and Honolulu native who helped lead the Ala Moana study and workshop in August. “People don’t know where those spots are located and when they’re free.”

Case in point: The Walmart/Sam’s Club parking structure on Keeaumoku Street. The two-week study, a collaboration between Columbia and the University of Hawaii Manoa, found that much of the lot consistently sits empty while the street parking right outside helps lead to congestion.

Don Quixote Makiki Pawaa condominium Honolulu Kalakaua Avenue. 19 nov 2016
Drivers at Don Quijote often circle for spaces immediately outside the store while missing its second-level overflow parking. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“This is an inefficient use of space and money,” the researchers state.

A couple of blocks over, at Don Quijote, cars often circle the store’s ground-level lot looking for spaces to open but ignore the bevy of open parking in its second-floor lot, they found.

Overall, the more than 32,000 off-street parking spaces in Ala Moana’s garages and lots and the 450 to 1,300 spaces on the streets could be managed more efficiently to make things easier for drivers and avoid building more parking supply, according to the researchers.

It’s this “information asymmetry” that can make it hard to park in the neighborhood — not a scarcity of parking, Sakamoto said. 

There’s a “disconnect between the providers and the users of parking spaces” and that leads to “discrepancy in how parking spaces in the neighborhood are perceived and utilized,” the study concluded. 

In other words, Ala Moana’s parking spaces are out of whack.

“Either they don’t know where to find it” or the spaces are privately owned, said Alex Beatty, a planner with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting.

The case study in one of Honolulu’s busiest neighborhoods comes as city planners aim to overhaul Honolulu’s future parking requirements, proposing to leave it to developers to decide how many spaces they should include.

Finding street parking in Ala Moana — or nearby Kakaako, downtown and Chinatown — can often feel like winning the lottery to local drivers. The Columbia/UH study asserts that there’s plenty of parking in garages and lots that they could use instead.   

City planners say they don’t know precisely how many spaces there are on the island and that most major U.S. cities don’t. Still, an inventory done by the nonprofit Blue Planet Foundation in 2017 found at least 190,000 parking spaces across Honolulu, according to city documents. Studies from a decade ago found that only 71% of the parking spaces in Chinatown, downtown and Kakaako’s mauka area were occupied during peak demand hours.

In Ala Moana, the Hawaii Convention Center’s 670 parking spaces lie on the neighborhood’s edge. Most of the time, they’re only available for events taking place at the center, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Spots like that could be used more efficiently, according to Sakamoto.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood’s high-end condominium towers, such as 1350 Ala Moana, the spaces are privately owned by unit owners and not accessible to the public. Such private buildings could rent out any underutilized spaces — “if there’s a market for it, I don’t know why they wouldn’t consider it,” Beatty said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

But management at 1350 Ala Moana said it won’t happen.

“We can’t do that, and a lot of the residents wouldn’t go for that anyway,” said Dan Kealoha, a supervisor at the tower.

But officials with Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration hope that by “decoupling” parking spaces from future condominium towers, the associations that manage those private buildings could more easily lease those spaces when they’re not in use during the day.

Read the study, “Parking in the Ala Moana Neighborhood and its Impact on Mobility,” here:

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