HALEIWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After years of sometimes heated discussion, transportation officials are considering shutting down the parking lot across from a popular North Shore beach to see if it can open up a traffic bottleneck in the area.
Over the past decade, more and more people have parked in the lot, and then jaywalk across Kamehameha Highway to see the turtles at Laniakea Beach. The resulting traffic jam often stretches for miles in either direction, making commuting a headache for residents.
Putting up a 1,200-foot long barrier to block the lot is a short-term solution that is being considered by transportation officials.
"The state Department of Transportation says it is a solution that would be very easy to bring in these concrete barriers to see whether denying access to the parking area will help improve the movement of traffic through this area," said state Rep. Richard Fale (R-Waialua, Haleiwa, Pupukea, Kahuku, Laie, Hauula, Waiahole, Sunset Beach, Punaluu, Kaaawa).
According to Rep. Fale, the barriers will go up on a trial basis before the end of the year.
The traffic problem has increased as the Laniakea's reputation as a so-called "turtle beach" has grown. "We determined that we get over 600,000 people visiting the beach to see the turtles every year," said Joe Murphy, a volunteer with Malama Na Honu. "We thought it was substantially lower than that, but it came in over 600,000."
And all those people are crossing the highway and trying to get their vehicles in and out of the parking lot. Murphy isn't convinced closing the lot is the right thing. "That would put a strain, and added strain on the people who want to visit here. It may or may not alleviate the traffic problem, but something obviously has to be done," he said.
Carol Philips heads the transportation committee on the North Shore Neighborhood Board. She knows first-hand about the issue, even during her interview with Hawaii News Now. Someone in a passing car at Laniakea yelled out, "Close the beach!"
"See? Someone just yelled 'close the beach,'" said Philips. "That's not the answer."
Thursday night, a neighborhood board subcommittee voted to support the DOT barrier proposal. Philips doesn't agree. "I think we could experiment with closing the parking lot, maybe from 11:30 to 5:00 or 11:30 to 4, a couple of hours a day, and see how that affects it," she said. "But just shutting down the parking lot isn't going to -- these people are going to go somewhere."
Opinion is split over closing the parking lot. "People want to come out here and enjoy the North Shore, and that's a great thing. And we shouldn't discourage it," said Doug Cole of the North Shore Community Land Trust.
"I think it may be a good move actually, because it's going to go through and stop any of the crossing here on the street from the pedestrians," said Kevin Maguire, who lives nearby. "It's going to be safer for people as they drive down the road."
"It may not be the best solution," said fellow resident Pedro Dinezio. "It could be probably solved with a stop light or with a tunnel, which would probably be more expensive."
"This is something that is a very strong safety issue as well, especially for our visitors who come to the islands," said Rep. Fale. "I think it's something we need to address immediately."