Construction workers work on Kuhio Avenue. Large sections of the roadway are under construction.

Waikiki face lift
causing concern

A beautification plan along
Kuhio Avenue will narrow
the street

Edmund Chu says it took 30 minutes to travel seven blocks up Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki one morning last week.

"It's faster to walk than take the bus," said Chu, a manager at Keoni by Keo's on Kuhio. "A bus stops and all the traffic jams up."

Chu, like other workers and owners of restaurants and bars along Kuhio, worried as the city coned off lanes to begin its $19 million federally and state-funded beautification project.

They are worried about losing customers during the construction, scheduled to last until December. But some also complained that the permanent changes would worsen traffic and hinder deliveries on an already busy street.

"Kuhio Avenue is like a lifeline in Waikiki," said Chu. "It took so many years (in the 1980s) to get the city to widen the street for traffic and add the middle turn lanes, and now they are contracting it. Is the city insane?"

The project, part of Mayor Jeremy Harris' plans to beautify Waikiki, will widen sidewalks and create a landscaped median.

In addition, the project will improve curbs, gutters and wheelchair ramps and add some loading zones and concrete bus pads. There will be trees, landscaping, public benches and pots of flowers. Anti-crime street lighting will be installed to brighten dark stretches that city officials say harbor drug dealers, prostitutes and others.

But Kuhio will lose many of the middle turn lanes that drivers of delivery trucks, stretch limos and other vehicles depend upon.

Unlike Kalakaua Avenue, which is a sweeping one-way beachside boulevard, Kuhio is more of a workhorse road for traffic, buses and deliveries. It still will have two lanes running in both directions.

Several owners complained in private that the city plan focused on pedestrian traffic and beautification but forgot about logistics.

Carol Costa, spokeswoman for the city, said, "We haven't heard any complaints from businesses." She also noted that businesses complained when construction started on Kalakaua but were satisfied with the results.

City officials and neighborhood groups hope the improvements will revitalize Kuhio and trigger the opening of new restaurants and businesses and private renovations of existing hotels.

Jeff Apaka, a member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, said the point of the project "is to help clean up Waikiki. Waikiki was a wonderful, charming, slower-paced place years ago, but it's had its tear and it's time for improvements to make it glamorous again."

Apaka added, "At the start of any improvement project in Waikiki, like the ones on Kalakaua, people always complain at the start. But once it's completed, they say nothing is wrong."

"It will be beautiful and traffic will be fine," he said.

David Chau, manager of Seaside Bar & Grill, is among the wary.

"It's going to make traffic on Kuhio worse, and delivery guys are already saying they have to park somewhere and walk it," said Chau.

Ryan Burns, a manager at Chili's, agreed, saying, "Drivers are saying it's a real problem. As if the lanes weren't already small enough, this plan is going to cut them even more."

Another bar owner, who declined to be identified, said delivery drivers are knocking over cones while making turns, and he wonders what will happen when the cones are replaced with trees and planters.

"It's hindering our drivers' ability to deliver," said Brian Felix, head of operations for Paradise Beverages, which sends 11 to 15 big delivery trucks to Waikiki every day.

Costa said that delivery trucks will not be able to double-park to drop off deliveries as they do now.

"They can use the side roads, but they can't double-park and block sidewalks, which is illegal."

Kuhio, the designated route for the city's proposed high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit System, has long suffered in the shadow of Kalakaua. Since 1997 about $50 million has been invested in beautification projects that widened Kalakaua into a grand promenade of upscale stores, trendy restaurants and high-priced beachfront hotel rooms.

As Kalakaua blossomed, Kuhio took the burden of bus traffic and delivery trucks.

During festivals and parades, traffic is diverted to Kuhio from Kalakaua.

"I hate to think about the nightmare when we have Aloha Week or parades and all the traffic comes to Kuhio," said Seaside's Chau.

Wilfred Leong, owner of Food Galaxy Restaurant and Coffee House, said, "This will help Kalakaua and hurt Kuhio businesses."

Leong also shook his head, wondering how many small businesses will shut during construction as tourists turn away from work trucks and noisy jackhammers.

Costa noted that complaints during major construction projects are normal. Anyone with problems with the work can visit construction manager GMP Hawaii's trailer on Aloha Avenue or call the project hot line at 864-1914, she said.


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