Isle mayors urge
less focus on cars

County executives say it is
a mistake to build communities
around automobiles

Ensuring that residents don't have to use their cars just to get to a grocery store or a movie would do more to ease traffic congestion than building more roads or widening highways, island mayors said yesterday.

They urged better community planning to keep offices, essential shopping and entertainment centers nearer homes.

"If we focus on improving infrastructure -- roads, highways -- I think we are doomed for failure. ... We will never catch up," Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said.

Kim echoed a theme voiced by his colleagues at a forum in Honolulu designed to let island mayors exchange information and share ideas for easing the pain of urban growth.

Kim, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and Gary Heu, administrative assistant to Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste, took part in the forum held by the Urban Land Institute of Hawaii, a nonprofit research and education group.

Harris said Hawaii's growing cities are no different from those anywhere else: All made the mistake of designing communities around automobiles instead of people.

Bedroom communities for commuters need freeways, but once those are built, one of the only solutions to traffic is to build more, Harris said.

Developers and government officials should instead look to provide residential communities with all the trappings of a self-sufficient city, such as office buildings, shopping centers and theaters, the mayors said.

Doing so might encourage people to leave their cars in the driveway and choose alternative forms of transportation such as a bicycle, the bus or even their feet.

"It has to be built around that," said Maui's Arakawa.

By developing pedestrian-friendly communities with more bike, walking and -- on Maui -- equestrian paths, "a car will not need to be an option."

On Kauai, Heu said, the county is taking a two-pronged approach to relieving traffic woes: adding public transit and educating residents about alternative transportation.

"It's changing behavior and providing the means by which people can avail themselves of different transportation," Heu said.

Harris noted that mass transportation also is a key part of getting more cars off Oahu roads, adding that his proposed Bus Rapid Transit system to connect downtown with Waikiki is progressing. The first phase is expected to be running by the end of the year.

Honolulu's mistake in the past has been trying to establish a mass transit system with the aid of federal dollars, Harris said.

"The federal process is such a labyrinth," he said, "that by the time you reach the end and you're ready to start construction, you've lost the political will."

One of the other topics addressed by mayors was how to build more affordable housing.

Kim noted his disgust with a recent report on median resale prices for single-family homes in the islands.

While the median price was $307,261 on the Big Island, the value has reached $620,000 on Maui.

"That's repulsive," Kim said. He urged the mayors to work with all government officials and agencies to address what he called a statewide crisis in affordable housing.

Mayors' ideas to cut car usage

Hawaii's mayors offer these ideas to ease urban congestion:

>> Encourage developers to build offices and shopping and entertainment centers nearer to homes.

>> Add public transit options and encourage people to use them.

>> Encourage people to ride bicycles or even to walk.


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