It took a couple of months, but Honolulu has finally joined the ranks of cities providing at least a little more street space to pedestrians and bike riders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over four consecutive Sunday mornings starting June 14, more than half a mile of Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki will be closed to vehicular traffic. The thoroughfare, devoid of its usual tourist crowds, will be reserved for those looking to exercise on foot and by bike instead.

The Kalakaua closures will take place between Seaside Avenue and Kapahulu from 6 a.m. to noon, according to city officials.

 

Bicyclist shares road with cars along Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki. 3.6.14 ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Starting June 14, the city will close Kalakaua to vehicles for four consecutive Sundays, to allow more room for bicyclists and pedestrians.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“We really want to … create a nice, safe, beautiful place for people to be outside,” said Lori McCarney, executive director of the Hawaii Bicycling League, which advocated for the move.

It’s an opportunity for locals to re-familiarize themselves with a neighborhood usually dominated by visitors, and if it’s popular it could spur similar programs in other parts of Oahu, McCarney said.

The move follows an unprecedented spike in bicycle sales on Oahu, mirroring a global trend as people look for more ways to get out of the house while still observing shutdown orders.

It’s also Honolulu’s first foray into the so-called “slow streets,” or “open streets” trend that’s taken off in at least 100 cities elsewhere since COVID-19 hit. Generally, the goal is to give residents stuck at home the space they need to safely exercise outdoors, keeping their distance from one another by moving off curbs and sidewalks.

During the pandemic, car traffic has plummeted but speeding has kept conditions dangerous in many places.

Many of those cities have used cones and barricades to temporarily close certain residential streets off to most through traffic, limiting access to local vehicles and emergency responders.

Oakland announced a plan on April 10 to designate more than 74 miles of street space for pedestrians and bike riders. So far, the Northern California city has reported installing at least 20 miles of those corridors.

Meanwhile, under Seattle’s “Stay Healthy Streets” initiative, the temporary road conversions in some city neighborhoods will become permanent. Some urban planners think the changes could be adopted as permanent elsewhere as well.

Overall, about 500 miles of streets across numerous U.S. cities have been converted to safer use for those on foot and bike during the pandemic, according to research by the firm Street Plans Collaborative.

Honolulu’s program is somewhat unique, however, in that it will tap one of Waikiki’s largest and most prominent streets and use it during a much more limited time frame than typically seen elsewhere.

Street closure initiatives across the U.S. started shortly after shutdowns started taking effect.

Asked in April if any such initiatives were in the works locally, Honolulu city officials said they were consulting with their peers in the National Association of City Transportation Officials on best-practices for such initiatives while trying to balance their messaging on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s stay-at-home order.

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