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Thursday, April 17, 2014         

CHINATOWN PARKING


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High-tech meters to drive new system

By Dan Nakaso

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City officials plan to unveil a new high-tech parking system for Chinatown by the end of the year that has the ambitious goals of cutting down on parking tickets, moving cars out of spaces faster and helping businesses — all without costing the city any additional money.

If the experiment affecting 232 Chinatown on-street parking stalls works, another 2,779 on- and off-street meters throughout urban Honolulu also could be retrofitted by fall 2012.

The latest technology could eliminate the need for coins and reduce the risk of parking tickets by letting drivers add additional time to their meters through credit cards and smartphone apps — instead of having to interrupt shopping and meetings to walk back to their cars to feed the meter.

Hoa Nguyen wiggled his black Nissan Murano into the only open spot on busy Maunakea Street last week and slipped 65 cents into the meter for 35 minutes of parking time.

Nguyen then stared up and down Maunakea Street and said, “A lot of people jam up traffic just driving around looking for parking.”

New technology could help drivers like Nguyen find  unseen open spots while still in their cars, which will reduce traffic from drivers circling the block looking for a space, said Wayne Yoshi­oka, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services.

While transportation officials push ahead with their experiment in Chinatown and simultaneous changes to 72 parking meters in the underground Frank Fasi Municipal Parking Lot near Honolulu Hale, city parks officials are planning to increase rates at more than 278 meters around Kapiolani Park and add 20 meters around Aala Park in Chinatown, where street parking is currently free.

All the potential changes are moving ahead as transportation officials continue to adjust and add meters around town.

Last year the city replaced free parking around Thomas Square with meters, which has made it easier for people using Thomas Square to find parking, Yoshioka said.

“We were getting lots of complaints from … people who say there’s no parking,” Yoshioka said. “We said, ‘There’s tons of parking all around (South King Street and Ward Avenue) and they say, ‘No, it’s all taken.’ Sure enough, it was taken all day by people going to Straub Clinic & Hospital and Hawaiian Electric Co.,” he said. Cars sometimes were left in the free parking spaces for the whole day.

PARKING POSSIBILITIES

The exact details of a new pilot project for Chinatown parking will depend on the company that wins the bid for the project, but some possibilities include:

>> Enabling drivers to identify unseen open parking spaces while still in their vehicles.

>> Eliminating the need for coins by using credit cards.

>> Reducing the risk of parking tickets by allowing drivers to add time to their meters via smartphone technology.

>> Allowing city officials to quickly adjust the time limits of meters to move cars out and make spaces available for other drivers.

“Now the feedback is very, very positive — ‘Great, now we can go to the park because there’s an availability of the stalls,’” Yoshioka said.

He promised that city officials will solicit feedback in Chinatown during the first six months that the new high-tech meters will be in place to see whether adjustments need to be made.

But businesses and drivers in Chinatown told the Star-Advertiser that there is no consensus on what is needed.

Chinatown businesses along Nuuanu Avenue — especially restaurants — already have informed city transportation officials that their customers want to be able to park for longer than the current, one-hour maximum time limit, Yoshioka said.

Chinatown businesses along Maunakea Street — especially lei vendors — want meters with much shorter time limits, which will fit their customers’ needs and allow stalls to turn over more quickly, Yoshioka said.

“We are going to be listening,” Yoshioka said.

Just along Maunakea Street, Sylvia Pangilinan said her customers would appreciate shorter meter times that will allow them to stop quickly then move on, opening up parking stalls near her store, Sylvia’s Leis & Flowers, for more customers.

“They only need to stop for 10 minutes,” Pangilinan said, “but there’s no parking.”

A tantalizing no-parking zone is in front of Sylvia’s Leis & Flowers and Pangilinan’s customers — and even Pangilinan’s son — have been tagged for a $35 violation for stopping for just a few minutes.

“My customers complain all the time about the parking,” Pangilinan said.

But directly across Maunakea street, Leanne Chee has a different problem.

Chee offers acupuncture treatments that typically last 45 minutes. So it’s tough for customers heading into Chee’s Chinese Acupuncture Clinic & Herbs to get back to their meters in time to avoid a parking ticket for violating the one-hour limit.

“My customers need more than one hour — if they can find parking,” Chee said.

Nieves Perdido of Ewa Beach turned makai onto Maunakea Street from Beretania Street last week and paid the $1 minimum at an automated, private parking lot so she could buy a lei for her daughter’s elementary school graduation.

Perdido saw a driver pulling out of a much cheaper metered spot farther down Maunakea Street, but zipped into the private lot instead.

“If I didn’t get that spot,” Perdido said, “I’d have to drive all the way around and probably end up parking here anyway. It’s a lot of hassle for only wanting to stop for a few minutes.”

Exactly what each new meter will look like and what their technological capabilities will entail depend on how companies respond to a request-for-proposal process that’s expected to be complete by mid-July, said Don Hamada, transportation planning chief for the city’s Department of Transportation Services.

The company that wins the bid will have to pay all upfront costs, guarantee that the city generates the same $3.195 million level of annual parking meter revenue, and maintain the system for the first couple of years, Yoshioka said.

The new vendor would receive an unspecified percentage of any parking proceeds above the city’s current income from parking meters. The amount of money that will go to the new vendor will depend on which proposal the city adopts, Yoshioka said.

For now, the only downside for drivers appears to be that they won’t inherit any leftover time when entering a parking spot because the new meters will automatically reset when a car leaves, which ultimately will generate more parking revenue for each meter, Yoshioka said.

New technology also will allow transportation officials to quickly adjust time limits — and rates — depending on the time of day or for special events, Yo­shi­oka said.

The concept is known as “congestion management pricing.”

Any proposals to increase current municipal parking rates in Honolulu must be approved by the City Council, but Yoshioka said, “That is not on the plate right now.”

He also expects that parking citations will be reduced. City revenue won’t be affected by a decrease in parking tickets because fines go to the state Judiciary, not to the city, Yoshioka said.

The Chinatown project will begin simultaneously with an upgrade to 72 covered parking meters in the Frank Fasi Municipal Lot near Honolulu Hale.

The City Council also is on track to pass the third reading of a bill on Friday that will generate more parking meter revenue from city parks, especially Kapiolani Park.

Drivers currently pay 50 cents an hour to park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at more than 278 meters along Kapiolani Park. The City Council’s Bill 30 would increase the rate to $1 an hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as early as this fall.

If Bill 30 passes, as expected, Parks and Recreation Director Gary Cabato also would be authorized to replace free parking around Aala Park in Chinatown with 20 new meters that will charge $1 an hour 24 hours a day.

“The goal is to create revenue so we can offset the cost of maintenance of the parks,” Cabato said.

While the Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments are working separately on parking solutions, both departments are relying on whatever new technology their vendors propose.

“All the work will be done by the vendor — enforcement and everything else,” Cabato said. “It won’t cost anything to the city. But people who go down to the park to enjoy a picnic no longer will need to keep getting up to feed the meter.”






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