Ideas to make Hawaii more walkable

I first learned about a Walk Score when I read “Walkable City:  How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time” (2012) by city planner and author Jeff Speck.

A Walk Score is a number from 0 to 100 that measures a city’s walkability – and our ability to run errands without a car. Honolulu has a Walk Score of 62 (somewhat walkable), according to WalkScore.com. Downtown Honolulu, with a Walk Score of 88 (very walkable), is very pedestrian-friendly. Makakilo, with a Walk Score of 23 (car-dependent), is much less pedestrian-friendly.

Just for comparison: Hilo, Hawaii has a Walk Score of 30 (car-dependent); Lihue, Kauai has a Walk Score of 78; and Lahaina, Maui has a Walk Score of 85 (very walkable).

Speck promotes walkability not just for its health benefits, but also because we can save money and time by driving less (in terms of gas, parking, and traffic). We can have more discretionary income for local recreation and housing. Our government could spend less on roads and highways.

According to Speck, a walkable city has to meet four main criteria: walkways must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. “A true neighborhood has a center and an edge, and contains a wide variety of activities in close proximity within an armature of pedestrian-friendly streets and public spaces” (page 144). 

Here are some of Speck’s suggestions for making cities more walkable, without having to change any laws (I think):

* Drivers: Teach a safer way to open the car door. Driving schools, instructors, and parents could teach new drivers to open car doors with their opposite hand, so they can check for bikes and pedestrians before exiting the car. We don’t need to wait for a change in the Hawaii driver’s manual.

* Everyone: Plant more trees. Homeowners and businesses could plant more trees, which would offer pedestrians more shade and make walking and driving more interesting. In addition, trees cool the air, absorb rainwater and tailpipe emissions, provide UV protection, limit the effects of wind, slow cars down, and make us feel less stressful. Just remember to check with the city or your homeowners association.

* Everyone: Ask for more 4-way stop signs. Instead of traffic signals at intersections, use 4-way stop signs to slow down traffic, make it safer for pedestrians, and save taxpayer money on maintenance and electricity. Speed tables, such as the one on Lanakila Avenue in Honolulu, are a good option for mid-street crosswalks. Roundabouts, such as the one at the intersection of Ala Napunani Street and Likini Street in Salt Lake, don’t seem to help pedestrians cross more safely, though they do seem to confuse drivers and slow down traffic.

* Businesses: Offer special discounts to bus pass holders. Local stores, restaurants, and bars could offer special deals when someone shows their bus pass. This could help businesses that are near a bus route and encourage more foot traffic. While it would probably be more effective as a citywide campaign (TheBus on Oahu, Maui Bus on Maui, Kauai Bus on Kauai, Hele-On Bus on the Big Island), businesses don’t need to wait for an “official” program to offer discounts.

* Businesses: Give parking cash-outs to employees. Businesses that offer free employee parking could offer their workers the option of trading that parking space for cash – or a bus pass. In Speck’s planning, parking cash-outs would be linked to the city’s agreement to reduce the businesses’ parking requirement. But businesses don’t need to wait for the city’s approval.

* Businesses: Build shared parking lots. Like shopping malls, businesses could form a cooperative and pay in-lieu fees that help finance shared parking lots, instead of having dedicated parking lots for customers and employees. Converted parking lots could be converted into outdoor courtyards or sidewalk dining. This could create more foot traffic and increase sidewalk activity. For example, warehouse stores often have gigantic parking lots that are deserted once the store closes. Could they work out a shared parking lot agreement with nearby businesses? I don’t know what the parking requirements are for businesses, so I don’t know if the city needs to give permission or approval.

* Developers: Hide parking garages. Developers can design building facades to hide parking garages and give pedestrians something nice to look at as they walk by. These parking garages would have flat parking areas at the building perimeter, tilted car ramps at the center, and high-ceiling commercial space on the ground floor adjacent to the sidewalk. Not only would this blend into the neighborhood, it would give developers the flexibility to convert the parking garage to offices or housing (the ramps could be converted into a courtyard). And it doesn’t require any changes to the building code.

Do you walk or bike to work, to run errands, to exercise, or just for fun? What would encourage you to walk or bike more? Do you prefer living in an urban city, a suburb, or a rural community?

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