Ground Zero at Cooke and Pohukaina

August 16th, 2012

ThinkTech Hawaii

Coming down Cooke Street you can see the Kakaako Park and the Medical School. For years, you could do this without having to worry about the traffic. Waiting at the four-way stop sign at Pohukaina was not a concern because there was usually nobody to wait for.

Sometimes sea changes sneak up on us and we don't notice. That happened here. The sleepy intersection of Cooke and Pohukaina has become ground zero. Now it's no small thing to cross that intersection. Now you have to wait for three other cars on all four sides to get through.

The message is that Kakaako, for the first time in a lifetime, is drawing plenty of traffic. It’s not clear that this traffic is on the way to somewhere in Kakaako or just crossing through Kakaako, but it is clear that there’s multiples more traffic than there was say a year ago.

Why? Has Kakaako become some sort of alternative route from downtown to Ward Avenue? Is it that Ala Moana has become too crowded? Is it that people like driving in a neighborhood that everyone says will be up and coming soon? Or do they just like stop signs in lieu of stop lights?

One conclusion you could make is that the city is sleeping at the switch. This intersection, as others in Kakaako, needs traffic lights. Four-way stop signs simply don't work anymore. We’re past that. We’ll simply have to spend the money to put in real traffic signals

The new mayor, whoever he is, should put traffic lights in Kakaako. We can't live in the past. Kakaako has a new vitality, with the likes of coffee houses and bookstores and “co-working” spaces worthy of our attention. It’s at a tipping point right now.

This is a positive phenomenon. But to accommodate and incentivize the change, we have to keep up – we have to build the infrastructure. Too early is far better than too late. To have cars stacked up three deep in four directions does not send the right message.

You would expect that the city would spot this first and that it would be checking the traffic, the city would know it's time to do something to keep up with important changes like this. Our city is changing and should be changing, and we must change with it, and for it. No choice on that.

It's time we woke up to these changes and the need for them, and we took an took an active even a proactive role in keeping up with these changes. If we don’t do that, we’ll be stuck in static or declining neighborhoods in Kakaako and all over town. That’s a bad, unforgiveable, result.

It's not only Kakaako. All the mayor candidates talk about planning and aesthetics for our city, but our city has a rich history of non-planning, non-aesthetics and failed infrastructure. Hopefully this winner will address these needs directly, and put signal lights in Kakaako.

We should be ahead of the game not just responding to complaints. We should be seeing big things happening in Kakaako. We should be seeing parks and other public structures springing up, forming up a willing container to set the style and pace of the great things now to come.

Whether it’s talk by the candidates or the city, or by HCDA or the state, if Kakaako is to realize its dream after all these years, we need more than that. If we want people to get on board and make Kakaako a credible city center we need to start now.

They’ll believe it when they see traffic signals at ground zero.

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