Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, August 13, 1999

Engineer has plan
for Waikiki

EVERYONE should have a passion, a vision or at least a motivating concern for the greater good. Life's more interesting and meaningful that way.

Manoa resident William Y.H. Ling is lucky enough to have all three of the above. Yet, for the past several years, he has been stymied in his dogged efforts to get anyone in a high government position in Hawaii to take him seriously.

They think he's an eccentric 77-year-old with an impractical idea for the Ala Wai Canal.

He, on the other hand, sees himself as an engineering expert with a heck of plan, one that could turn Waikiki into a more amicable, captivating and efficient tourism hub.

Ling should know. He's the former chief of the city's Department of Public Works engineering division.

And since his retirement 12 years ago, he's been writing letters to people like the governor, mayor and City Council members, trying to explain how:

Bullet The yucky condition of the Ala Wai Canal could be eliminated by establishing open channels on its mauka and makai sides, and replacing most of the canal with an underground parking garage topped by a botanical garden.

Bullet Waikiki could be made more people-oriented as opposed to car-crazy by converting streets not necessary for proper traffic flow into a network of pedestrian malls.

In Ling's scenario, so many folks would win big.

The proposed underground garage would provide much-needed parking stalls for visitor industry workers, Waikiki residents and badge-wearing tourists meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The pedestrian malls, modeled after the ones on busy Fort Street and Union Street malls in downtown Honolulu, would encourage strollers to traverse Waikiki instead of adding to the gridlock mess.

The botanical garden would beautify the area with year-long blooms, resulting in an attraction similar to the stature of Butchart Gardens in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

As for the canoe paddlers and kayaking enthusiasts who may balk at their turf being turned into a flowery field, the Ala Wai could be widened on its mauka side to provide the necessary width for their activities.

See, Ling has the answers. All he wants is for his plan to be contemplated and debated in public.

But his missives to high-powered mucky-mucks have resulted either in terse and patronizing rejections, or in no reaction at all. "Everybody keeps talking about how they want to improve Waikiki but nobody does anything about it," Ling says with obvious frustration.

"I have nothing to gain by offering up this idea. I'm just an old man. But before I die, I want people to know about this and to discuss it. Then, if they don't want to pursue it, that's OK."

LING says he would be happy to give presentations to any community groups or civic organizations about his passion, his vision, his concern for Waikiki.

"With the implementation of the above, the unsanitary condition of the Ala Wai Canal would be corrected, a botanical garden would be established, parking for the area would be provided, and malls would make Waikiki more pedestrian-friendly," Ling wrote in one of his many letters. "It could then become a world-class resort."

Nobody in Hawaii may be as determined as William Y.H. Ling -- except maybe the bureaucratic paper-pushers who are even MORE determined not to listen.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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