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City muses on smaller bulb-outs; many in Chinatown want them gone

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    Chinatown community leaders and residents voiced objections about the street bulb-outs that popped up suddenly about a month ago on some of the busier Chinatown roadways.

City transportation officials told a Honolulu City Council committee Thursday they are looking at redesigning and reducing the size of 11 traffic bulb-outs in Chinatown that merchants, customers and residents have complained about.

Essentially curb extensions, the bulb-outs are part of a pilot project to see whether pedestrians can be helped by shortening the distance they need to cross the street by expanding the sidewalk. They were installed about a month ago.

Area restaurants and businesses closest to the bulb-outs, however, said they’ve seen an estimated 20 percent decrease in sales because there is drastically less space now for motorists to pull over to grab a quick birthday lei or a box of manapua. They argued that the size of the bulb-outs makes it impossible for trucks and larger vehicles to turn safely.

Jon Nouchi, deputy director of the Department of Transportation Services, said Thursday the city is eyeing the idea of paring back the bulb-outs so the curb is widened only at the actual crosswalks themselves.

“Some of them have a length to them,” Nouchi said of the bulb-outs, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “So what we’d like to do is cut that length off and restore some of the unmarked curb spaces.”

Nouchi said transit officials acknowledge that, while not legal parking spaces or loading zones, some spaces have traditionally been used by motorists for quick stops.

“I’m not saying the city is turning a blind eye to any kind of enforcement,” Nouchi said. “If you park there, it is illegal and people can be cited there. But we wanted to make sure if people are going to pull in, pop out, buy a lei and pop back in their car, if they can do it without getting cited, then that’s their prerogative.”

Design work for the changes should begin in the next month, he said. The City Council Business, Economic Development and Tourism Committee moved out Resolution 17-205, which urges the Caldwell administration to immediately remove the bulb-outs from Chinatown.

During the meeting, city transportation officials got an earful from the community.

Terry Kakazu, owner of HASR Bistro on Pauahi Street, said her popular eatery has lost customers, including larger private parties.

July was the first time she had a hard time paying her rent, Kakazu said, “and that’s directly caused by what’s happening with this bulb-out,” she said. “I’m struggling.”

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock of the Chinatown Business and Community Association said the bulb-outs have created a new problem because homeless people are now using them as their living rooms, storage areas and drinking places. While pedestrian safety is important, the city could have spent its resources on Chinatown’s more critical issues like drug use, crime and homelessness, Shubert-Kwock said.

A petition she is circulating has garnered more than 2,500 signatures seeking the immediate removal of the bulb-outs.

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