Consensus comes to City rail workshop in Kalihi

Jamie Winpenny

KALIHI—The City’s rail transit plans are among the most contentious and divisive issues Oahu residents face. But you wouldn’t have seen that at Tuesday’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) public workshop at the Farrington High School library, offered by the Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP).

The process has been marred by conflict from its beginning decades ago, and it remains as hotly debated today as it was then. Preliminary engineering and evaluation for rail on Oahu began in 1968. Routing, contracting, environmental and cultural preservation, and funding concerns all remain unresolved. Having never quite moved beyond the conceptual, bureaucratic, and legal realms, rail has been bogged down in the planning stage since Mayor Frank Fasi began Honolulu Area Rapid Transit efforts in 1977.

Clearly, Oahu has historically resisted rail transit. But the prevailing sentiment evident at the workshop was something akin to “rail is coming, so let’s make it work.”

When about 60 people from throughout Oahu gathered to envision development around three rail stations in the Kalihi-Palama area, it would have been reasonable to expect a certain amount of combative rhetoric. The atmosphere was entirely amicable and friendly, however, as citizens gathered around tables in six groups of five to ten to express their personal visions for rail.
In 20-minute sessions facilitated by DPP representatives, the groups discussed changes to existing conditions along Dillingham Boulevard at planned stations at Middle Street, Kalihi Street, and Kapalama Stream. Each group then gave a brief presentation on their findings.

The concerns of those who participated were uniform. They focused mainly on public safety, accessibility, and aesthetics. When discussions drifted into housing the homeless, the evils of fossil fuels,  and “how it used to be,” facilitators gently steered the focus back to planning around the three stations.

Some of those who participated oppose rail, but have accepted (or resigned to) the fact that rail is coming to Honolulu. They just want it to serve its purpose without destroying the fabric of life on Oahu.

“I live in on the Windward Side,” said one woman from Kailua. “I just want them to make it safe and not this big ugly thing.”

“I work in Chinatown,” said another. “I want to know how they plan to make it work in such a dense area.”

Admittedly, it’s not hard to get a roomful of people to agree on goals like “Retain a sense of community and cultural and income diversity” and “Develop parking strategies, provide bicycle amenities as part of a regional bike network, enhance street connectivity, provide sidewalks and street repair as needed, and convenient and safe access to stations.”

The materials provided to participants asked them to do just that, and the participants agreed. All also agreed that although it seems unlikely, moving Oahu Community Correctional Center out of the area would be desirable. “Put it, I don’t know,” said one man. “Put it at Fort Shafter.” The room erupted in laughs.

Organized by the DPP, the workshop was led by Rajeev Bhatia, of Dyett & Bhatia, which has been hired to do the planning for TOD around the three Kalihi area stations. Bhatia discussed emerging consensus, or several concerns relating to each station shared by area residents. Also discussed was an Executive Summary of a community survey conducted by the City with the assistance of the National Research Center. The survey was distributed to 4,000 randomly selected households and collected data on commuting modes, benefits of living in the area, and the types of businesses found there.

Bhatia said that the information collected at Tuesday’s workshop will be used for TOD planning as the project moves forward. The workshop seemed designed to build community support for rail as much as it was designed to gather community input. Whatever the case, both ends were served and participants left with a feeling that their concerns were heard.

For more information on Transit Oriented Development, visit