Chinatown merchants irked over extended sidewalks call for immediate removal

Published: Aug. 3, 2017 at 8:13 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 3, 2017 at 10:40 PM HST
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CHINATOWN (HawaiiNewsNow) - A pedestrian safety measure in Chinatown is irking area businesses, who say it's hurting their bottom line.

The city extended the sidewalk at two intersections on Pauahi Street -- one at Smith Street, the other at Maunakea Street. The bulbouts shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.

"Everyone should be able to walk safely in Chinatown," said Jon Nouchi, deputy director of the city Department of Transportation Services.

But many Chinatown merchants complain the bulbouts, with their larger rounded corners, take away pull-over places for customers and loading vehicles,and that's hurt business.

"They're impeding commerce and they're dangerous. Very simple. Get 'em out!" said Oren Schliemen.

His complaint goes beyond commerce. Schlieman's Info Grafik business overlooks one of the intersections. He recently took photographs of a firetruck having trouble turning on the narrowed corner.

"It went completely into the opposite lane. If there had been a car there it obviously wouldn't have been able to make a turn," he said.

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, gathered 2,500 signatures on a petition against the bulbouts. She said they've become problem spots.

"People sleep there, they park there, they drink there," she said. "Mostly our homeless use that places for storing their cart, clothing, whatever they have because nobody can chase them."

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga introduced a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the bulbouts. A city council committee unanimously approved the resolution, which goes before the full council next week.

But some people like them.

"It really helps to improve the current infrastructure and allow pedestrians to walk safely and allow more visibility for both pedestrians and motorists," said Trish La Chica, of the Hawaii Public Health Institute.

The city refuses to remove the bulbouts, but has agreed to modify them by making them smaller.

Nouchi said the city did not remove any legal parking or loading space, but he understands the position of Chinatown merchants.

"Recognizing that Chinatown is a chaotic place and people pull in and use opportunities such as open curb faces to do loading or to run in and pick up a lei or manapua, those will be restored to the public," Nouchi said.

Nouchi can't say when the modifications will happen or how long the demonstration project will last now that changes will be made. Construction of the curb extensions cost taxpayers $397,000.

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