Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion column from the

Honolulu Advertiser of June 2, 1999



Kalakaua pedestrian mall is a bad idea

The City is about to propose closing down Kalakaua Avenue on Sundays to create a pedestrian mall. I am sure they have good intentions. They had good intentions when they opened the City store and when they took over our profitable city bus system and turned it into TheBus—with losses of $100 million annually. And, more to the point, when they turned Fort Street into a mall.

Who could argue with the idea of Fort Street Mall then. We were promised a pedestrian environment that would greatly improve shopping. It would be a leafy car-free lane where people could stroll under the trees, sip coffee at sidewalk cafés and hold hands while the world passed by; it would be idyllic.

The problem is that the real world does not always work the way we wish. Once the City turned it into a pedestrian mall, Fort Street quickly became what it is today—a slum.

Other cities have had the same experience. The Raleigh, NC, News & Observer said not so long ago, "it is time to rip up the mall, Greenville is following the lead of dozens of other cities around the country among them are Eugene, Ore., Kalamazoo, Mich., and Milwaukee … the brave new urban pioneers are setting up their new restaurants and galleries along downtown streets, not along the ghostly mall."

Now the City wants to turn Kalakaua Avenue into Fort Street Mall East. They say only on Sundays but anyone used to the City knows this as the thin end of the wedge.

What is wrong with the idea?

First, the City has not surveyed Kalakaua Avenue traffic and the economic impact its removal might have on our visitor industry. For example, they do not know how much is visitor traffic and how much is local residents—let alone how the traffic differs by time of day. They have only a simple count of total vehicles entering and leaving Waikiki. Nor do they know what components of Sunday visitor and resident traffic are needed at that time and what can safely be deferred until later. I could go on.

Waikiki traffic is a delicate component of our visitor industry. On an average day, we have nearly 100,000 visitors in Waikiki. Some are coming and going all day to the Polynesian Cultural Center, Bishop Museum, and the Arizona Memorial. Others are shopping at Hilo Hatties, Ala Moana Center, Waikele and Maui Divers’ Jewelry Design Center. Yet others are off to the beach or the myriad other activities for which they came to Waikiki in the first place. Most importantly, nearly half of the money they spend ends up in the pockets of the employees of these places and the suppliers that support them.

Endangering this revenue stream should be a concern to the City. Yet, the City has not even reviewed the past economic impacts of just closing Kalakaua Avenue for parades.

Second, the City has not surveyed what has happened elsewhere where similar pedestrian malls have been established. It is grossly irresponsible to push a pedestrian mall without looking at other cities—and let us not forget our own Fort Street Mall. Analyzing the potential negative impacts should be the first step—not the last. Otherwise, we might end up with a Hooker’s Mall.



(1) Dennis Rogers. Pedestrian mall should take a walk Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer, July 1, 1997. Editorial page. Full text available at:

(2) The State of Hawaii Data Book, 1996. Table 7.06: Average Visitor Census, By Counties and Islands; 1995 and 1996.