Honolulu has a parking problem – but we can solve it
Honolulu has a parking shortage. Our problem has many roots: urban design decisions from forty years ago which separated work, schools, retail and housing, requiring each working adult to have their own vehicle; the high cost of land and housing, which leads to a congested rental market on crowded streets; major population growth coupled poor design choices; and uneven enforcement of our existing parking regulations. The result of these factors is an abundance of stress for already-overworked and overtaxed working people, problems for refuse collection and emergency vehicle access, and increasing incidents of inter-neighbor conflict and violence over parking.
This is a solvable problem. It won’t be easy, but it’s achievable.
The Japan model
The Japan method for handling parking is widely regarded as the optimal policy, but is probably too extreme for Honolulu. Japan requires citizens to prove access to off-street parking in order to purchase a vehicle, and they severely limit overnight on-street parking, which in turn has led to a private market for providers of off-street parking. As a result, the metropolis of Tokyo feels incredibly safe, clean, and surprisingly serene.
I don’t believe that there is political support for this in Honolulu, but I think we can approximate it here by encouraging off-street parking.
Creating a new parking market for Honolulu
The availability of parking in our neighborhoods varies widely by time of day and day of the week. The spacious parking lots of shopping centers are completely empty all night, from about 9pm to 9am. In Kalihi Valley, where I live for example, there are empty shopping centers which have ample parking which could be leased for residential use in their off-hours.
Circled in red are areas with abundant parking in the off-hours.
Schools, too, have vacant parking lots all night. Churches are generally empty six days out of the week. Many personal residences also have extra parking. My proposal would encourage these private, governmental and non-profit landowners to lease out extra space to residents who need parking.
In order to accomplish this, I recommend:
- Clear delineation of on-street parking stalls in residential areas, with even-handed enforcement of these stalls
- Regulated market pricing for parking permits. A sliding fee (based on wealth or income) should be applied to the restricted parking permits, against which private parking providers should be able to compete.
- An ‘amnesty’ program, provided in conjunction with a nonprofit like Kidney Cars, to rid our streets of unused vehicles.
Public land is incredibly valuable
The proliferation of free parking on public streets has hidden an essential point: land is the most scarce and valuable commodity on our islands, and public land is no different. A constituent told me recently that each public parking stall is worth about $200,000. I’d be interested to hear from others if there is a more exact number. But at any rate, 1) land is incredibly valuable and 2) it is being under-valued in our current policy of lax enforcement.
The key is to correctly price the on-street parking permit. Thinking as an amateur economist, one way to do this is to start with strictly enforcing an RPZ, and then allowing the various providers in the market to find its own price through competition and trial-and-error (what economists call “price discovery”).
The long-term solution: smarter urbanism, public transportation, autonomous vehicles
My proposal is a temporary solution. The long-term solution is better urban design, in which we encourage planning patterns that make live-work-play more feasible. Kakaako is a good model of this, but so is the older model of general stores within neighborhoods, like John’s Grocery in Liliha.
As we consider new communities – for instance, a refreshed Moiliili along a mauka transit corridor – we should be planning for pedestrians first and cars second. Our Land Use Ordinance should encourage the integration of retail and housing in mid-rise affordable apartment buildings. And we should anticipate that autonomous vehicles will probably not require dedicated parking at all, but will rather be used on a per-hire basis like Lyft or Uber.
Dialogue creates better public policy. Please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com – mahalo!