In Our Voices for Tuesday — January 3, 2006

• Working towards a more friendly civic center


Working towards a more friendly civic center

The bordered Kaua’i County Council and the county Planning Department are hashing out a concept for a rejuvenated Lihu’e Civic Center encompassing the downtown area by the thoroughfares of Hardy, Umi and Rice streets, and the Kuhio Highway.

The eight-phase project with an estimated cost of over $23 million currently exists as the Civic Center draft Master Plan. The Civic Center master plan is still in the concept phase and must go through the resolution and approval stage before funding is earmarked and design elements finalized. The money will likely come from capital improvement project funds.

The concept, as it currently exists, envisions a civic government hub that is both pedestrian and public transportation friendly.

A County Council hearing in the middle of December highlighted the most updated look at the draft master plan and its various components including some of the issues arising as the plan progresses. Those issues include the closing of a street, parking, the future of the Big Save market and where the money will come from.

The hardest part, as it always seems to be the case in these kinds of large scale projects, may be the funding. Officials are looking into matching fund possibilites from the state and feds, but most will probably come from county coffers.

One of the major components is the closing of Eiwa Street. Closing that street would connect the two portions of the civic center into a more friendly whole that includes the old courthouse, the new government buildings and the Big Save. Eiwa Street would be replaced by a pedestrian promenade with landscaping, including trees.

Planners for the project at the Dec. 14 meeting sought a resolution to close Eiwa Street as the first step to phase in the project. County Council wisely chose to seek a more developed master plan before committing to closing the street. “Once we close the street then we are in the box,” one councilmember said.

For such a large scale project with a cost in the millions, a much more refined plan needs to be developed before any commitment is made. The idea of a more unified, pedestrian town center is enticing though over the hodgepodge of different elements that now make up the area.

Parking is a major issue in the development of the master plan. Planners are trying to decide whether to discourage driving in the civic center area. To make the area more viable and livable, some parking spaces will have to be sacrificed, said one councilmember. To that end current discussion includes bike lanes and a possible Lihu’e Shuttle. If planners don’t add parking spaces, and do in fact take away spaces, as the proposal now stands, then it may encourage the use of the shuttle and the bike lanes. It may even encourage carpooling. Carpooling, a shuttle and bicycle lanes is an encouraging direction for the plan to take. Elements of the plan seek to increase pedestrian safety so that, for instance, people may choose to walk from one area to another rather than driving in fear for their lives. Signals for pedestrian crossings near the museum and post office are planned for the notoriously dangerous area.

Planners carried out a traffic survey and found that once full buildout of the current county government facilities is reached there will be a need for 100 more spaces. So planners have been looking at outlying areas to park vehicles including the War Memorial, the Lihu’e Plantation building and a possible two to three story parking structure across Kuhio Highway or a possible underground structure closer to the heart of the civic center. The outlying parking areas would be served by the Lihu’e shuttle if it came to be. The shuttle would ideally run every 10 minutes and should be free to those who use it.

The Big Save market lies at the heart of the Civic Center draft Master Plan. Whether the Big Save stays will ultimately come out as a County Council policy decision. Its lease was recently renewed to 2010 though. One of the problems with the Big Save is its loading dock would be smack dab in the middle of the pedestrian friendly thoroughfares. Tractor-trailer rigs and delivery trucks bringing in goods raise serious pedestrian safety issues within the plan. Much of the foot traffic would pass by the loading dock between the newly built county buildings and the museum and other areas. Relocating the market outside the immediate area to another close-by location would be a wise choice — but as long as there is a market nearby as state and county workers and others currently utilize Big Save. Maybe some small eateries could be planned into the old Big Save location.

A roundabout for the intersection of Hardy and Umi streets, similar to the Kapa’a roundabout, is also included in the plan as signalization and stop signs are not viable solutions for the geometry of, and traffic through, that intersection. Roundabouts are smooth, efficient traffic calming devices that are currently used throughout Europe and many parts of the United States. A roundabout would be a nice addition to that intersection and can have decorative elements as well.

The Planning department and the County Council are doing good work moving toward a more unified civic center that is pedestrian friendly and does not encourage more vehicles in the area. Many of the streets around the civic center seem like race tracks at times and any efforts on the county’s part to improve the situation is applauded.

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