Why Is Honolulu Parking so Expensive?

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Honolulu parking can be a squeeze. Here, the Honolulu Club garage.

PHOTO: MICHAEL KEANY

Realtors like Kai McDermin of Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties get a firsthand look at how much people are willing to shell out for a necessity like parking when it’s in short supply. She’s seen parking stalls in Waikiki sell for as much as $100,000 due to the high demand in the area—that’s $100,000 for one parking stall.

Urban-planning consultant John Whalen was the director of the city’s predecessor to the Department of Planning and Permitting (then called the Department of Planning and Utilization) when the current Land Use Ordinance was prepared and adopted.

“There have been changes [over the years] periodically, in terms of the parking ratios, and generally they’ve gone down rather than up in terms of parking requirements,” Whalen says.

Tiffany Tanaka, owner of Fresh Café in budding Kakaako, finds the cost of parking especially frustrating. In her case, though, the cost is a loss of business due to a lack of parking.

“My business would probably double or triple if there was more parking,” she says, referring to her spot on Queen Street in central Kakaako. “I see people pulling in, and then pulling back out after they realize there’s no parking. They end up circling around two or three times and then leaving.”

Kakaako is currently starved for parking because, in the past, it was an industrial area. Now developers and government officials have a vision for a revamped residential and retail community with more than 20 new high-rise buildings in the planning stages. So, will planning authorities handle the lack of parking? Yes and no, depending on your perspective.

“We will be making parking, but it may not be as robust as some people might expect,” says Anthony Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

It may sound irritating to frequent errand runners, but the vision for Kakaako and other Transit Oriented Development zones is that of an urban village: businesses and residences clustered, with locals and visitors utilizing public transportation, biking or walking to get around, thus reducing the need for parking and, for that matter, driving. Future plans include measures such as unbundling the ownership of parking stalls from new residential condos in hopes of encouraging families to not only drive less, but—in the case of multicar families or individuals—perhaps even give up one of their cars.

“We’re trying to transform the community into something that’s not so car-centric, that’s compact, that has active street life, so it makes you want to walk around,” Ching says.

Tanaka, for one, is optimistic for Kakaako’s future, betting that the promised new high-rise residents will offset the deliberate lack of parking. “Sometimes if people are just forced to do something, it works out for the better. Without even realizing it, we may end up becoming more of a walking community, and that would be great.”

In the meantime, though, drivers, save your pennies—the price of parking in Honolulu can only increase.

The streets have eyes!

Technology giveth and technology taketh away. The City and County has been testing a batch of 340 smart parking meters downtown. The new meters are solar powered, take both coins and credit cards, and even let you re-up the meter remotely, using your cell phone. Now this is what living in the future was supposed to feel like! There’s a catch, though. The smart meters have a sensor that can tell whether there’s a vehicle in the stall; if a car leaves before its paid time expires, the meter zeros out the time. No more will you have the happy experience of pulling into an empty space and finding bonus time on the meter. No more will you be able to pay it forward by popping in a couple of quarters for the next driver. The City and County hasn’t yet decided whether to expand the pilot program and replace the rest of Oahu’s 2,700 meters, but we wouldn’t bet against the cold efficiency of computerized metering.