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Gathering Place
Jay Abel

Desire to tear up Waikiki
driven by childish spite

I read the Sunday, March 13, paper with horror. Twenty-five years ago, in a badly conceived attempt to solve perceived traffic problems in Waikiki, Kuhio Avenue was widened, rendering the street a sun-baked, concrete-paved desert. The coconut palms that used to line the street were then right in the middle of the too-narrow sidewalks.

When Jeremy Harris assumed office in 1994, finally we had a mayor who knew something about urban planning. Control of Waikiki's destiny was wrested from nonresident traffic engineers and pipe layers. Beauty was restored to Kuhio Avenue. People don't always understand the broader consequences of urban planning, and people usually object to what they don't understand.

So now, Waikiki has fallen under mob rule. Someone says, "Hey, this road is narrower than it used to be, and I have to slow down to 25 mph instead of 35 to get home." Or they say, "Hey, there used to be more parking on the Ala Wai." And they want it back the way it was. And a bunch of other people who also want to race through Waikiki and park their second car on the street hop on the trolley, and next thing you know, millions of dollars of improvements to Kuhio are now in jeopardy of being ripped out.

The changes to Waikiki were done with community input. They are consistent with generally accepted principles of urban renewal. I'll bet that those who object aren't even aware that there is such a subject. I'm sure, in fact, that they are not because I still hear references to "zoning," which is a concept that is more than 20 years out of date.

This is a vendetta, a petty, spiteful act by the City Council against the former mayor. The opinions of former newscaster Nestor Garcia, now City Councilman from Makakilo, are irrelevant to what goes on in Waikiki. Before we rip everything out, it would behoove those in power to edify themselves as to the principles upon which these improvements were made. And they are improvements. If you will get out of your car and walk or bicycle down Kuhio Avenue, you will see that the buses, trees, bicycle lanes, etc., are all there to serve PEOPLE, not cars. Do you think it is just possible that the revitalization of Waikiki is partly responsible for the record-setting hotel occupancy we've enjoyed in the past few months?

The 25-year hegemony of the automobile in Waikiki has finally come to an end. At the very least, can we please enjoy the improvements for the next four years? If they are to be torn out, can't we please enjoy them for a little while? Is that asking too much? Let a mayor who does not have a personal vendetta against former Mayor Harris undo these changes, if that is in fact the smartest thing to do.

Urban planning is part science and part politics, fraught with compromise; people who are good at it spend many years studying architecture, engineering and city planning. The current mayor and neighborhood board chairwoman have no such qualifications, and their behavior can only be described as reactionary.

Have Mayor Hannemann fill potholes in Makiki or put another freeway through the pineapple fields of Wahiawa if that's what you want, but stay out of Waikiki. I held my tongue when Hannemann cancelled all of former Mayor Harris' projects; that is his prerogative as mayor. But tearing out what was already done is childish, and saying it must be done for safety reasons is dishonest and contemptible.

Projects like these require months, sometimes years, of study and coordinated input from many experts. More than that, the experts need to understand each others' discipline. It is impossible that such a study was completed in the last two months. We are being told an outrageous lie, and the mayor must be held accountable. If you live in a glass office, don't throw stones.

Jay Abel lives in Waikiki.

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