Sunday, September 08, 2013
Willful neglect of sensible urban planning in Honolulu
“In 2002 the Council passed the Oahu General Plan and the Central Oahu Sustainable Communities Plan. Murdoch's men lobbied hard and, at the last minute, managed to include Koa Ridge in those plans.
But the ordinance required the plans to be reexamined every five years. That never happened.”—Star-Advertiser, Island Voices 9/8/2013
by Larry Geller
I’ve occasionally criticized urban planning (or rather, the lack thereof) in Honolulu. The City Council’s disregard of the ordinance mentioned in the pull-quote, if the op-ed in today’s Star-Advertiser is correct, is yet another aspect of the willful neglect of our basic needs as citizens of this county. Urban planning is not the same as caving in to developers as a matter of policy.
Throw the creation of the HCDA (Hawaii Community Development Authority) and its willingness to grant most any zoning exemption developers may request into the mix, and what we see is that developers rule in Honolulu.
This week lobbyists for David Murdoch, the billionaire owner of Castle & Cooke, are trying to muscle the City Council's zoning committee into approving construction of Koa Ridge, a mega-suburb of up to 5,000 homes and half-a-million square feet of commercial space on the second-most productive food farm in the state.
Once the new H-2 freeway traffic hits the merge, every driver from the west side would be backed-up — trapped on the nation's longest car park. Cars would be bumper-to-bumper all the way to Makakilo; the state Department of Transportation has said as much.
[Star-Advertiser p. F2, City Council acting hastily on Koa Ridge, 9/8/2013]
Traffic is already bumper-to-bumper, and the author is perceptive with his parking lot metaphor. When we lived in Tokyo, we joked that the Shuto Expressway, a toll road, was a bargain if you considered the toll to be a parking fee. Through much of the workday, the road congestion made use of a personal vehicle untenable unless absolutely required. It was not uncommon for a company executive to have a driver just so the time on the road could be used productively as a passenger in the back seat. NEC executives had both a driver and a radio-telephone in the armrest to use during their daily commute and business visits.
It was awful. I’ve experienced it. We will be blaming future gridlock in Honolulu on today’s city and state politicians, but of course by then it will be too late. When they had a chance to implement sane urban policy, they declined to do so.
If someone would tally up the total number of cars to be added to the H-1/H-2 with Koa Ridge and the 20+ (30+?) condo towers planned for Kakaako and vicinity, it would become obvious that Honolulu will become dysfunctional. We’ll be spending most of our $4/gallon gasoline money just sitting still running the aircon in traffic.
Tourists may come to notice that the place is no longer the paradise advertised in their guidebooks.
The future under extreme urban congestion is not strictly predictable, but it doesn’t look good from here. And I shudder to think what our taxes will be like as we pay for the infrastructure gobbled up by these greedy condo towers and developments.
The time to object to these towers and sprawling developments is now. If each of them goes forward, the consequences are predictable and won’t be pleasant.
Addendum: Don’t try this at home.
After posting this article, I remembered that it was considered to be highly stressful to work in the back of the car while a driver negotiated Tokyo traffic. Not a good thing to do. In fact, the head of the accounting firm that did my Japanese taxes always worked in the back of his car—and one day he had a heart attack and died in traffic.
Addendum to the addendum: An ambulance can’t get to you if you’re injured (or have the odd heart attack) on the highway if traffic is at a total standstill. So there’s another reason to protest all these towers and the gridlock they will ultimately bring. Now you have a situation you can relate to—so I hope many people will protest these developments before it’s too late.